Everyone wants to be engaging

Left brain, Right brain

One of my most rational and left brained clients has been asking recently about how we can switch from a persuasion model of communication to an engagement model. “Engagement” seems to be the buzzword doing the rounds in the marketing industry at the moment. Everyone from the marketing director to the CEO has bought into the idea that communication needs to be more emotional and less didactic. Which should be great news. It’s not new news, mind you, from an agency perspective – we’ve always known that we were selling the sizzle not the sausage. It tended to be clients who were preoccupied with hammering home their USPs (for washing powders, for razors, for cheese or cereal) leading to an arms race of meaningless improvements to products, which normal people could not have been less interested in.

The tricky part in these discussions is the gap in some people’s understanding of the differences between a persuasion and engagement model.  Many clients seem to want the results of engaging communication, but not the type of work, or the way of working, which would lead to it. There also seems to be confusion between advertising which reaches people emotionally (which can be down to executional elements like music or visuals, as much as the story being told) and advertising which tries to own an emotional benefit in some way (“we stand for confidence!”). And there seems to be a lot of confusion around communication vs. channels, with engagement for many people equaling “digital” or “social”.

Moving from a persuasion model to an engagement model is really just about understanding how humans ACTUALLY respond to communication in the real world. It also means leaving behind a number of assumptions, many of which are deeply held on the client side (and sometimes the agency side too!) The iconic Health & Feldwick paper explains it well:

The Persuasion model assumes:

  1. …that advertising works more effectively through top-down goal driven processing
  2. …that the main role of emotion in advertising is to gain attention for the message
  3. …that advertising which based on emotional cues is weaker and less effective
  4. …that advertising which does not get high attention is weaker and less effective, and only works when repeated frequently
  5. ..that prior exposure to advertising eventually leads to a fall in attention, and therefore a fall in effectiveness (ie. diminishing returns)

In contrast, the Engagement model suggests:

  1. …that visuals, sounds, symbols, music, gestures, context, experience are all a central part of the communication and can be as persuasive as the message itself
  2. …that people can be powerfully influenced by  communication that is processed with low attention, and of which they have no conscious recall
  3. …that decision-making is always rooted in emotions and is often influenced below the level of consciousness
  4. …that human communication is as much based on associations/ connotations within the Ad, than the apparent content of the communication
  5. …that implicit communication is as important and influential as the explicit content.

In a nutshell, developing more engaging communication means switching into right brain thinking (holistic, emotional, visual, symbolic).

So clients who would like to make more “engaging” creative have two paths:

1)   Hone their creative and right brain thinking skills so they are better equipped to judge advertising which works in this implicit and emotional way


2)   Empower their agency to make those judgments on their behalf, and take a softer guidance role during the creative process

I know which path I think is the best bet – thoughts from anyone else?

    • alexkellyoc
    • December 1st, 2012

    I am somewhat a mixture really since I am good at languages, I remember both tunes of songs and lyrics. I am somewhat good with facts and past, present and future events. I suck at anything logical though-I am just not really good at it but when asking me about different theories on any category, I am all ears and my mind works really good.
    I guess that’s why i am interested in Psychology 🙂 I find it fascinating, but not all if it is true-I guess that every person is an individual and each person has a different Psychology, which makes the journey adventurous and also-educating. 🙂

    • Austin
    • December 3rd, 2012

    It’s interesting for me when a client asks ‘What can we do to engage better with customers?’. When for me it’s always been more about ‘What can we do to have customers engage better with us?’. Hammering home a USP, even if done so brilliantly, will not encourage customers to engage with their brand – unless the USP is engaging in the first place…

  1. December 4th, 2012
  2. February 3rd, 2013

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