How Big Brands Hook Viewers with Emotional Content: 4 Takeaways for Video Marketers

How Big Brands Hook Viewers with Emotional Content: 4 Takeaways for Video Marketers

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If you’ve seen “Enter the Dragon” (and if you haven’t, you really should), you might remember the scene at the beginning of the movie when Bruce Lee spars with his student, Lahn. He tells Lahn, “Kick me.” When the student fails, Lee tells him what he lacks: “We need emotional content.” Lahn finally gets it, and he starts landing kicks left and right. This makes for a very happy Bruce Lee, because his student has learned how to channel his emotion into every move – taking him from being a technically excellent performer to a true martial artist.

I’m betting Lee didn’t know that the first two minutes of his 1973 movie would serve as a content marketing fable almost 45 years later. But think about it: Isn’t emotion – pure, true, genuine feeling – one of those mysterious substances that takes our content marketing, videos, and online presence from being just another voice in the mix to really standing out and making an impact?

Video: Big Brands Understand Power of Emotion

According to ReelSEO, one of this year’s biggest trends in video will be the continuation of last year’s rise in heartfelt emotional content. But we’re not just talking about last year’s heavy-handed #sadvertising; as emotional content becomes more popular, companies are learning to subtly balance logic and emotion – and draw that thin, but powerful line between the head and the heart.

Big brands have always known this: It’s what keeps us coming back to the Super Bowl year after year. If you’re not funny, you’d damn well better tug your audience’s heartstrings in a way that rings true. But the rest of us are catching on, and many startups and smaller brands are leveraging the power of emotional impact to produce better content.

4 Ways to Create Effective Emotional Video Content

Luckily, you don’t need big pockets to do what the big brands do. Let’s look at a few simple ways that you can make better emotionally-driven content.

#1 Tap Into Authentic Human Experience

Potentially the biggest danger in producing emotional content is creating something that feels manufactured. You know what I’m talking about – those commercials that are so cheesy that it makes you legitimately uncomfortable. No one likes these commercials, and no one wants to create them, either. So how do you avoid cheesiness? You avoid it by refusing to manufacture emotions. Instead, you tell stories that are real, that are true – that draw on genuine human experiences to tell a beautiful and inspiring story.

What does that look like? Last year, UK Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s released an Oscar-worthy commercial to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the WWI Christmas Truce of 1914, when British and German soldiers called a ceasefire for the holiday. In the video, one British and one German soldier bravely cross into no man’s land, and soon there are battalions of men playing soccer, exchanging gifts, and celebrating Christmas. Sainsbury’s told a story about real, historical human experience to reach consumers, triggering high-level emotional responses from thousands of viewers. The best part? Despite some public disapproval for its use of war imagery, it was an effective ad. The commercial had the company selling 5000 chocolate bars per hour, with all proceeds (over £500,000) going to benefit the Royal British Legion.

Or take Dodge. For their #DodgeWisdom campaign, Dodge found a group of centenarians and asked them to share some of the wisdom and advice they’d gained over the last 100 years of life. “Live for now” says one. “Don’t complain,” says another. “Don’t bitch” is my personal favorite. This commercial is brilliant because it’s not just meaningful – it’s hilarious. These are real people, telling it like it is in ways that are both touching and surprising. And indirectly, these centenarians tie Dodge to a sense of rich history and posterity, playing an important role in the ongoing story of American automotives – which, like the 100-year-old Americans in this commercial, appears alive and well.

Video Marketing Takeaway: Use your marketing and advertising to tell true stories. Putting the pressure on yourself and your marketing team to make an emotional impact is a misdirection of energy. If you’ll instead focus on being telling honest stories, the emotional impact will follow. How was your company founded? What is the vision that drives you? What is your company culture like? Who are the clients who you have fallen head-over-heels in love with and who have fallen head-over-heels in love with you? These are the real stories that you can tell about how your brand is doing good.

#2  The Power of Positive Drinking – Er, Thinking

Fast forward to February 1st of this year. Super Bowl Sunday. A day when people are as excited to watch commercials as they are to actually watch television programming. The major beer brands always pour gallons of advertising dollars into this most hallowed day, and this year Budweiser aired two commercials. One was an aggressive ad that bullied microbreweries and bragged about the brand’s status as a “MACRO BEER.” By antagonizing microbreweries, the ad set a negative mood – facing consumer backlash, and overwhelming disapproval among top commentators. In fact, the video has almost 10x as many dislikes as likes on YouTube!

Meanwhile, the company’s other Super Bowl commercial tells the story of a long-lost puppy reuniting with his #BestBuds, the company’s Clydesdales, who even rescue him from being eaten by a wolf! All with a quiet, soulful rendition of “I Would Walk 500 Miles” playing in the background. Needless to say, this commercial went over much more successfully than its counterpart, garnering over 100,000 likes on YouTube and topping several source lists for Best Super Bowl Commercials of 2015.

