12 Jul 2024 22:50

Advertising & Marketing

How brands can use emotion to unite FragmentNation

Tapping into deep-seated emotions that connects us as human beings can provide brands with the means to engage across a diverse audiences, writes Nigel Hollis, chief global analyst at Kantar Millward Brown.

The contentious US election has emphasised the difficulty of appealing to a mass audience. After the Trump and Clinton camps finished disparaging each other in the press and social media, almost half the US population signaled their disenchantment by not voting. Brands and politicians are facing the same challenge as they try to navigate a world of growing diversity.

How do you engage an audience with widely differing needs, values and beliefs?

Like many countries globally, today’s US population is far more diverse than it once was. For instance, the US Census Bureau reports that between 1950 and 2015 the stereotypical and heterosexual, married family has declined from 78% of households to 48%.

Brands that responded by reflecting back the changing nature of society have increasingly risked a backlash. For example, Honey Maid faced a sharply divided response to its 2014 ‘This Is Wholesome’ campaign, covered in The New Yorker article ‘Honey Maid and the Business of Love’.

Diversity creates opportunity for new brands, but that also means there is more competition for attention.

Between 2008 and 2015 the number of unique brands with monitored ad activity measured by Kantar Media in the US rose by 30%. During the same period the total number of ad occurrences rose 120%. But there is little evidence that consumers have kept up. Kantar Millward Brown’s BrandZ Study shows only a 4% increase in the number of brands people were aware of between 2008 and 2015, while brand distinctiveness declined by a third.


It’s pretty clear that there is a glut of advertising and a paucity of attention. By simply advertising more, brands risk being viewed with the same antipathy as politicians. In Kantar Futures’ 2016 US MONITOR research 70% of people claimed they want more options to make avoiding marketing and advertising easier. And improved behavioral targeting is not the solution. Brands that want to be heard need to speak to people’s hearts and minds – not just their behaviours.

Proof of this assertion is easy to find. Every month millions of people seek out advertising on YouTube and share it with others. Nike Football’s ‘The Switch’ campaign was viewed by more than 10 million people a month. While some of Nike’s success can be attributed to the celebrity factor, the same isn’t true of Always #LikeAGirl’s ‘Keep Playing’ campaign, which racked up nearly seven million views a month. Very different in intent and execution, these videos have one thing in common. They speak to shared emotions: inspiration and determination.

“Brands that develop a narrative about the individual and help the audience feel emotion, are able to sideline kneejerk negativity”

A powerful portrayal of another person’s quest for greatness has always been a great device to engage and motivate. Brands that develop a narrative about the individual and help the audience feel emotion, rather than taking an overt social stand, are able to sideline kneejerk negativity.

Take the example of Under Armour’s ‘Rule Yourself’ campaign, which won the Cannes Grand Prix this year, and is one of the most shared Olympic spots ever. It strikes an emotional chord by telling the story of Michael Phelps’ preparation for his last Olympic Games and dials up the emotion through raw visuals and a strong soundtrack.

The single most winning campaign at this year’s Cannes awards was Lockheed Martin’s ‘Field Trip to Mars’,  which won 19 Lions in 11 different categories by creating the first ever group virtual reality brand experience. Lockheed Martin outfitted a school bus with VR technology for a class field trip. As the school kids rode the bus, they saw a Martian landscape through the windows.  This campaign shares the journey, and the kids’ awe and excitement, with the audience while implicitly challenging the viewer to think of Lockheed Martin as a space innovator not just a defense contractor.


Emotions also trump behaviour when it comes to mobile advertising. The 2016 Global Mobile Trends Report identifies shared characteristics and key trends among the finalists in the MMA’s Global Smarties and the Cannes Mobile Lions.

Of the winning campaigns, 67% aimed to address a human need or emotion, compared to only 47% of finalists. In contrast, 49% of finalists focused on a common mobile behavior, compared with 25% of winners. The report calls out AIA Korea’s ‘A Mother’s First Song’ campaign, which won two Gold Smarties, for weaving human emotion into its narrative by telling the story of creating a human voice to help a mother with a speech impediment sing happy birthday to her children.

In today’s diverse and apparently incompatible world, mass marketers should find ways to unite, not divide. No matter the category, brand or strategy, no matter the format – video, virtual reality or mobile – tapping into a deep seated emotion that connects us as human beings can provide brands with the means to engage across a diverse audience.

Authored by: Nigel Hollis, chief global analyst at Kantar Millward Brown

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