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Mixed Messaging | When Good Intentions in Advertising Miss the Mark

Everybody loves a good sappy commercial that tugs on your heartstrings, makes you feel warm and fuzzy, or provokes a genuine emotional response. They usually pop up around holidays or special broadcast events like the Olympics. With the world in a state of crisis management, we’re seeing more and more advertisers leaning on emotions as a vehicle for generating a response.

Obviously the downside to this is that we are not mindless, unfeeling people – but we are also not unintelligent, and we tend to know when we are being manipulated. Most of advertising is just that – subtle manipulation to get a reaction – but there is a certain point where that reaction goes too far.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtug5an4L8E]

I first saw the commercial above on Twitter, linked in a post that said something to the effect of “I guarantee you will never in your wildest imagination guess what this commercial is advertising.” The voiceover and imagery of young female scientists challenging the stigma of their field immediately provokes an emotional response, but juxtaposed with a board game that tries – and by most all accounts – utterly fails to address the real world concerns it’s highlighting, the message of the ad left a very bad taste in many viewer’s mouths when it debuted on social media.

In contrast to the Miss Monopoly ad above, I thought of the Dove “Like a Girl” ads from a few years ago, or their more recent ads highlighting body positivity and women’s healthcare and wellness. I think of the emotionally charged ads that air during the Olympics, showcasing the struggles and victories of athletes – female and male – and the arduous roads that brought them to the fore of their sports. Emotional response in advertising doesn’t always receive negative feedback. Sometimes it works very well, but in many cases feels extremely manipulative or in direct conflict with what the brand means or does in the first place.

Particularly right now, as the world is extremely vulnerable during a challenging time in our lives, emotional marketing is going to be used a lot to try and drive responses. Done well, it can spark action within our communities and drive economic growth in a way that is beneficial to businesses and consumers. But we have to be careful that we aren’t doing more harm than good with insincere motivations that send mixed messages to our customers and community.

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