The Era of Emotional Advertising is Upon Us

I absolutely adore advertising. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t. But ask me a few months ago if I thought that advertising was a form of true art, and I would’ve said no.

You see, to me, art in its highest form is transcendence from the material. It’s the closest one can get to connecting the desires and emotional state of the inside mind with the outside world.  Advertising is created with the express purpose of selling a product or service–materialism–therefore it leaves little room to be defined as art the way I think of it.

However, I feel that the past year has reiterated a sort of transcendence for advertising in and of itself.  Is advertising’s end goal still to sell stuff? Of course, but companies have increasingly been willing to use advertising as a vehicle that speaks to the human condition. And a year of emotionally driven  advertising has reminded me that advertising can indeed be a form of high art.

All this emotional advertising seems to have started a little over a year ago with “Halftime in America“, a commercial for Chrysler by Wieden + Kennedy. The commercial aired during the Super Bowl and spoke directly to a country that, like Chrysler, was down and out. Beautifully written and executed, “Halftime in America”  silenced rooms across the country. Afterwards, other emotionally charged ads  like “Farmer” for Dodge RAM and “Thank You Mom” for P&G appeared.

These ads prove that companies are waking up to the fact that it pays to brand human. Playing to emotions creates brand advocates and it’s good for the bottom line. People don’t want to open their wallet for a giant mega corporation richer than a country, they want to open their wallet to someone that gets them on the most basic level.

4 Recent Ads that Will Make You Cry (With Joy)

1. “Nana” for Cheerios by Saatchi & Saatchi NY

2. “A Letter to Mom” for Famous Footwear by Y&R

3. “The Animal Family” for Skype by Pereira & O’Dell

4.  “Made for Mankind” for Acura by Mullen

Can Advertising Change the World?

One of the biggest criticisms of advertising is that it sells people things that they don’t need. This type of criticism paints the ad person as just a schmuck for hire that will sell anything without regards to ethics. It points to historical cases of duplicitous advertising and marketing: P.T. Barnum gets crowds to line up to see the head of a monkey crudely sewn onto the body of a fish;  Lydia E. Pinkham inserts a non-existent sign under the Brooklyn Bridge;  Listerine invents the nonscientific term halitosis in order to sell mouthwash; De Beers convinces us that a “diamond is forever,” ensuring that diamonds don’t flood the market and lose their value. The list goes on and on.

Now, I’m not here to argue that any of the above cases are ethical or that present day advertising is consistently ethical. Rather, I argue that advertising reflects the times. Change happens on a societal level and advertising slowly comes to reflect that change. Ads have always reflected society’s ideal vision–for good or for bad.

The modern day ideal American family isn’t just Anglo-Saxon–it’s all shades, all genders, all theologies– and advertising is slowly starting to reflect that. For example, in the advertising of the 1950’s, the only place where you would see a wife was in the kitchen. Today, as women take their rightful place as power players in the economy, it’s not uncommon to see a women on TV in business attire.

With all that in mind: Do I think advertising can change the world for better? You’d be surprised to know that I think that it absolutely can. It’s not going to create radical change, but it’s a powerful vehicle that can accelerate change at certain points in history.

Some very recent examples of advertising being used for good:

1. A record 55% of Americans now support gay marriage. Unfortunately, mainstream advertising still seems to consider showing a gay couple as controversial and political–gay people  are almost non-existent in ads. However, Amazon was brave enough to release an ad that includes a married man that happens to be gay.

2.

One thing that really warmed my heart after the Boston Marathon tragedy was how Hill Holliday created The One Fund in seven hours. The bombing had barely happened and the folks of Hill Holliday were able to pull together the resolve to create  a unified fund for the victims of the bombing.

3. The Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” displays the negative results of America’s unhealthy perception of an ideal woman. It a vanguard of sorts in representing America’s changing ideals.