The Role of Passion in Advertising

Anyone old enough to remember Delta's delightfully saccharine "We Love to Fly and It Shows" television ads of the late '80s and early '90s knows the powerful effect a brand can have simply by expressing a love for what they do. The campaign featured bouffant, adoring flight attendants and charmingly paternal pilots befriending passengers young and old, set to a soaring jingle extolling Delta's love of flight. Not exactly the most accurate image of air travel, perhaps - but as an advertisement, effective enough to remain a part of pop culture 30 years on.

Today, plenty of brands still pronounce a passion for their work as part of their marketing strategy, from Purina's "Your Pet, Our Passion" to EA's "We Exist to Inspire the World to Play." But only recently have researchers explored the effect that such proclamations may have on consumers - and the results are promising.

"Data suggests that the mere statement of brand passion in advertising leads consumers to rate both the product and the brand more positively," a recent study in the Journal of Advertising Research found. "The positive emotion the brand signals by stating its passion seems to spill over to the consumer and his or her brand attitudes and purchase intentions."

The reasons why appear to be twofold: When a brand is passionate about its work, consumers tend to expect that the brand will work harder - and in turn create higher quality products, the study found. Secondly, there appears to be an "emotional contagion" effect, by which a brand's stated love for what it does becomes infectious among consumers. 

"Just as recent research has found that genuine smiles in advertising boost brand evaluations, displaying genuine passion through advertising likely yields similar effects by assosciative transfer and emotional contagion," says the study, which tested these notions on products ranging from coffee and soft drinks to hand soap. "The positive effects of brand passion seem to be driven by higher perceived brand efforts as well as spillover of passion from the brand to the consumer."

Note the repetition of one key word: Genuine. In order for passionate advertising statements to have the desired effect, the sentiment must be rooted in something real. Consumers today are too savvy to be wooed by inauthentic advertising declarations, and the higher product quality expectations that such statements engender could turn into a curse if they aren't met.

Yet in the right context, it seems honest brand passion boosts not only the actual caliber of the company's work, but consumer attitudes as well. Taken one step further, communicating a brand's passion to consumers is one way to tap the emotional hardwiring that forms the foundation for many choices they made. "The reality is we humans are really feeling beings - not thinking machines," writes branding expert Douglas Van Praet for Psychology Today. "We make decisions based on emotion more than logic." And if a brand loves what it does, well consumers are more likely to love it, too.

The role of passion in advertising doesn't end with brands, however. Marketers can also benefit from cultivating a culture of passion for their work, which can have a similarly contagious effect on their clients, says Ogilvy & Mathers executive Adam Tucker.

"Only agencies that demonstrate their passion for the products and attention to detail will build meaningful relationships with clients and win campaigns," Tucker says. "Love your clients, and they will love you back."

Illustrations by MaeKing