The ‘Boston Bomber’ and a truth of marketing.

22nd April 2013

‘We got him’

With this tweet from Boston’s mayor, Tom Menino, his city seemed to erupt in jubilation. Its famous Common was overtaken by hollering young adults, many stripped to the waist and in a festive mood that I connect with tail-gating before a high-stakes American football game.

The scene reminded me of July 12th 1998. I was passing through Bordeaux on my bike, in need of sleep after 140 kms on the road, and got caught up in a fever-pitch maelstrom of World Cup celebration. The nation had won, and the country would not go to bed. By 4am I was tiring of its delirium, feeling somewhat delirious myself.

On both occasions, separated by time, distance and consequence, I have found myself a little on the outside of extreme emotion, struck by the power of feelings to move a people. It is a phenomenon which intimately concerns those of us who build brands.

I am familiar with being swept into a fervour. Diana’s death was a personal tragedy for her family which became something bizarrely similar for millions. I am not sure that, had I lived in London at the time, I could have resisted delivering flowers to the gates of Kensington Palace. I was wholly swept up in the drama. (You will note that I’m not even British).

It was only about three months later that I, emotionally, sobered up.

What was that about?

I have great sympathy for the calamity that has befallen Boston this last week. The bombing was a callous act, and the placement of the devices close to children and at ground-level, so that murder and maiming were each a certainty, was outrageous and disgusting.

As the story unfolded and the suspects sought, however, I found myself more and more surprised by its path.

In the end, giant swathes of the city were closed down and transport systems curtailed. The presence of armed response was so massive that one had a sense of Armageddon.

It ended when a nineteen year old scrawny youth was detected, cowering like a hunted dog in someone’s backyard boat, a trail of blood leading to his detection.

From a distance, my logic told me that this was disproportionate. It is clear that Americans felt otherwise. This kid’s capture, at any price it would seem, was needed for security and, more to the point, emotionally necessary. And they shut down a whole city to prove it.

What clarifies my understanding of the events in Massachusetts, and indeed outside Kensington Palace in 1997, is a consideration of the power of emotion.

Let me segue, albeit in a brutish manner, to why this concerns us in marketing.

In building brands we often find refuge in the logical. Is the mineral water filtered through lava rock? Is the burger 100% beef? Will the phone alarm response team ring within 20 seconds of the house alarm going off?

Logic only goes so far. The true wealth of a brand is in its emotional promise. It is feeling that creates loyalty and commits a man to action. The beating heart of a brand is its emotional promise – be it that a water imbues you with volcanic powers, that a burger enjoyed among friends renders your world more happy, or that, should your home security be threatened, you will not be alone.

Within our emotions lies wisdom. We have evolved as nature’s most anointed precisely because we feel as well as think. What psychologists term ‘heuristic thinking’ allows us another access point to truth.

The capture of a 19-year-old kid, armed and dangerous in a Cambridge suburb was highly important. Let us not pretend that its theatre was logical. The military’s terminology of ‘show of strength’ and ‘shock and awe’ were devised for good reason.

Similarly, the act of marketing is not an act of logic alone. Our job is also to craft an emotional journey for those we wish to engage.

Far from being cynical, it is this that delivers true value. As human beings, we need to both know and feel the truth. And the Mayor of Boston knows that it is so.


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