Will It Be Emotional Chips Or Rational Spuds?

(Sing along)
Will it be chips or jacket spuds?
Will it be salad or frozen peas?
Will it be mushrooms?
Fried onion rings.
You’ll have to wait and see.
Hope it’s chips, it’s chips.
We hope its chips, it’s chips.

Now many of you may well remember that ditty from a TV ad back in the eighties. It featured some workmen on their way home in a van, singing along, speculating on what they will have for their tea.

I bloody loved that ad. I still sing this way too often as a meal time approaches. The interesting thing is who was the ad for?

Would you be surprised to know that it was not for chips? Can you hazard a guess why I thought it was chips? It was in fact for a steaky burger thingy-ma-jig made by Birds Eye.

Is it helpful to an advertiser for me to remember their ad in some way – in this case a song that appears to me to be about chips – but not the product they would like me to add to my shopping list? To be honest I'm quite happy with the song, but are they okay with that?

Increasingly I see people talk about the idea that brands need to make advertising that is fun and entertaining, and I don’t disagree.

I think if I am going to sit through the ads, they might as well be interesting in some way. But if I can only recall that I watched something fun, and what made it fun, but not what it was advertising, isn’t that a waste of money?

Don’t brand owners want people to remember the ad by saying I like the ad for product x that was funny / interesting / entertaining because of y?

Of course, you can get the message drummed in by spending millions on ad space but that isn’t a particularly strategic argument is it?

And this is where I get very confused. Take this brilliant research done by Peter Fields and Les Binet.

They make great points regarding loyalty, retaining prices and the use of TV as a medium. One key point still confuses me a lot – that advertising should not just be more emotional than rational, but that advertising barely needs any rational at all. In fact in the long term, brands that advertise using purely emotional beat solely rational or a combination of the two.

“The more emotions dominate over rational messaging the bigger the business effect. The most effective advertising of all is those with little or no rational content.” They go on to say “that campaigns that aim to get their brand and marketing talked about are particularly effective.”

Are there ad agencies that don't have this aim, I ask myself?

They continue, “Most ads of this nature are highly emotional but the additional element of talk value seem to boost effectiveness further. A good example of this would be Marks and Spencer’s (M&S) food.

This is my confusion. I remember those ads, I am sure you do too. They put their name in the strapline – “This is not just food, this is M&S food.” If that's not rational thinking I don't know what is. My mum still says that strapline at Christmas when she brings out M&S smoked salmon, nibbles or cake etc.

What’s so good about M&S food, you might say, and is it even important? Well the ad tells you, it talks about the provenance of the food, how it was produced, how it is cooked or prepared. What can be more rational than explaining the product to the viewer?

So is the problem the definition of emotional advertising? Does what a lot of people call emotional advertising actually include advertising that has a rational message in it?

My mum bloody loved that ad.


  1. Well you can use rational points to create an emotional reaction. Or you can use an emotional ad to illustrate a rational point. Or you can just create an emotional ad with no rational points, or a rational ad with no emotional element.

    Assuming that "being entertained" counts as an emotional reaction, then the first two are the ideal, the third works fine in a category where little to no rational thinking goes into consumer choice (chocolate bars, beer, washing powder, fashion, etc), and the fourth should be avoided at all costs.

    I suspect that what Binet and Field are discussing is the ads that fall into the fourth category, that make a rational point but elicit no emotional reaction from the viewer.

  2. Hi Martin

    I agree with some of your points. I am not sure if Field and Binet would. They make a very clear point - " The more emotions dominate over rational messaging the bigger the business effect. The most effective advertising of all is those with little or no rational content."

    Or maybe you are right and I am reading to much into their statements. It just seems strange to me for them to be so crystal clear in some of their writing and yet some people think they are saying something else. And secondly they highlight an ad like M&S that to my mind is far from lacking rational content. Isn't it more the 'truth well told'?

    1. Well, perhaps the problem is that rational messages are mostly executed very badly.

      To be fair, in the report they single out M&S as an advert that got talked about, and don't specifically say there is no rational content in it. I also wonder whether they have taken advertisers' claims about their advertising at face value, rather than determining for themselves how much rational or emotional messaging there was. Note that they say "authors are asked how the campaign in question was intended to influence consumers". So that could be a potential data collection flaw.