Teaching Consumers How to Rationalize on Your Behalf


Focus group: Why are you using Botox? I use Botox because it’s so much cheaper and more effective than makeup, but also less painful than plastic surgery. Right? Probably wrong.

Rational arguments may not capture the essence of why we do what we do. But they are extremely helpful in justifying why we do what we do. Have you ever been broken up with and heard this sentence: “It’s not you, it’s me. I’m just very busy right now”? Also wrong – at least most of the time. But a very helpful story when you’re on the other side.

Enter emotional branding. Where attribute-based strategies seek to appeal to a target market on a logical level with rational guidelines for what that demographic would want, emotional strategies cut to the heart of the emotion that truly drive decision-making.

The brilliance of emotional branding, at least when it’s done right, is not that it allows marketers to simply shroud their branding in auras of love and friendship. It rather provides consumers with potent narratives that they can use to rationalize highly emotional brand bonds towards other people who have reasons for why consuming the brand may be a bad idea.

Savvy brand managers can help customers be better brand ambassadors and rationalize on behalf of their brand. Such a strategic tactic becomes vital when negative stories undermine the brand’s authenticity.

Brand image revitalization entails four strategies brand managers can use to rework consumer rationales. For the purpose of illustration, we tackle the recent claim that Coke causes obesity.

Problematization - Make the Opposite Claim

“Not Coke” causes obesity. So do irresponsible consumers with a lack of nutritional knowledge and bad caloric self-discipline. They are the real problem, not Coke. Coke is thus a crucial partner in teaching consumers how to eat and drink more responsibly.

Interessement - Bring in Expert Knowledge

Everyone can claim that Coke is indispensable to a healthy diet. But only authorities such as nutritional scientists, food psychologists and government health representatives and their empirical studies can illustrate that Coke’s argument is actually valid.

Enrolment - Get Others to Enact the New Logic

Once authorized, next the new branding message needs to be enacted by celebrities, advertising personas and – most importantly – the consumer themselves. For instance, Coke not only won over health departments in the U.S. for various partnership, it also sponsored school initiatives that encouraged students to engage in more physical exercise.

Mobilization - Ensure Acquiescence to the Script

It is one thing to encourage the adoption of a new consumer rationale, and another to ensure its execution by all involved parties – consumer, medical and nutritional experts, politicians, celebrities and journalists – over time. Mobilization includes tactics and campaigns that transition normative cultural perceptions from novelty to norm and that will keep all involved parties motivated to circulation the desired brand rational until the next shift.

Let’s go back to Botox. Fifteen years ago, it would have been a very strange idea to choose injecting poison into your face as a viable alternative to classic cosmetic products. One hundred years ago, it would also have been a very strange idea to use Listerine (then a floor cleaner) as a mouthwash. Yet marketers’ attempts in shaping and reshaping consumer perceptions and experiences against a backdrop of constantly changing anti-brand sentiments illustrates that the most emotionally managed brand can eventually become the most rational choice.

Anna Goldentuler, Zach Goldglas and Sajjad Thaika are MBA Students in the new Customer Experience Design course at the Schulich School of Business at York University.