Emotional Branding and the History of Product Marketing

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The history of emotional branding as a marketing tool does not quite reach back into the Stone Age. Advertising and marketing used to be as simple as demonstrating what a product could do. 

The earliest advertisements were little more than attempts at simple customer awareness; in some ways, early advertising was nothing more complex than bringing the old-fashioned traveling salesman into a thousand households at once via the newspaper advertisement or the radio commercial. In those early days, marketing plans were typically created by proprietors, a few of which might have been savvy enough to hire one of those traveling salesmen to write copy.

In fact, it was a former traveling salesman-turned-copywriter who is credited with beginning the transformation of advertising and marketing into a science, if not quite an art. In the early 20’s, Claude Hopkins published Scientific Advertising, the first how-to manual for advertising and marketing. That book can be considered the godfather of literally hundreds of millions of words published since offering advice on how to sell, advertise, promote or market a business or product. Many readers of contemporary manuals on marketing probably would not recognize Claude Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising as having anything to do with marketing, however. Claude Hopkins was averse to the use of hype or emotional effects, believing that the best route to customer loyalty lay in simple but effective factual description. 

Furthermore, a visual accompaniment was usually unnecessary; its necessity being defined strictly in terms of how well it illustrated the utilitarian quality of the product. In other words, if the image didn’t show how to use the product, the advertisement could do well without it.

As a result, most advertising up to and following Claude Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising tended to be short on imagery and heavy on description. At the time this approach was really all that was necessary. Shortly after the head of the U.S. Patent Office suggested in 1901 that his department should be shut down because there was nothing left to invent, the world saw the most incredible explosion of new technological advancements in history. This invention explosion resulted in new machines with which many people were unfamiliar, and the gist of advertising still depended greatly on introducing these new inventions and showing customers how to use them. You couldn’t hope to sell something if people didn’t know how to use it and as many movies made during the silent era reveal, many Americans were shy about trying out these confusing, newfangled thingamajigs. Therefore, marketing form followed marketing function; there was little point in attempting to create brand loyalty for a product when most customers might not even know how to use it. Not to mention the fact that there probably was only one company making the product anyway.

Product branding derives from the act of actually burning a logo into the hide of cattle or other animals. Branding was a method by which one farm or ranch could easily identify their own property. 

If any confusion arose over ownership of a calf, the brand could instantly resolve disputes. The same principle applies to corporate branding, though the purpose is much more expansive. A successful corporate brand doesn’t just guarantee immediate recognition among consumers; it will also result in a wealth of psychological associations. At least, that is the intention and the fanatical hope. Modern day corporate branding can be traced back to the Chicago school of advertising and the creation of characters that are meant to identify a product. The revolutionary leap made by the practitioners of the Chicago school of advertising was that even the most commonplace of products could be invested with a certain sense of excitement through the use of a fictional character with which consumers could identify. Perhaps the greatest example of how successful the Chicago school of advertising could be can be witnessed by how a product as unexciting as the common pea could be successfully branded through the introduction of the Jolly Green Giant character. Even more importantly for corporations was the realization that by utilizing the methodology endorsed by the Chicago school of advertising consumers could more easily remember the name and distinguish among competing manufacturers by connecting a familiar and instantly recognizable figure to the product. Consider Ronald McDonald the ultimate creation of the Chicago school of advertising. (Or, you can also consider Ronald McDonald the spawn of Satan, it’s all good.)

A combination of factors led to the evolution of brand marketing from Claude Hopkins’ original concept, but without a doubt the single greatest factor was the introduction of television. 

The visual component of television exponentially increased the power that radio advertising had; although radio advertising could be targeted to millions at a time, clearly the lack of visual accompaniment provided a far bigger disadvantage than Claude Hopkins’ realized. Description alone could not do justice to the new inventions and products that were being rolled out by the middle of the twentieth century. Advertisers discovered that the novelty of watching someone merely demonstrate a product quickly wore off. One of the other important factors contributing to the evolution of product marketing was an increase in competition as these new products were being marketed by more and more competing manufacturers. With more manufacturers producing identical products, marketers could no longer afford to rely merely upon demonstration and publicizing; individuating one product from its competitors became the primary focus. The focus of advertising gradually shifted from the product itself to the image engendered by the product. Modern day marketing had begun.

The idea that image is everything has been the mantra for marketing for decades now. 

Sprite even used it as a slogan, apparently to less than stellar results. The idea that image is everything resulted in a 180-degree about face from Claude Hopkins’ rules of engagement in Scientific Advertising. By the 1980s commercials were being embraced by millions in which not only were consumers not given any factual information about what a product did, but very often the product itself wasn’t even featured in the advertising. The hot advertising buzzword of this generation is something known as emotional branding. Emotional branding attempts not so much to create an image for a company or a particular product line and then sell it to consumers, as it is to create a sense that the brand is an integral part of one’s life. Emotional branding is successful when it inculcates in the customer the belief that the company is an important component in one’s overall feeling of content. At its best-or worst, depending upon your point of view-emotional branding results in the belief among consumers that a company fulfills some kind of need well beyond consumer satisfaction.

The difference between image-based advertising and emotional branding can be illustrated this way: 

Pepsi’s Mountain Dew skyrocketed from nearly being discontinued to being one of the most successful soft drinks in the world b virtue of an advertising campaign that did away with Mountain Dew’s history as a drink for hillbillies and established it as the soft drink of choice for extreme sport enthusiasts. That image is now a permanent part of the Mountain Dew marketing campaign. By way of contrast, Starbucks-which lives or dies by selling a highly caffeinated beverage not unlike Mountain Dew-is perhaps the epitome of the emotional branding concept. Consumer surveys have revealed that many people have developed a strong emotional attachment to Starbucks. For these people, Starbucks has become not just a brick and mortar locale, but a vital part of their life. The evidence of brand loyalty need not be found in stacks of research, however; simply consider how many millions of people willingly pay inflated prices at Starbucks for the very same coffee they could get for half the price elsewhere. But Starbucks isn’t just a place where people buy coffee; it has come to mean much more to its patrons. Marketing companies and authors selling the idea of emotional branding often compare this kind of brand loyalty to one of spiritual or social need. It is the ultimate example of how capitalism conflicts with the teachings of all the great religious leaders, including Jesus Christ. 

The ultimate aim of emotional branding is to fulfill that spiritual chasm in your soul with belief in the power of big business to relieve those nagging feelings of discontent and alienation. 

While replacing the image of Jesus Christ as developed and sold by the likes of Jerry Falwell or John Hagee with Ronald McDonald is perhaps not the worst thing one could do, surely there’s gotta be better alternatives. Like, for instance, eschewing the emotional branding as practiced by organized religion in America, picking up the Bible, and figuring out for yourself whether a directive like “Love Your Neighbor” really does apply only to those neighbors who worship the same God as you.

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