Book Review: About Face – The Secrets of Emotionally Effective Advertising by Dan Hill

At a time when neuromarketing discussions are dominated by brain scans – EEG on the commercial side, and fMRI for academic research – Dan Hill and his firm, Sensory Logic, are the main proponents of using facial coding as a way to determine what consumers are really thinking.

Or, more precisely, what consumers really feel. Hill and others believe that careful analysis of facial expressions, including fleeting “microexpressions,” lets marketers see the true emotions experienced by their customers.

About Face isn’t a manual for would-be facial coding analysts. Indeed, there is very little discussion of the actual techniques used. In just one chapter, “Focus on Faces,” Hill acquaints readers with the basic concept. (Hill’s earlier book, Emotionomics, goes into more detail on that topic.) Rather, this book is a how-to guide for advertisers who want their ads to be emotionally impactful. Hill draws upon his firm’s many studies to offer a set of best practices for advertisers.

What makes About Face an appealing and useful book is that it is chock-full of practical, specific advice often illustrated by real-world examples. In addition, third-party research is carefully cited so that the interested reader can dig deeper if desired.

As with A. K. Pradeep’s The Buying Brain, one has to take Hill’s references to the Sensory Logic’s own findings largely on faith. While it would be nice to have a better idea of what the original data and research processes looked like for both Hill’s and Pradeep’s books, they are certainly no worse in that respect than the typical “marketing guru” book that is based on anecdotes and personal experience.

A good chapter in About Face is “Make it Memorable.” Hill discusses in great depth what makes ads memorable (or easy to forget). One interesting finding from Hill’s research is that emotional engagement with TV ads is maximized when there are either three or four scene changes. Going higher or lower drops the emotional peaks reached. Hill amplifies this analysis by suggesting that the best place to put important information in an ad is immediately after a scene change (to get a novelty boost) but when the scene is related in content to the previous scene (to keep it simple in the viewer’s mind). Fast-paced TVs spots do attract attention to sensory elements in the ad, and are good for brand and imagery advertising. They work less well when the objective is to create recall of factual information or persuasive message involving spoken words or text.

Other chapter topics include leveraging the sensory characteristics of ads, why simplicity is important in ads and how to achieve it, keeping ads “familiar” to maximize impact, how to “sell hope,” pricing pitfalls to avoid, and more.

In some coming posts, I’ll focus on more of Hill’s nuggets of marketing wisdom. For now, I’ll simply say that About Face is exactly what a marketing book should be. It’s full of specific techniques and recommendations, supported by a combination of cited third party studies and the author’s own findings from years of client research.

Amazon Link: About Face: The Secrets of Emotionally Effective Advertising

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