I have a confession. I cried at a commercial. Don’t laugh. Two years ago, I was watching a TV show when this commercial came on.
All of the sudden, I was bawling my eyes out. Why? It tapped into my emotion. Growing up, my Dad and I always did father/daughter dates. Something that we always did together was watch baseball. In the summer of 2008, we took a trip to New York City to see a weekend of Yankee baseball in its last season in the old stadium. Some of my fondest memories involve all the details of seeing a game, the sounds and the smells of the park. I thought about the meaningful conversations we’ve had and thought about how someday, I want to have a son who does this with his father. Needless to say, it was all too much for me.
The reason that this commercial communicated with me so effectively was because it used emotion, to connect with me. In chapter five of their book, Made to Stick, Chip Heath and Dan Heath talk about why using emotion to communicate is so effective. They looked at a study from 2004, where researchers from Carnegie Mellon University set out to see if when considering donating to a charity, people were more likely to donate if they heard overwhelming statistics or if they heard one personal story. In the end, they found that people were willing to donate more than twice the amount to a personal story than to an overwhelming statistic.
“If people felt overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, their small donations might have seemed meaningless.”
Ultimately, researchers found that, “thinking about statistics shifts people into a more analytical frame of mind. When people think analytically, they’re less likely to think emotionally.” After reviewing the study, Chip and Dan concluded that statistics “hinder our ability to feel.”
I look back on campaigns that I’ve worked on and see the error in my ways. I thought that a huge overwhelming statistic would cause someone to act on the problem. Now while that still may be true, it’s clear that a person is more likely to act when they feel that they can affect an individual life. It’s more manageable.
This is a vital key to successful communication. Remember that it doesn’t always have to be a sad emotion (like I discussed here). It can be any emotion. Whether it’s in a commercial, a tweet or a blog, there are a variety of tools you can use to communicate your message.