The Mechanisms behind Emotional Propositions in Advertising

There's a strong tendency - esp. in the Anglo-Saxon world of advertising - to favour extrinsic, emotive propositions over intrinsic, product driven ones.

To clarify what I mean, here's one first example: BMW is all about "Joy (...in life)" as an extrinsic, emotive proposition, Mercedes claim "The best or nothing" which is far more intrinsic and product/usage driven. While such wide umbrella brands tend to overarch their diverse products with very broad - thus most of the times emotive - concepts, the difference between emotive vs product/usage driven is more striking on product level or for very lean brand portfolios. Gatorade could be about enhanced performance in sports or about the spirit of perseverance in sports. The latter would be an emotional proposition. Coke Zero in Europe dramatises "Life as it should be" rather than the product related "Real Taste, Zero Sugar - (as it should be)".

Now, we all learned for decades that since products don't differ on product level any longer they must become differentiated on an extrinsic, emotional level. This is the sensible widely accepted thinking and - honestly - there would be little to do for (classical) planning if there was no quest for the emotive lever. Yes, it's true that there's often no alternative to that - e.g. because there's no other differentiator or because you are looking for an overarching idea for a whole portfolio of products. But still, sometimes I just don't fully understand how this actually is supposed to WORK - I mean how this influences purchase behaviour.

People would hardly really believe that Coke Zero delivers on their promise of a perfect life as it should be. I would also assume that they don't really seek for "perfect life in a bottle". The usual answer to that is: "well, people are not that rational, things work beyond ratio". Absolutely - but how does this actually work? "Beyond ratio" is not an explanation, nor is it a sufficient description.

Here are some scenarios how emotive propositions, or say brand ideologies might work:

A) they deliver a noteworthy and legitimate "Reason-to-talk to consumers" - you could pick any plausible and entertaining "story" to be heard and seen
B) they imply certain purchase relevant attributes on product level
C) they just increase the likability of or the respect for the brand - it's cool that the brand tells such a "story"
D) they deliver an emotional post-justification for a purchase - a good feeling IN ADDITION and maybe AFTER having chosen something
F) they become real reasons-to-buy - people buy the product in order to gain the promised emotional benefits (= often unlikely)

Most clients - and agencies - seem to assume it's F) that is at work. And it is in lots of cases. E.g. Smokers do buy cigarettes in order to "inhale" a certain lifestyle. But the problem is that promising all sorts of life- and self- improvements is often an extreme overpromise - causing even reactances. This is often apologised by saying "that's advertising. It's about exaggeration". Well, it depends...
Let's take a look at Coke Zero again: it does not really have to differentiate itself emotionally from equal competitors. There's only one Coke Taste with zero sugar. So why sell it as an enabler of a perfect life? Were emotive propositions not just a way out of the factual parity on product level - as e.g. In the cigarettes market?

It seems to me that we tend to believe that emotional propositions are per se "stronger" than product-level ones. They are considered the standard procedure of "proper" brand leadership. But this simply can't be always true! Product related cognitions are stronger at the shelf than vague emotional tendencies for most of the advertised categories.

This is why I would think that for product advertising scenario B) is the most likely and practicable one. The emotive proposition here would be the nice, enhancing packaging for clear and purchase relevant product or usage attributes. On the other hand sometimes ads explain too much of the emotional benefits of features; people could feel patronised by the brands "instructions" how tu enjoy and value those features. E.g. Insurance companies constantly "explain", how financial safety contributes to life quality when you are old. But really, they don't have to explain that - it's banal.

So there's a thin line between strong, relevant emotional propositions on the one hand and blunt overpromising on the other. It's defintely not true that "emotionalising" a brand is the best way to improve clout. If done without a real insight it's a good way to diminish brand appeal. Sometimes the results of such "emotionalising" attempts are typical ad bullshit and consumers feel that.
And there's a not quite thin line to be crossed between emotive claims and consumer's actual purchase and usage behaviour. Maybe the effect of emotional propositions on purchase behavior is an indirect one. This would change the way we discuss them in client meetings.