Considering the uncle of Edward Berneays (also known as the “father of public relations”), was none other than Sigmund Freud himself, it’s not surprising that the growth of the public relations and advertising industry can be traced back to the application of psychological knowledge to ad campaigns. Berneays used his knowledge of emotional motivation and group psychology to become a pioneer in ad marketing, even working with the U.S government to influence public opinion on World War I.
Strong emotion is still the mainstay for many ad campaigns and a classic method is for advertisements to either invoke hope or fear. If you’ve ever seen a single political ad, you’ll know what I mean. Not every candidate is guilty of this, but there are always candidates in every race that use fear. Jumping on the hot topic of the moment, whether that’s jobs, or the economy or the sanctity of marriage the fear based ads will denounce the opposing candidate as the bringer of all things terrible. Then there are campaigns that work to evoke positive feelings. A good example would be just about any ad for Coca Cola. They’ve explicitly co-opted the word “happiness” as a slogan in many of their recent ads, and their holiday ads are especially designed to evoke feelings of nostalgia. Given a choice between the two, I greatly prefer hope.
Currently my favorite ad is without question Chipotle’s “Back to the Start”, a short(just over 2 minutes) film about sustainable farming. The film follows a farmer’s journey as his farm becomes increasingly industrialized and his eventual change of heart when he realizes how much damage he has caused. There isn’t any dialogue, but the poignant overlay of Willie Nelson’s stripped down, acoustic cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” more than carries the entire film.
Much like the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s Up, “Back to the Start” takes us on an emotional rollercoaster ride, but instead of a love story, this is a story about one man’s fall and subsequent quest for redemption. And while there is no promise of a happy ending, this is exactly why this ad is so powerful, because it suggests to us the possibility of a second chance, a chance to make things right and the possibility of hope.
Hope is also the reasoning behind another ad that has been getting a lot of press, Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad starring Clint Eastwood. In both commercials the company name isn’t shown until the very end, but by then all the groundwork is already done, and all the companies have to do is link their brand to the good feelings you’re left with. As neuroscientist Carla Shatz says, “neurons that fire together, wire together” so truly inspired brand marketers know that commercials that evoke hope are the most powerful because those good feelings get associated with the brand and the product. Good work Chipotle and Chrysler.