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Two weeks ago the Advertising Standards Authority cleared publicity material for the NSPCC after complaints that its reference to child abuse was “disturbing and offensive”.

The advertising watchdog investigation concerned a DVD sent as a direct mailing in December.  The ASA said such a distressing subject was likely to cause discomfort when presented in any medium.  The charity said it recognized that some people would be sensitive to the “difficult” issues of child abuse.

The DVD case carried the text: “Kerry’s father asked her to do the unthinkable. And then he filmed it.”  A leaflet inside the DVD said: “The footage of Kerry is now with the police. As is her father, because she was able to talk to ChildLine.”

Seven people complained.  Thankfully the ASA did not agree: “We took the view that any discomfort inherent in the subject of child abuse ought to be balanced by the worthwhile purpose of raising awareness of it.”

The fundamental point to advertising is to elicit a response.  A connection with the brand that makes you feel “yes, that’s relevant to me and how I feel”.  But it goes further than that.  Advertising, and all marketing, is supposed to communicate the brand messages – whether they are aspirational, practical or anything else.  Above all, advertising is there to provoke an emotional reaction.

The fact that seven people chose to object to this advert suggests to me that it did the trick.  They found it “disturbing and offensive”… well, here’s the shocker… child abuse, and allowing it to continue, is.  The direct mailing made society feel uncomfortable.  I made it impossible for people to sit back and ‘think about it tomorrow’.  It was, in short, inspired, and should, I think, go down on the list as one of the very great campaigns of modern times.  It would be interesting to see the effect it had on donations and support.  If you would like to donate you can do so online here.

It’s easy, however, to do this with an emotive topic like child abuse.  One would have to have a heart of steel not to feel disturbed by the issues raised.  How relevant is this, then, to day-to-day business?

In an increasingly regulated society, we have gradually fallen into a pattern of desensitizing advertising and marketing.  In the B2B world we all pretend to focus on ‘needs’ and ‘drivers’ but more often fall back on tangible benefits or expertise demonstration.  Some would argue that it’s easier to focus campaigns on emotions when you are marketing to consumers – a charity seeking donations or a new bank promoting its launch.  Businesses are less emotion-led, surely?

Well, here’s a novel thought… businesses don’t buy stuff.  Businesses don’t read adverts or marketing mailings.  People at businesses do.  And those people all have emotions.  Their decisions are all influenced by their emotional reaction to your brand.  Ok, the decision-making process may be slightly less reactive, but the influence is undeniable.  If you desensitize your marketing approach then the impact of your message will be vastly less effective because it won’t tap in to the things that influence purchase decisions.

The most successful B2B advertising and marketing campaigns have recognized the importance of individuals and their emotions – the desire to be seen as a person, rather than a company.  It is for this reason that pURL campaigns are on the up and broader campaigns are increasingly talking to individuals, within organizations, rather than faceless corporations.

In summary… bring back emotions.  Let’s not be afraid of them and let’s certainly not complain about them… even though we’re British.

Some award-winning campaigns to inspire B2B marketers:

‘I am’ for Thunderhead

‘The cost boomerang’ for KPMG

‘Rejuvenating the customer conversation’ for Lombard Group

‘O2 reduced cost and complexity’ for O2

‘Take off with Magnet Trade’ for Magnet Trade

 

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