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December 3, 2009

Killer Campaigns Volume 2: Making Emotional Connections

We live in an age of clones: somebody makes a very profitable movie about vampires, and the next thing you know we’re all inundated with movies, television shows, books, blogs, websites, and every form of blood-sucking permutation you can imagine.

CSI begets CSI Miami, which begets CSI New York, which begets NCIS, which begets NCIS Los Angeles, which is just about as much as anyone can take. If something is successful you can be sure more of the same will follow.

Despite the occasional success story, most clones either fail completely, or never live up to the success of their groundbreaking predecessors.

Most of the copycats fail because the clone-masters behind them don’t understand why the original worked, and as a consequence, they clone all the wrong elements. This is as true of commercial presentations as it is with broadcast programming.

Cloning a successful format is not the same as Slipstreaming. Clone marketing is just rote copying of technical elements without any reference to why the original worked, whereas Slipstream marketing takes a familiar idea and plays off it like a great jazz musician reinterprets an old standard.

Kleenex “Let It Out” Campaign:
Recognizing The Emotional Value Proposition


What is more generic than facial tissue? A consumable paper product that you use once and discard; it is the very definition of a commodity, and as we all know commodity-sales are primarily based on price. Enter Kimberly Clark, one company that has managed to turn their commodity product into the industry standard to the extent that the commodity itself has become known by Kimberly Clark’s designated brand name – Kleenex.

The Kleenex, “Let It Out” campaign is just one example of a company that recognizes that in order to turn their commodity product into something of higher value, they have to link it to what we refer to as “an emotional value proposition:” the implied psychological or emotional connection between the product and the consumer.

The original series of Web videos was housed on a dedicated video microsite. The series of videos showed a casually dressed interviewer with an engaging personality asking people to sit down on a couch in the middle of a busy street to chat about some significant emotional moment in their lives. Some people talked about their children; one woman even discussed Katrina and the impact it had on her. People cried, and people laughed, until tears came to their eyes, at which point, the interviewer handed each person a Kleenex: Kleenex and emotions go hand-in-hand. Let It Out, the concept was brilliant.

The following version was created for television; it is a compendium of clips from various videos, and as good as it is, it doesn’t have the same emotional power of the Web video versions that concentrated on each person’s emotional response to the interviewer’s questions. It’s good, but not as good, but it does serve to illustrate the point. Unfortunately the individual videos are no longer available.

Kleenex “Let It Out” TV Commercial


Everything in the commercial works: the interviewer’s manner and personality, the visual imagery of the couch in the street, and the memorable music message. It’s all good, very, very good.

On The Other Hand…

Rogers Communication Inc. is a large Canadian communication company that provides digital cable TV, high speed Internet, and mobile phone services. Their primary competition would be Bell Canada.

In order to promote their new Home Phone service Rogers initiated a series of commercials featuring a man on the street interviewing people passing by, asking them to compare their phone service to their competitors. They used a red and blue couch in the street with the red side of the couch representing Rogers and the blue side representing Bell. They handed each person a blue phone and asked them to call a friend or relative; then they handed the person a red phone representing Rogers, and asked them to call the same person. Then the interviewer asked them to compare the service, which according to the commercial was the same. The difference of course was in the price.

Anyone who has seen both campaigns could come to only one conclusion, and that is the Roger’s commercials were patterned after the Kleenex, “Let It Out” campaign. Did it work? Take a look.

Rogers Home Phone Campaign

On a very superficial level, the commercials are eerily the same, both have a couch in the street, an interviewer, and a passerby; but on an emotional and psychological level, they are as far apart as you can get.

Kleenex tied the use of their product to people’s most personal feelings, their response to emotional reminiscence, while Rogers relied on price only. There service isn’t better, it’s the same; it’s just cheaper so the ad says. The Kleenex interviewer is courteous, interested, and responsive, while the Rogers representative is glib, and a bit smarmy.

The Technique and Why It Worked

The Kleenex campaign works for all kinds of reasons, the most important of which is that it engages the audience with an intriguing visual presentation that resonates on a psychological level by providing an emotional value proposition associated with their brand. On the other hand, Roger’s value proposition is price.

You may say, price is important, but pricing tactics are a dangerous game. Competitors aren’t just going to sit back and let you drive them out of business. If you fire a price missile across your competitor’s bow, you can bet they’ll respond, and that’s exactly what Bell did.


By not understanding what Kleenex had done in their campaign, and not following Kleenex’s precedent by associating their brand with an emotionally resonant value proposition, they laid themselves wide open to a slipstreamed response by their competitors, who created a campaign that riffed on their imagery, and one-upped them with an alternate price comparison.

Rogers Advertisement


Bell Advertisement



If a commodity product like facial tissue can become a major brand by employing marketing strategies that emphasize their emotional value proposition, then so can your product or service. Delivering a marketing message based on it’s underlying emotional value is a better strategy then price and feature selling, a tactic guaranteed to be short-lived. Features are forever being added and prices are continually under competitive pressure, but emotional relevance is sustainable.

For many companies, it is very difficult for them to see the emotional value their offering brings to the table, but the conceptual basis of any effective marketing campaign starts with discovering that underlying human connection your product or service has with its audience.

Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design and marketing firm that specializes in Web-video Marketing Campaigns and Video Websites. Visit,, and Contact at or telephone (905) 764-1246.