Emotion, reason and the unique selling proposition

Originally published April 2011

How do people make decisions? I’m not asking about the sequence of steps someone takes to arrive at a choice between, say, two options when she goes shopping for new jeans.

I’m asking, rhetorically, what part of the brain fires on all cylinders when mulling that range of options?

We know that the right lobe is, in overly simplistic terms, the center of one’s emotions. The left lobe governs reason and language, where analysis is imperative.

Given this understanding, which lobe plays the dominant role when our make-believe shopper decides between Levis or Lucky Brand jeans?

The answer to this question, in my opinion, tells you how to arrive at the most important, and most difficult, part of the creative brief: the single-minded proposition.

I’m not a neurologist. I’m an advertising creative. But I know this: we form attachment to a product we like, even love (oops, there’s a dead giveaway) by means of our emotional connection to it. If there is no emotional connection, there is no allegiance or loyalty to that product. I’ve known this to be true for the entire tenure of my advertising career, more than 25 years.

Thankfully, it’s not just my opinion.

The Harvard Business Review published a study in 2005 that proved this connection.

To my delight, I found a writer who is asking a similar question, this time in the arena of politics and public policy. On the Facebook page for my book, I recommended a column in the New York Times by the conservative intellectual David Brooks, entitled “The New Humanism.” His premise is remarkably similar to the point I’m making here. I’ll quote from his column:

We have a prevailing view in our society—not only in the policy world, but in many spheres—that we are divided creatures. Reason, which is trustworthy, is separate from the emotions, which are suspect. Society progresses to the extent that reason can suppress the passions.

This has created a distortion in our culture. We emphasize things that are rational and conscious and are inarticulate about the processes down below. We are really good at talking about material things but bad at talking about emotion.

I found a smile creeping onto my face when I first read David Brooks’s column. It seems silly because any of us who practice advertising and brand development understand this relationship intuitively.

Without his saying so, David Brooks seems to suggest that advertising professionals know something about human nature that policy experts don’t. Well, then…Lee Clow for president!

We shoot ourselves in the foot when we fail to take seriously our already ingrained understanding of the emotional connection to a product when we prepare to create new advertising for that product.

In other words, we know about the strong play of emotions that help us decide between Levis and Lucky Brand. Or put another way, when it’s time to discard our favorite pair of jeans, that’s when we really feel a strong tug on our emotions.

This is precisely what the unique selling proposition on a creative brief is designed to focus on like a laser. If we give it its due.

When an advertiser fails to pay heed to the emotional core of a brand—because he doesn’t trust the acuity of emotion—he’s ignoring huge brand equity.

A U.S.P. that fails to favor the emotions people feel for the product will end up driving advertising that leaves business on the table.

The Harvard Business Review says so. And even a policy wonk is agreeing.

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