Finding Your Brand’s Emotional Truth

Finding Your Brand’s Emotional Truth

Vincent van Gogh needed an incentive. He wanted Paul Gauguin to join him in Arles and together begin a movement there that would galvanise the European art scene.

Gauguin, tempted, but undecided was older than van Gogh, more worldly, more recognised in the circles van Gogh wished to move. He was studious and carefully contemplated each brush-stroke, whilst the impetuous van Gogh painted fast, fuelled by emotion. They could learn much from each other – but how to give Gauguin that final push. Van Gogh wrote saying he had completed a self-portrait as well as one of Gauguin. Intrigued and flattered, the elder artist came to Arles and this is what he saw:
Van Gogh’s chair was one he used – the pipe, tobacco and box of onions, as well as the colour palette, display his rustic self-view. Gauguin’s chair reveals a more sophisticated man, the books and multi-coloured carpet show his larger embrace. They are not literal self-portraits – they convey a deeper truth, the Emotional Truth.

The search begins

All your product development, service and communications should combine to answer one simple question. “Why should I choose you?”

You can show off your attributes – engine size, special ingredients, investment skills – and receive polite interest. Moving to rational benefits – like fuel consumption, stain removal and expected returns – may put you on the ‘to be considered’ list. But so far, no cigar. You need a powerful emotional connection, a truth to make your own. Omo claims dirt is good, Allan Gray laterally shows us the benefits of long-term thinking whilst 90% of car ads take the low road, looking for applause in the smoke and mirrors of adland.
The search for emotional truth flows from your purpose, so begin with a journey to the source. Why do you exist? Why will we be better off because of you?
Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Matsushita and Panasonic, hailed by John Kotter, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, as the greatest entrepreneur of the 20th century, has this to say:
Happiness of man is built on mental stability and material affluence. To serve the foundation of happiness, through making man’s life affluent is the duty of the manufacturer.
Profit comes in compensation for contribution to society. Profit is a yardstick with which to measure the degree of social contribution made by an enterprise.
If the enterprise tries to earn a reasonable profit but fails to do so, the reason is because the degree of its social contribution is still insufficient.
Today, as we stumble towards sustainability, organisations that serve a real purpose by adding value to society attract committed employees and loyal customers. Companies will also attract shareholders and analysts burnt and dismayed by the toxic bubbles that the ‘greed is good’ mantra continues to blow up and burst.
We join organisations in the hope that financial reward for hours and inspiration is only part of the deal. Working with others of complementary skills propels us to become the best we can be. We hunger to know what we can achieve together… the difference, however small or large, we can make in this world.
An organisation’s purpose may never be fully achieved – Google will always aspire to “organise the world’s information and make it useful”, Sam Walton’s descendants know they cannot totally succeed in their quest “to give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same thing as rich people”. A purpose is a direction, not a destination. If ever you do get there, you will need a new place to go. Rather than human beings, we are human becomings.
The king was not content with being. He was striving to become.
- Salman Rushdie – The Enchantress of Florence

From purpose to emotional truth

For brands that bear the organisation’s name – from Nando’s to Nike, from Save the Children to SANBI – the emotional truth connects inner purpose with prospect. The Nike purpose is: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. Their emotional truth, best expressed in a TV commercial launched at the time of the London Olympics, showing hundreds of athletes of all ages all over the world, participating rather than winning, is Find Your Greatness.

For multi-brand companies, the purpose should be constant for the organisation, while each brand finds its own emotional truth. Unilever has defined its corporate purpose as “adding vitality to life”. This is how its purpose cascades into attributes, rational benefits and emotional truth for Dove, one of the fastest growing brands in the Unilever stable.

The insight to feature women of different shapes and sizes in advertising come from research where female consumers complained of adland’s impossibly perfect bodies. Using this emotional truth led to the highest viewed branded video on YouTube, with 56 million views and counting.

When Dove decided to double its brand territory by bringing out a range for men, research again provided the direction.
“We hear from 73% of men that they’re falsely or inaccurately depicted in advertising,” Rob Candelino, Unilever VP-skin-care marketing.
There were three aggravating stereotypes:
  1. Alpha males with chiseled abs driving high-powered sports cars
  2. Guys obsessed with winning the affections of women
  3. Buffoon dads.

We wanted something to show real men in real life and what most men in Dove’s target say is “First and foremost, I’m a dad”.

And that’s what Dove Men + Care showed, in print and TV. The “+ Care” part of the name encapsulates rational benefit and the emotional truth. As the brand cares for your skin, you show your care as a dad. Powerful stuff.
For that younger guy, Unilever has Axe, adding vitality to life in a way that would be a stereotype, but for the humor.

For their leading washing powder, Unilever captured another emotional truth.

Attributes only convince and excite those who develop them. We give rational benefits half an ear, as they do not answer why - Why should I choose you?

The answer to this question can sometimes be because you are the cheapest, or most accessible, or newest. More often though and best for growth is the answer: Because you really understand me – you get me.
An emotional truth, whether by Van Gogh, Unilever or Nike contains deep insight on which you can build your communications.
“I think therefore I am” is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothache. “I feel therefore I am” is a truth much more universally valid.
- Milan Kundera
by Mike Freedman: A doyen of the advertising and branding community, and founder of Freedthinkers.


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