Feeling Is Believing

Volvo has just released another 4-minute film, and it has allegedly run in its entirety on Swedish television, all four minutes of it. Bravo Volvo!

This time the theme is about revisiting one’s roots in order to find a new beginning. Swedish DJ/Artist/Producer Avicii is the protagonist. This film, like the one before it, is underscored by the line “Made by Sweden”.

While I don’t like this film nearly as much as “Vintersaga” (see below), I do like the fact that these films stem from an advertising philosophy that’s different from the one that’s come to dominate Adland’s view of what makes effective advertising, and subsequently the creative process in ad agencies across geographies, not least here in the US: Rational persuasion is central to the creation of messages and narratives, which often manifests itself in the perceived need for a ton of RTBs. If you don’t work in Adland, that’s short for ‘Reason(s) To Believe’. (I know, that’s how lame our acronyms are)

Central to this model is the idea that in order to be successful, any ad must be ‘believed’ and ‘understood’. But in commercials like this one, focus isn’t placed on getting us to ‘believe’ anything. There is no overt ‘promise’ or selling proposition here. Rather, the intention is to bring about a positive feeling and establish a point of view that we can identify with and make our own. That’s it.

It’s subconsciously seductive more than it is rationally persuasive.

It’s been suggested by Robert Heath and Paul Feldwick in their paper ’50 Years Using the Wrong Model of TV Advertising’ that “clients and agencies must take on board the obvious but oft-denied truth that much effective advertising contains no ‘message’, ‘proposition’, or ‘benefits’, and that attempts to impose these or post rationalise them generally reduce effectiveness. Creative departments will have to abandon their obsession with simple, functional briefs, and creating ‘impact’, in favour of creativity that builds relationships with the audience – which in truth is what the best creative work has always done, normally in spite of prevailing theory rather than because of it.” 

Everyone ought to read this paper. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll feel good having your intuition and gut-feeling vindicated by the thorough work of these two gents.

I’ll leave you with Volvo’s ‘Vintersaga’, made for the Swedish market. This commercial captures the feeling of melancholy, sprinkled with a sense of longing for brighter and warmer times that all swedes experience during the long, dark and harsh Swedish winters.

You may not be Swedish, but you’ll see in this film that there is more to relate to and ‘identify with’ for the audience than there is to, so to speak, be ‘persuaded’ by. But of course, you can always rationalize the logic that Volvo performs flawlessly in the harshest of winter conditions. And that’s probably exactly how the commercial was sold in. Because I suspect Volvo executives, just like most of Adland, still haven’t given up on the delusion of rationality.

I’m not saying RTBs are irrelevant; I think they can often help create the necessary ‘back stories’ consumers often need to convince themselves that it’s OK to buy (what they feel like buying). But what I am saying is that RTBs are given way too much importance in the agency process, often preventing a brand from leaving a lasting (emotional) impression on its audience. And as a result, big brands are pissing away their money on ineffective advertising.

As a result, big brands are pissing away their money on ineffective advertising. What Adland needs is the kind of copernican shift that Behavioral Economics has meant for Economics at large. But I’m afraid it’s going to be a while before we’ll see any real change at scale. And it certainly won’t happen until we as individuals stop seeing ourselves as rational beings, and insisting on making advertising the perfect science that it never will be.

Author: Fredrik Särnblad

Fredrik Sarnblad