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Supercharge your storytelling through behavioural science

Rational vs Emotional Video

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If you want to boost your marketing ROI and create more effective videos, you must elicit emotion in your target audiences. In this post I’ll explain why and share key insights from the behavioural sciences, demystify System 1 & System 2, and hopefully inspire you to improve your branded videos through stronger storytelling.

Rationality: A costly misconception

Most consumers – and the marketers targeting them – think their brand choices are largely rational. When asked about their purchases, people cite reasons like price and specific product features. Yet research from the behavioural sciences, including psychology and behavioural economics, teaches us that our choices are far less rational than we appreciate. Emotional responses and instinctive impulses are not merely important, they are the driving force behind consumer decision-making.

This misconception leads brands to overemphasise analytical processing. This damages marketing performance across the mix, but the opportunity cost is particularly pronounced in branded video because emotional impact is what moving image does best. That’s why Aspect is on a mission to help brands apply behavioural insights to their video marketing.

What do marketers need to know about System 1 & System 2?

Many folks in the advertising world first became aware of behavioural economics through reading Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, Nudge by Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein – revised and republished in 2021 – and the bestseller Thinking Fast & Slow by Professor Daniel Kahneman. It was Kahneman’s book which introduced the terms System 1 and System 2 to a mass audience. Others discovered it through Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland who strongly advocated the approach during his Presidency of the Institute of Practitioners of Advertising (IPA).

If all this passed you by, don’t worry, you’re not alone! Many marketers who are familiar with behavioural science principles still have no idea how to apply them to their own brands.

In a nutshell, System 1 and System 2 is a model for understanding different aspects of human decision-making. Here are some of the differences between them:

System 1 characteristics:

• Emotional, instinctive, automatic

• Effortless – doesn’t require much energy

• Fast

System 2 characteristics:

• Rational, reflective, conscious

• Effortful – takes lots of energy

• Slow

We identify strongly with System 2 and think it’s in the driving seat, yet most of the time, we’re operating from System 1.

While System 1 and System 2 aren’t literal areas of the brain, we tend to associate System 1 with the brain’s amygdala, a part of the limbic system known as our “reptilian brain”, and think of System 2 in connection with the prefrontal lobes. Naturally, human decision-making is hugely complex and multifaceted, and both ‘Systems’ work in tandem to help us navigate the world. Yet differentiating between these two systems is useful because it helps us realise that we rely on System 1 way more than we think we do – and the same insight applies to our customers.

System 1’s mental short-cuts

System 1 helps us to make choices quickly and efficiently, without reasoned analysis. Imagine your ancestors in a hunter-gatherer scenario. You don’t need to know the nutritional value of a particular fruit, or whether tastier berries can be found elsewhere in the forest. You just want to know: Can I eat these berries right now? If you ate something similar yesterday and can see others tucking into them, System 1 tells you to pop a berry in your mouth. It tastes delicious, and you chomp away without further thought.

This is the beauty of System 1 decision-making; it helps us make good choices quickly, so we can stay safe and conserve precious energy. It takes a range of factors into account, such as:

• Past experiences and habits (it worked before)

• Social proof (others are doing it)

• How it feels (because if it feels good, it probably is good)

Such mental shortcuts are known as ‘heuristics’ or ‘cognitive biases’ by behavioural scientists. Brands who understand these shortcuts can design communications and content which appeals to System 1 decision-making, making it easier for customers to say ‘yes’ to their calls to action.

In the case of social proof, this could mean signalling to customers that other people are buying the same product, to indicate that it’s a safe and good choice. However, it isn’t quite this simple. The effectiveness of social proof as a marketing mechanic will depend on a number of related factors, such as the decision-making context, the individual’s past behaviour and experiences, their emotional state at the time, and the way that they relate to and perceive the other people in question. For instance:

• Negative social proof – if we observe behaviour in someone that we do not trust or identify with, we may well do the opposite.

• Informational social influence – if we’re in an unfamiliar or ambiguous situation, we may take cues from what others are doing in order to know how to behave.

• Normative social influence – in other situations we may conform to what others are doing as a means of gaining social acceptance and approval.

We’ll dig into more examples of cognitive biases in future posts, as they give marketers useful tools for understanding and influencing behaviour. But for now, don’t worry too much about the different biases. The key point is that instead of trying to convince target audiences via rational System 2, you probably need to put more energy into appealing to emotional System 1.

The ROI of emotional advertising

Brands that incorporate these insights into their marketing have an advantage when it comes to driving campaign engagement and product purchases. Research by the IPA  found that emotional creative is twice as likely to deliver major profit gains (16% of rational, message-led campaigns vs 31% of purely emotional campaigns). Emotional campaigns are more effective in the long term and more likely to be shared and go viral.

Tell stories that connect emotionally

While there’s no single formula for effective storytelling, video is one of the best mediums to elicit emotional response. If you’d like to apply System 1 thinking to your own storytelling, here are three angles to get you started:

1. Movement. E-motion is all about movement, thus compelling stories often feel dynamic in their emotional quality. They take us from one state to another and often include an element of surprise or resolution. When developing concepts, get clear on your intentions for the viewer experience: What will the viewer ideally feel at the beginning and how will this change by the end of the story?

For inspiration: Guinness – Basketball

This ad helped Guinness return to growth in the US and gained 1.5 value share points in Ireland. Market share in the UK returned to levels unseen for three years. And please note, it contains no rational reasons to buy a glass of stout!

2. Relatability. Try to identify and express experiences which carry emotional weight for your target audience. This builds on the social proof discussion above. Viewers should be able to recognise something of themselves in what you create. Don’t feel obliged to explain why your product ‘solves’ a problem, because we’re not focusing on System 2 anymore. Instead, try to hold a mirror up to their experience – then for bonus points, see if you can put a twist on it!

For inspiration: Le Trefle – Emma

This story loses nothing in translation. After initially running out of stock, this advert more than doubled sales and enabled the brand to expand to 6 markets outside France. And did you notice that the ad contains no rational reasons to buy their brand of loo roll?

3. Attention. Aim to trigger physiological responses to your creative, especially in the opening seconds. Remember that even if your ad is showing in a cinema, videos are rarely watched with undivided attention. While music can certainly amp-up the emotional impact, you need to turn up the volume using every lever possible, as most videos are watched on mute for a matter of seconds. Secure attention through action, intrigue, human emotion, eye contact, text, panning, zooming – and so forth. You can’t tell a story if you don’t have an audience.

Here are two very different examples of how to create an opener with impact:

Whatever your brand, product and values, whether you’re a breast pump manufacturer or an independent bowling alley, there are endless pathways for connecting with viewers. The challenge is to give yourself permission to focus less on the rational and more on the emotional.

Finally, at Aspect we use a behavioural science framework called the 3 Fs to help brands build intuitive preference among target audiences. The 3 Fs stand for ‘Fame’, ‘Feeling’ & ‘Fluency’. A cool thing about this model – and behavioural approaches in general – is that they can help marketers build an evidence-based business case, which can otherwise be a major barrier to adopting emotional marketing best-practices.

To learn all about the 3 Fs, check out our recent post: [insert link]

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