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Brand building: some evidence for an eternal debate

Have you ever been in a discussion with a client who wants you to force-fit his rational product messages into your awesome aspirational storyline or campaign idea?

Our instinctive reaction is always: “yes, but there’s tons of research saying we shouldn’t be functional and rather use emotional triggers”. But the discussion often ends up there, and real evidence never shows up (and sad enough, the client may win).

But where the hell is this piece of research when we need it?

Well, the Journal of Advertising Research just published an article that addresses our matter and pushed it a step beyond by looking at a cross-cultural context (exact title of the article is “How to Advertise and Build Brand Knowledge Globally: Comparing Television Advertising Appeals across Developed and Emerging Economies“).

In other words, they’ve advanced the understanding of the impact of different advertising appeals (functional or emotional, global or local) on brand knowledge (brand awareness, brand attitude and brand uniqueness) in different types of markets (high-GDP, mid-GDP and low-GDP).

The results of the research are more than revealing and it gets especially useful when we look at the group from mid-GPD countries (a sample from Saudi Arabia was included in this group along with Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Poland, Russia and Turkey).

For this one, the relationship between the emotional appeal (benefits that inspire sensations and feelings) and the components of brand knowledge was even stronger than for high-GDP countries. This could be explained by the fact that mid-GDP consumers are less familiar with this type of appeal so it’s more likely to have a stronger persuasive power on them (while in high-GDP markets, emotional appeal is conventional).

A surprise when it comes to low-GDP countries

When we look at low-GDP countries (China, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, South Africa, Thailand and Vietnam), we’d all have thought that product functionalities would be the most persuasive appeals. What’s coming is actually quite surprising: the research didn’t show any significant relationship between the functional appeal and component of brand knowledge. The research rather revealed that the “global consumer culture” appeal seemed to be more effective. On the other end, this global appeal didn’t have any significant relationship with brand knowledge in mid-GDP or high-GDP countries. The explanation could be that the Western world symbols are in fact a reflection of the global appeal.

Moreover, the authors have designed the research in such way that all the components of the creative (in this case, television advertisements for FMCG) were surveyed. So both in high-GDP and mid-GDP markets, “story-line narratives, slice-of-life effects, and special-effects formats and strong and emotional tones of voice, fast-paced advertisements with female voice-overs, brand cues, analogies/metaphors, and hyperboles/emphases” should be prioritized.

They’ve also shed some light on the stimuli that can have a negative relationship with the emotional appeal of a TV ad. So things like experts/spokespersons and product/brand mentions (in both country groups); demo formats (in high-GDP countries only); consumer characters and comparative formats (in mid-GDP countries only) were seen negatively by the participants.

Slap Chop

As an overall conclusion for the 3 types of market (and see it as an implication for advertisers), the authors are keeping it quite clear and concise: “Messages centered on a product’s functionality shouldn’t be used”.

So, here you are with an additional tool in your toolkit!

(NB: You need to get a Warc account if you want to access the full version of the article)