So why did puppies and Clydesdales beat braggadocio and MACRO BEER? Because positivity outweighs negativity, stories open minds, and open minds spur people to act. According to a recent study, a person’s mood state directly affects how they act after receiving information via video. After observing the effect of video clips on students to test the role that emotions play in affecting a viewer’s decision-making strategies, researchers found that “mood states exert a causal influence on strategy selection”.

In fact, the researchers found that videos designed to produce negative emotional responses in viewers (especially anger) closed their minds from making a strategic decision, whereas videos designed to produce positive emotional responses from viewers opened their minds to making a strategic decision. That means there’s a direct correlation between the way you feel after watching a video your and choice to act on the information it gives you!

So what does all this have to do with puppies and MACRO BEER? Everything. MACRO BEER didn’t work because it made statements that caused viewers to feel negative emotions like anger and alienation. It closed their minds from making a decision, much less from making a buying decision. Puppies worked because the commercial told a story that made viewers feel positive emotions, like joy. As marketing professor Jennifer Aakar of Stanford University says, it takes us on a journey that moved us to feel differently than we did before watching it, and it opened our minds to making a decision – maybe not to buy their product, but at least to take over 133,000 social actions – i.e., shares, tweets, retweets, etc. – within the first hour after it aired.

Video Marketing Takeaway: If you can’t say anything nice… keep your mouth shut. Tell positive brand stories. Instead of calling out the competition or painting a dreary picture of your clients’ pain points, flip the script. Focus on what makes your product or service better, rather than on what makes your competition inadequate. Sell the dream and paint a picture of the way your product makes things better, rather than suggesting that where your audience is – isn’t where they should be. The nuances are subtle, but they mean the world.

#3 The Delicate Dance of Logic and Emotion

What does it mean to do something “like a girl”? In their brilliant campaign #LikeAGirl, Always shows how real people act when director asks how they’d run, throw, or fight like a girl. As it turns out, doing something “like a girl” means doing something like your regular ol’ human self.

Always achieves a high level of transparency with this candid commercial, simultaneously showing their research process to viewers while exposing the real emotional vulnerability of their actors behind the scenes. This heartfelt move gives way to information that hits with serious impact: the Always team found that young girls who haven’t received the insult that they run “like a girl” don’t run stupidly, flailingly, or awkwardly; they run like a six-year-old should, regardless of gender – with confidence.

After dropping the mic with this bit of information, the video encourages us to change gender stereotypes and “Help us make #LikeAGirl mean amazing things”. So what did they do here that was so amazing? They packaged up their message as a “logic sandwich,” meaty, substantial messaging embedded in an effective emotional appeal. Always does just that. They sandwich their message between passionate explanations of a social problem their brand is trying to correct. They inform with a passion.

Video Marketing Takeaway: You will always reach your audience more effectively within the context of an emotionally meaningful message. However, that message shouldn’t come at the expense of factual information! Logic without emotion is cold and mechanical, but emotion without logic is just fluff. So when you tell your brand story, you’ve got to weave the two together. Is your brand changing people’s lives for the better? Are you solving a real problem, even if it’s just a small one? That’s great! Tell people how you’re doing it with a combination of emotionally-driven anecdotes and hard facts.

#4 Keep An Eye to the Future

Harvard Business professor Rosabeth Moss Canter says, “Great companies invest in the future while being aware of the need to build people and society.” From their product to their brand voice to their messaging, big brands use video to make people feel optimism – not just about their brand, but about the future. So how do they do it? They make people feel good about the future, and they do it with video – which we’re hardwired to like.

Video makes people feel positive emotions. Seriously! In fact, “Experimental results show that video-based multimedia material generates the best learning performance and the most positive emotion” (Chen and Sun 2012). That means video doesn’t jus help viewers understand difficult concepts more than other forms of media – it makes them feel better about what they’re learning. 65% of the population are visual learners, and video is the best way to communicate to visual learners. Since video makes people more positive about what they’re learning, it only makes sense that big brands have always used video to frame their emotional content – and brands are channeling their passion into messaging with an eye toward the future, like this Coca-Cola commercial!

Video Marketing Takeaway: Hopefully you’ve figured out the pun I used for the title of this section. You want to infuse your messaging with optimism and hope – not just about your brand, but about the future! And the best way to get people to share your vision of the future is through video.

Emotionally rich content isn’t always easy to pull off, but to really influence your buyers, you’ve got to engage their heart along with their mind. The good news, though, is that you don’t have to have a multi-million-dollar advertising budget to make great heartfelt content – you just have to make the right moves. So, how are you tackling your customers’ heads and hearts?


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