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The Role of Emotion in Insurance Advertising

I have been reading Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, “My Beloved World,” which by the way I highly recommend, for many reasons. In the section where she is working in the NYC District Attorney’s Office and doing some of her first jury trials, I was struck by her discussion of appealing to a jury by touching their emotions. She writes about a discussion with her boss after the loss of two jury trials back-to-back. He tells her “Even the most perfectly logical argument, absent passion, would make the choice [to convict] seem like one of personal discretion rather than solemn duty.” (p. 209) She then discusses the role of emotion in jury trials, and it left me thinking about the role of emotion in insurance advertising.

Not as big of a leap as it might first appear.

Then- Assistant District Attorney Soyomayor was trying to figure out how to get a group of people to do something that is generally painful—send a human being to jail or prison. Insurance producers are trying to get people to do something painful—spend money on something they can’t feel or touch, to spend a lot of money on what often amounts to promise of something that will be good in the future. So, is the role of emotion the same? I think so.

We often tell those who submit ads for our review that they need to tone down the emotional appeals of their ads. But that isn’t because there is a problem with including some emotional appeal, we recognize that there is an important role for emotion in sales generally and insurance in particular. However, there often is a problem with the manner of emotional appeal. Some of the pieces we see are the equivalent of an ADA saying to a jury that convicting the defendant in one case would eliminate crime in the city. It’s not the appeal to emotion; it’s being realistic in that play for an emotional reaction. Getting one criminal off the streets versus eliminating crime.

So what does that mean for life and annuity advertising? For one, “peace of mind” and similar phrases are the equivalent of a crime-free city. No one thing is going to get you there and it may actually be unattainable. Life insurance and annuity products may help by being one of the conditions that could create peace of mind, but it is more like the conviction of one bad guy—a good thing and important, but not the cure-all to suffering.

Getting back to the book, it is also important to note that Justice Sotomayor was being told to add emotion to logic, not make a substitution: “the difference between winning and losing came down to the appeal to the emotion rather than fact alone.” (p. 209). She started with total command of the facts and relentless preparation. (Her story is one of success born from hard work and mastery of the material in front of her.) She needed both to experience success with a jury. And that is what we look for in ads. There can be some emotional appeal, so long as it is reasonable and so long as there is a strong balance between the emotional and the factual.

Jury trials are essentially selling a story. Justice Sotomayor had a very successful jury trial record. She describes the process in a way that seems applicable to insurance advertising and sales, “Devising the case is always a two-step process: build the strategy out of reason and logic; then throw yourself into it, heart and soul. But if you have to revise the plan, suspend feeling and revert to logic until you can think of something you can sell with passion.”