In Advertising, Like Art, a Bigger Canvas Makes a Bigger Impact

To create emotion, you'll need more than a postage stamp

What do Picasso's Guernica, Michelangelo's frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and The Godfather have in common? Enormous scale.

Guernica is 11½ feet tall and over 25 feet wide. The Sistine Chapel covers over 12,000 square feet. The Godfather is three hours long. And a big part of their emotional impact comes from these mammoth dimensions. 

Sure, you can pull up a snapshot of these masterpieces on Wikipedia or watch a few clips of The Godfather on your smartphone. But you don't experience them viscerally—not really—until you see them in their original format. And when you do, you never forget it.

So what does that have to do with advertising? 

Too many brands today rely too much on media formats that make it difficult, if not impossible, to connect emotionally with their audience. We spend a lot of time worrying about craft and storytelling, as we should. But we should start paying more attention to the mix of media we're investing in, because it's hard to inspire emotion when you're working on a canvas the size of a postage stamp.

I'm not saying it's impossible, or that art has to be big to have impact. If you've ever seen it in person at the Louvre, you know that the Mona Lisa is surprisingly small. But with apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the media is the message. And some media are better than others at stirring emotion.

Here's why that matters. Emotion sells. It's science—decades and decades of data and research prove it. According to Psychology Today, brain scans show that "when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences), rather than information (brand attributes, features, and facts)." Another study found that the most-shared articles from The New York Times are emotional stories. Still another found that ads with emotional content are twice as effective as purely rational messages. And so on.

The bottom line is, we're all focused on media formats designed for scrolling and browsing and swiping. But brands should also be investing in media that are more conducive to emotional impact.

Here are five:


It's hard to imagine Wieden+Kennedy's Kaepernick campaign without the billboards. Almost all the media I saw about the campaign were actually photos of the out-of-home. W+K could've simply posted the image in social—and they did. But a massive billboard in the right place immediately says: "This is important. Stop and look." And people did. The big canvas mattered.

Longer ad formats

Take a minute to watch this spot for Virgin from Lucky Generals. It's worth your time and it makes a key point.

Virgin Atlantic: I Am What I Am

It makes you feel something, doesn't it? And that feeling wouldn't be the same if it were a :05 or even a :15. I'm sure the talented creatives at Lucky Generals have a :30 in the hopper, and as good as it will be, it won't be quite as good as this. Every year, the Super Bowl spots that stand out are the ones that are a minute or longer. So if you're going to take the time to craft filmed advertising, go long.

Long-form films

Branded entertainment is another good vehicle for connecting emotionally with an audience. At LG's in-house agency, rather than rely solely on short-form ads, we've produced a six-part documentary series about some of the most intense—but less well-known—rivalries in college sports. It's a lot more work to make half a dozen 20-30 minute films than a 30-second spot. But you can tell richer, deeper, more impactful stories when you've got more time.

LG Presents: The Rivalries "Melee On The Bay" - Episode #3 :60 Trailer

Immersive or bespoke digital ads

Digital publishers are getting better at incorporating ads into the flow of content. Here's an example unit from The New York Times app. Rather than cram the ad between paragraphs, it exploits the entire screen—just like a full-page ad in a magazine. 


I'm not sure what it is exactly about this medium, but podcasts have proven remarkably effective for brands. Maybe it's the intimacy of audio, or perhaps it's because they're tailored to people's interests. But this nascent media is creatively coming into its own and presents another way for brands to forge emotional connections with an audience.

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John Long
John Long has held creative leadership positions at Ogilvy, The Economist Group and Huge. He is currently executive creative director at LG's in-house agency, HS Ad.

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