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Advertising Opinion South Africa

From Provocative to Evocative: Why an emotional response to advertising is essential for brands

It is crucial for marketers in a world increasingly saturated with information, where people are constantly bombarded by personal, work and marketing messages, to create evocative, memorable advertising, or run the risk of their messages getting lost in the noise.
Source: © Bizcommunity (L to r): Ogilvy UK vice-chairman Rory Sutherland and creative activist and Number 10 founder Ahmed Tilly talk to Mongezi Mtati, brand strategist at Rogerwilco, on why an emotional response to advertising is essential for brands
Source: © Bizcommunity (L to r): Ogilvy UK vice-chairman Rory Sutherland and creative activist and Number 10 founder Ahmed Tilly talk to Mongezi Mtati, brand strategist at Rogerwilco, on why an emotional response to advertising is essential for brands

But this means being brave and to be brave requires an acute understanding of how customers think and behave.

Afraid to stand out – and fail

Creative activist and Number 10 founder, Ahmed Tilly, sees the bulk of the advertising out there as designed not to fail, rather than to succeed.

“Everyone’s trying not to make a mistake – in fact they’re actually trying not to stand out because they’re afraid of doing the wrong thing.”
Some brands stand out by being provocative, but Tilly argues that this is actually rare.

“Provocative implies work that gets you into hot water. There are very few brands that have earned the right to do this, by which I mean they’ve always done it, there’s an expectation by consumers that they will do it, and disappointment if they don’t. Just look at Nando’s as an example.”

Few brands may have earned that right, says Tilly, but for the rest, brave is really important – especially if a brand wishes to embark on a provocative marketing journey.

“The only way to do this is to be brave and say, this is who we are. We haven’t said this before but we’re going to start now. "

He says you need to be prepared for disagreement and dissent from your consumers because they're not used to seeing you that way.

“You've got to go in knowing that part of the market may not like what you are saying, but if you're true to your brand then it's okay to move because what you stand to gain is a whole lot of people who buy in and subscribe to who you are. Nobody ever moves the needle without doing something that may be unpopular.”

Serving the brand first

Tilly says he also wants to shift from the idea of provocative to evocative. “This means it evokes an emotional response. If your work doesn’t do that, you’re effectively polluting the world with it.”

Understanding how to create that emotional response requires understanding your customers, your client – and, crucially, the brand.

Tilly acknowledges that there are times when the client may want to go in a direction that diverges from the brand's essence, and it’s the agency’s responsibility to bring the message back to that essence.

“I’ve always put the brand first, and I’ll fight with clients about what is right for the brand and its consumers. Because, ultimately we as agencies don’t serve CMOs; we serve the brand. On both sides, everyone serves the brand.”

Patterns in behaviour

Even if you know your brand and know you need to create an emotional response, it’s often not quite clear how to do that.

Ogilvy UK vice-chairman, Rory Sutherland spends a lot of time looking for patterns in behaviour – behavioural science is a science, after all, and science requires observation.

However, when it comes to harnessing the power of stories and emotions in marketing, he says the first lesson is to accept that sometimes magic is possible.

“Things like engineering and economics tend to assume proportionality,” says Sutherland. “And when you assume proportionality, you assume there are trade-offs.

With marketing, every now and then you can create something that exploits a psychological effect, or an asymmetry of perception, which is pretty akin to magic.

“You can invent a word or describe something differently, and get a totally different emotional response.”

Creative people can be annoying

Sutherland says the reason creative people can be annoying is that they lack a sense of proportion.

“They get obsessed about punctuation, certain phrases or the size of the logo, and they don’t seem to care about the things that are really important.

“In a way, they’re right to be like that. Because when you're dealing with complex systems – psychology and human behaviour being obvious examples, but they don’t have a sense of proportion either. They have butterfly effects all over the place.”

For this reason, small changes can yield enormous results, which is why creatives tend to obsess over them.

And one small, potentially impactful change that can yield great emotional responses is to focus on the positive, says Sutherland.

Advertising can be magic

“The brain will always notice something at the expense of something else – that's how magicians do sleight-of-hand card tricks.

“But advertising can do that too. It’s simply about getting people to focus on the positive and worry less about the negative to the point where it doesn't even matter.”

Navigating the modern marketing landscape

Navigating the modern marketing landscape requires a blend of bravery, emotional intelligence, and a deep understanding of consumer behaviour.

Standing out in a crowded market isn’t about avoiding mistakes, but about daring to evoke strong emotional responses and staying true to the brand’s essence.

While provocation has its place, evocation—creating work that resonates emotionally—holds the key to memorable and impactful advertising.

The above is based on Mongezi Mtati’s podcast, The Lead Creative

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