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Tear Jerks: Why the 'Emotional Branding' of Burgers and Banks Needs To Stop

I'm sick to death of watching a person get born, have kids and die while Birdy does a plinky-plonky cover of an 80s pop hit.
March 31, 2016, 10:20am

The new McDonald's advert

There's a theory in advertising that suggests emotionally engaging your audience is more important than communicating information about your product. It argues that by establishing a bond with your consumer, you create trust and loyalty, qualities that transcend the product you're selling. Somewhat inventively, it's called "emotional branding".

Now, if you're the sort of person who reads theories and essays about marketing strategies, then maybe that's something you'll already know; personally, the day I start tweeting infographics about user engagement with buzz brands is the same day I renounce my own pulse. But even those without an in-depth knowledge of this world may have noticed the rise of emotional branding recently. Slowly but surely, adverts have stopped dealing in "stuff", and instead have begun concerning themselves with life, death, and slow piano covers of pop songs.

Obviously adverts are adverts and I'm not about to tell you to "stay woke because they are actually just trying to sell you things," but there's a difference between an advert mendaciously suggesting a product may improve your lifestyle - Lynx makes you sexy, Carling makes you a legend - and an advert mapping itself onto the veins of your very existence. We are now surrounded by commercial ploys that don't just gently tug on heartstrings, they yank them out completely and watch the blood trickle down our fronts until we lie dead, before overlaying a sepia montage of our funerals with an acoustic version of "Never Gonna Miss a Thing" in order to flog some kettles.

This really is John Lewis's fault. They're in a largely unique position, in that their adverts are reposted by every website as news stories in themselves, getting the kind of free publicity that other companies must dream about. It all started back in 2009 with this seemingly harmless ad: