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Why do emotional claims perform bad in claim tests?

Emotional claims usually perform bad in our* claim tests. They are outperformed by functional claims. I asked why this could be to Mr. Daniel Dahan, a brand expert and retired brand planner at D’Arcy, an advertising agency. The explanation is my interpretation of our conversation so any mistake is mine.

A claim is a promise of the brand to the consumer of what the product and its consumption offers after the purchase and upon use. The promise needs to be meaningful; the consumption rewarding. Functional claims promise a functional benefit (the “what”; “I promise this to you”, e.g., “20% more hair removal”). Emotional claims say why this could matter to you (“so that you …”, e.g., “… wear a skirt with more confidence” or “… won’t face a 5 o’clock shadow”). Emotional claims can perform badly if consumers consider them patronizing and condescending. Consumers think “don’t tell me what to do, think or feel; I can decide for myself”. They accept that the brand makes them a promise of what the brand can do for them, but not that the brand tells them what to do, think or feel upon that.

Daniel confirmed it. The idea that claims, functional and emotional, can be written in the form of a top-down ladder, is outdated. Brands are no longer considered higher in the hierarchy.

Brand (“I promise you …”) -> Consumer (“so that you can do/feel …”)

Brands themselves think about themselves as equivalent in the hierarchy. If emotional claims would reflect this equivalence, they would more likely win in our claims tests. It is probably both the structure and the intent of the claim that need to change.

Brand (“I promise you …”)  -> Consumer (“so that you can choose to …”)

The consumer can chose to experience what the brand has to offer. If the consumer wants to, she can. The consumer gets the opportunity to be like them, users of the brand, but the consumer does not accept the brand to be stronger than her.

In fact, Daniel indicated that the relation is now reversed: consumers consider the brand is a guest in their lives that they invite and welcome or not.

Consumer (“others choose to experience …”) -> Brand (“I promise …”)


So a typical mode of communication is that that brands show how other consumers, similar to you, experience the use of the brand. It is a modest position that leaves it to the consumer if, and how, to invite the brand to their life. I would say that this promise is easiest to convey by means of visuals, because text will easily sound condescending.

If the brand misbehaves, it will be ousted and ridiculed. My colleague Paolo Cordella gave me an example of Barilla, a pasta brand in Italy. Barilla always displays the use of the brand in a happy family setting: mother, father and the children at the dinner table. Someone asked an executive if he would display a gay married couple at the dinner table. He said no and he would be happy if this couple would choose another pasta brand. His answer caused a lot of responses on social media ridiculing the brand and the executive.

The old idea was that brands are aspirational and give the consumer a goal or promise that is away from the consumer’s reality. If you’re fat and insecure, you will be slim and confident; if you are hairy, you will be smooth and silky. It made the impression that reality is bad and the aspiration is good. However, the aspiration condemns reality which makes it condescending. The consumer prefers having a choice how to experience the product in her own, realistic reality, and chose how to integrate it. The portrait can dramatize the experience by painting a picture of people in a similar situation and integrate the brand like they did; not for the others or the brand to be stronger than me.

One thing I learned from the conversation is that emotional claims can work if they manage to express the expected relation between the brand and the consumer.

*P.s. I wrote this blog while working at SKIM, a market research agency. So “our claim tests” refers to the tests we performed at this agency.