Emotions, of course, are subjective — by nature and necessity.

And yet most of us have an expectation about proportionate and disproportionate — or appropriate and inappropriate — emotional reactions.

So as personal as emotions may be, there is a sort of social yardstick we use to judge and understand and evaluate emotions, especially as they drive action.

For example, it’s generally considered natural to be angry at being cut off in traffic, especially if the other driver was reckless to the point of endangerment.

But how angry?

Angry to the point of cursing the other driver? — What about horn-honking mad? —
What about frothing at the mouth and slamming on the dash mad?

Or enraged enough to deliberately ram the offending driver and pull a gun?

If you were a bit scandalized at imagining those last two reactions — or judged the person who’d engage in them — then you’ve just experienced the normative aspect of emotions.

At varying degrees of extreme, a disproportionate emotional reaction signals a form of mental imbalance.

And because emotions are inherently tied to values, those disproportionate reactions and actions can signal deeply held beliefs and commitments.

The more we treasure something, the higher our emotions run in relation to it.

Tell a mother how ugly her baby really is and you’ll see what I mean.

And this is a very useful phenomenon for the ad writer.

Precisely because it makes moderately exaggerated emotions and wildly exaggerated actions pure dynamite for communicating values.

Especially when these emotions and actions are properly dramatized in ads.

Communicating Values Through Exaggeration

In advertising, many of the most effective dramatizations will take one of two paths:

1. Stick to the facts, but exaggerate the subjective emotions involved.


2. Exaggerate and “stretch” the actions to the point of farce.

Let’s look at each method in turn.

Stick to the Facts, Exaggerate the Emotion

Ally & Gargano were experts at comparative advertising.

So when Dunkin Donuts was feeling increasing pressure from grocery store donuts, they called in Ally & Gargano to help differentiate and “de-commoditize” their product.

And for this job, Ally & Gargano stuck to the facts, but exaggerated the emotion.

Dunkin Donut shop owners really did get up extra early to open the shop and make their donuts fresh.

But the dry facts just don’t convey the subjective experience in a way that communicates the franchise’s commitment to fresh-made.

The goal isn’t to convey factual information.

The goal is to get the audience to feel the emotional value Dunkin Donuts places on “fresh made”

Hence the wildly effective campaign featuring the immortal, hypnogogically murmured line “Time to make the donuts”:




That’s a great example of sticking to the facts, but exaggerating the subjective emotions.

Exaggerate and Stretch the Actions to the Point of Farce

There are many examples of this second method, but perhaps the best is Columbia Sportswear’s One Tough Mother campaign

In their ads, Borders, Perrin & Norrander wildly exaggerated the actions that Gert Boyle took to ensure Columbia’s sportswear performed, with Gert’s son as the unfortunate test-dummy victim:




Nobody would actually believe Gert Boyle would do these things to anyone, let alone to her son.

But the over the top imagery did convey how much she cared.

And viewers believe it. As Gert wrote in her book, One Tough Mother:

“The impact of the ads was almost instantaneous. Sales quickly increased, and I was surprised when strangers came up to me on the streets and asked if I was the “Tough Mother.”

…Our ads set us apart from the corporate pack. People related to us because they believe there is a person at Columbia who really cares. And the best thing about our ads is that they are true. I really do care.”

So clearly viewers were and are swayed by imagery, even when it’s obviously fictional exaggerated.

Because there’s no neutral parking on the dance floor of your mind. The imagery does its persuasive work, regardless.

Relating This to YOUR Advertising

If you own your own business, you not only have skin in the game, you have soul in the game.

This is more than just a way of making money for you.

Your business — and the way you run your business — absolutely reflects your deeper values about life.

And you have all sorts of emotions invested into that.

Which means that you have all sorts of opportunities for dramatizing real actions and real facts in a way that only slightly exaggerates your openly expressed emotions.

Or opportunities for farcically exaggerating your actions to convey those same emotions.

Remember, the goal is not to convey information.

The goal is to transfer felt emotions to get customers to believe your level of commitment to a given set of values.

For instance, I have a client who fired his own brother from the family business.

Not out of malice or any kind of family drama, mind you, but simply for not living up to the standards and values my client had for his business.

That’s a pretty darn convincing action.

I have another client who drove a 5-hour round trip to get a part necessary to fix a clients emergency, rather than waiting for delivery.

Neither client would have considered these stories good fodder for ads before working with me.

Now, both understand the absolute persuasive gold represented by those stories in the hands of a skilled ad writer.

And while you can be sure that I’ll stick to the facts in telling those stories, I’ll make sure the subjective emotions are appropriately exaggerated to convey the truth about my clients’ deeply held values.

Did I mention that both clients are now growing so fast that recruiting has become their biggest issue?