What it says on the tin
“To own an emotion” is a popular marketing objective, and strategy-nirvana for many planners and marketers. Through research and work-shopping the agency, in collaboration with the client, arrives at the one emotion which defines the brand (it should be as high-level as possible). Or, rather, the one emotion they all desperately want to define the brand.
A brand, however, exists in the minds of consumers, not in the hands of companies, as do any given emotion they end up choosing to represent their consumer good. A person’s experience of this emotion is infinitely rich and complex, not to mention different from every other person the brand targets. What the brand wants them to feel, on the other hand, is one-dimensional and restricted. They want to tell you what to feel, when, how and why. This shows an religious-like faith in rational communication (we are frequently fed emotional messages with rational arguments; a practice I find leads to much confusion). Brands don’t own emotions, people do. If you ask people about what they associate with happiness, Coke is unlikey to come up a lot, and that is certainly not for the lack of trying. More common replies would be spending time with loved ones, a glass of wine on a sunny Sunday afternoon, childhood memories etc etc. This is a safe assumption even if we know that humans aren’t very good at articulating our emotions. I also dare claim that the person who replies Coke is a deeply unhappy person who’s seen way too many Coke ads. Or a teetotaler on the aforementioned Sunday afternoon. As I said, a miserable person.
Brands attempting to own emotions are in reality attempting to hijack them. Controlling people’s emotional lives would take creative powers hitherto unknown to man (anti-depression drugs in Coke would be illegal). Brands may create emotions by tapping into human motivation and create desire, but that is something else entirely, as you can only hope to nudge people in the direction of an emotional territory. Attempts to own an emotion is akin to treating the symptom, rather than the root-cause, of a disease. It is lazy and superficial. It also disrespects people’s emotional lives (and, needless to say, intelligence) and displays delusions of grandeur, which is never a fortunate trait if you want to be loved (like just doesn’t cut it these days) by everyone. Unfortunately, many still seem to think it can be done and it dominates marketing discourse in many comanies.
Am I wrong? Can you think of a brand that owns an emotion? I would love to hear about it! I expect there will be many grey-area cases which can lead to interesting discussions.