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.

George 'swoon' Clooney

This weekend George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin tied the knot in Venice - accompanied by the sound of church bells, paparazzi flashes and womenkind's collective vaginal queef of disappointment.

To celebrate this special occasion, below are my top 5 ads de Clooney.

Footprints & Hobo Denim.

The execution of these two ads leave a lot to be desired, but the idea behind them both are nice and simple. Show how well your shit works.

The first is for Footprint Insoles. They are insoles designed for sucking up heavy impact away from your tootsies when you skate.

The is for Vol. 4's Hobo Denim. Again, made for skating. Durable jeans that won't pop at the crotch.

They both stood out a mile amongst they're competitor's fashiony fashionable fashion-style ads. Hats off.


A couple of years ago Steven Soderbergh revealed that he had spent a lot of time watching Raiders of the Lost Ark in black and white. Now he has actually released a version of the film in black and white with a different score and no dialogue.

The reason?

He wants you to think more carefully about how each shot is staged or visually constructed. I'll let him explain:

"So I want you to watch this movie and think only about staging, how the shots are built and laid out, what the rules of movement are, what the cutting patterns are. See if you can reproduce the thought process that resulted in these choices by asking yourself: why was each shot—whether short or long—held for that exact length of time and placed in that order? Sounds like fun, right? It actually is. To me. Oh, and I’ve removed all sound and color from the film, apart from a score designed to aid you in your quest to just study the visual staging aspect. Wait, WHAT? HOW COULD YOU DO THIS? Well, I’m not saying I’m like, ALLOWED to do this, I’m just saying this is what I do when I try to learn about staging, and this filmmaker forgot more about staging by the time he made his first feature than I know to this day (for example, no matter how fast the cuts come, you always know exactly where you are—that’s high level visual math shit). "

You can view the film on his page over here. It's worth a nosey around his site too, it's an interesting place.

The Context Of Reason

The reason we choose to explain a particular cause and effect is determined by the social context of that reason. Let me explain.

A woman is driving home from the pub, and unbeknown to her she is slightly over the limit, despite checking the alcohol content of the drinks she earlier ordered with the first-day bar person.

She approaches a bend in the road (that is lightly damp from the rain earlier) that the local council have been warned about being a dangerous spot for over a year.

Her car brakes were fixed just two week prior by a less than reputable garage.

A man is crossing the road in a world of his own on the way to the 24 hour hour garage to buy some cigarettes.

The accident happens. Who is to blame?

The chances are that in today’s social context the blame would lie squarely with the drink driver. However, hopefully it's apparent that perhaps there are other reasons at play too.

The council for not heeding warnings regarding the condition of the road? Incorrect information from the ill-trained bar person, or the law for allowing any alcohol consumption prior to driving at all. Faulty brakes that were assumed to be fixed. The rain?

And what if the man had not had his nicotine craving? He then wouldn’t even be there. What if cigarettes were illegal or his parents hadn’t smoked? Would anyone today dare mention the gender of the driver? Or indeed the gender or the careless road crosser?

Perhaps a philosopher who believes in determinism could argue that everyone is blameless, and with a lack of free will, nobody is ever ‘really’ to blame, even if one reason seems a more likely cause than others. The crash was in a way unavoidable. Free will is just an illusion.

A similar dilemma faces creatives when they choose to highlight a reason why a person may wish to choose the product they're working on. The social context of that reason is key.

Do you talk about the easy-to-hold size of can for a fizzy drink? The taste of the drink? The fizziness? Its low calorie contents? The long lasting ability of something being canned? The consequence of not being dehydrated? The fashion statement for drinking that particular brand? Its heritage perhaps or something else entirely?

I think the importance is how that brand wishes to compete in its contemporary setting. The power of a particular reason varies with a social context.

Today many western societies are seeing a retreat from reasoning, with people being seen as objects rather than subjects. People, it is fashionably said by cognitive scientists, don’t have free will and their powers to reason are overstated – they are at the mercy of their genes, neurobiology or social settings.

The reason why someone is as they are, is commonly attributed to un-avoidable consequences.

This has lead to, in some quarters, commercials lacking any reason at all. And instead relying on emotional appeal.

People are seen as being ruled by their emotions, and so adverts attempt to make people feel something about the brand rather that be persuaded by reason.

The emotional appeal is often a positive one i.e. joy, happiness, fun and so on. If you can make someone feel a particular way they will be more inclined to buy your product, or so their story goes.

So it seems that many brands, regardless of their category, begin to make adverts that all have the same emotional goal - to entertain the consumer and leave a feeling of joy or the like.

Can’t great advertising do both? Entertain and provide reason too?

As advertising increasingly elevates emotional messages, it belittles adults' ability to make judgements for themselves. Instead treating them as biologically determined objects who can be nudged easily by kittens, mood films and flashing lights.

As advertising retreats from reason (as does many other areas of modern society) it does humanity a disservice and lets fate in through the back door.

If advertising is going to avoid being discredited as a service that helps brands grow (i.e. sell more) it needs more than ever to understand people as reasoning sentient beings that can be talked to as adults who can attribute their own reasons to their actions.

Josh Cheuse

I love Josh Cheuse's iconic street photography, I'm a real sucker for grainy black & white shots of New York back in the 80s. I've seen a few of his shots of The Beastie Boys, Run DMC & Joe Strummer before but never realised Josh was the fella responsible for all of them. 

He's got a show on in New York shortly & It's Nice That have done a good interview with him.