Concise guide: The power of the Emotive microcosm

Written and researched by Gary Wright
“In prehistoric times, great stories were told sitting around a campfire. In the glow of the flames storytellers would share exciting tales to impart information, to teach, to encourage and to entertain. Storytelling is an evolutionary mechanism crucial to human communication and central to our success.” – Parusha Partab (

A modern example of effective storytelling
In the new age of branding, presenting facts without the emotion is like pointing out features your Android has, which, your Designer friend’s iPhone doesn’t… You’re probably just going to be left rolling your eyes at a phrase as simple as, “Apple is the best bro? Just drop it”

So considering Apple’s undeniably strong brand equity – how did Samsung grow so steadily and become more profitable than Apple back in 2013?


Firstly, comparable product innovation was a factor, but not a big one (remembering that 2013 was the time of the Galaxy S4 – before the “Edge” suffix came into play) ie. According to many, the iPhone of the time (iPhone5s) outperformed the Samsung.

So now let’s look at one of the pivotal marketing campaigns behind Samsung’s success…

According to Business Insider, (
“The Next Big Thing” campaign, developed by the ad agency 72 And Sunny, was a massive hit. For the first time since the launch of the iPhone, someone had created the believable perception that there was something better out there.”

The campaign featured the biggest name in basketball – Lebron James.

Todd Pendleton, Chief Marketing Officer of Samsung Mobile said, “The ad shows how our technology extends his relationships with family, friends, teammates and fans.”
Campaign snippet:

So what was the insight behind this massive success?

It was the power of the emotive microcosm in action…
And a microcosm – what’s that?

It’s a representation of a big idea on a much smaller scale, in this case, a cleverly chosen representative of a well-researched message. Samsung’s big idea was to show that its innovations were fit for a king – or you.

So why focus on one person rather than the many types of people that would make up a brand’s target audience?

Let’s first look at this from a psychology or ‘human nature’ standpoint…
A leading researcher, psychology & branding specialist – Christopher Greaves (President of Ogilvy Center for Behavioural Science at Ogilvy & Mather Inc.) – dissects an effect known to social scientists as the “identifiable victim effect.”

Bear with me here…

“Model, actress, and celebrity activist Jenny McCarthy has been one of the most outspoken critics of vaccinations in the U.S. She has drawn upon a personal narrative of her son, whom she claims was rendered autistic by a vaccination but later cured through organic and holistic approaches.”

By repeating her emotional story, McCarthy draws upon this psycho-sociological phenomenon. And when put head-to-head with scientists talking about immunology and the research behind their claims that vaccines weren’t involved, the story of her child swayed audiences every time. When challenged on her lack of scientific proof, McCarthy retorted, “Evan is my science.” – a real crowd-pleaser.

The learning outcome: “It turns out human empathy does not scale well. Ie. we can care very deeply about one, single stranger, but that empathy wanes rapidly as the group of victims grows. Once it becomes a large number we cease caring.”

This concept has been proven time and time again and is not only applicable when talking about victims, but also any emotionally suggestive human representing a larger idea.

It’s also important to note that the person playing the ‘emotive microcosm’ for a brand’s story does not have to be famous, he/she just needs his/her personal story to be told in a way that “Emotivates” the target market to support the brand. See our article: Emotive Triggers

Choosing the right message to communicate through the story of a chosen representative is of utmost importance to the success of many award winning, results-driven campaigns we see today.2

The above mentioned examples reveal an innate human quality which is – developing strong beliefs, which, in reality, are more related to emotion than logic…

Want a more current example? – Donald Trump supporters.

Brand Storytelling and ‘Neural Coupling’
Another ground-breaking discovery in neuroscience, which has big implications for the way professionals do branding, came out of a lab at the University of Parma, Italy in the early 1990’s…
Reference for all quotations under this heading: Sarah Jackson

“Giacomo Rizzolatti and his team of scientists were localizing and tracking the firing of specific neurons in macaque monkeys. They did this by putting probes into the monkeys’ brains to isolate very specific neurons controlling certain motor actions—in this case grasping a piece of food and bringing it to their mouths.”

“In order to track the firing of neurons, they wired the signals to a speaker which would crackle every time the neurons fired.” Though as the story goes – one day, a scientist was eating his own meal in the lab and noticed a crackle linked to the empty handed, on-looking monkey’s brain! The discovery of ‘mirror neurons’ led scientist V.S. Ramachandran to proclaim this “the greatest discovery in neuroscience since Darwin.” It’s called, “I Feel Your Pain,” by Gordy Slack in Slate, November 5, 2007

“Uri Hasson, assistant professor at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, sought to discover whether humans generate mirror neurons during storytelling. Hasson tracked their brain patterns and found the listener’s brain did indeed mirror the teller, but at a slight delay. Then, as the story evolved, the listener mirrored the storyteller synchronously with no delay.” Finally—the listener’s brain started accurately mirroring the teller’s brain before the teller even got to that part of the story. They were truly on the same wave length. Hasson calls this “neural coupling.”

These discoveries demonstrate the power of storytelling done more like the way famous novelists write, as opposed to it involving stats and facts without any emotional tie-in. “Neural coupling demonstrates the power of narrative to trigger an empathetic simulation in the listener’s brain.”

Nowadays, the challenging part for creative marketers is finding ways to excite relevant, meaningful emotions through storytelling in the most concise way possible. This is mostly because (whether we like it or not) we’ve all developed shorter attention spans and have become more like the impatient social ‘screenagers’ we see consuming small bits of info. about increasingly various subjects. Thankfully, this challenging aspect is also the part we enjoy the most…

In summary: The key learning outcome for marketers is that focusing on one, strategically developed, immersive narrative which links the brand to a story, is a highly effective way of getting your audience engaged – thus allowing them to be persuaded. This is because humans have an innate ability to empathise with individuals and their specific stories, ie: not the collective statistics but rather – The Emotive Microcosm. And this insight has implications for brands with budgets big and small, look at social media – it’s now easier than ever to target your brands audience with promotions containing clever messaging and associations…

If you wish to elevate your branding with a collaborative partner or want learn more about our processes, visit our website, or give the CEO a buzz.

Your Growth, Our Success.
Brian Wright
CEO Powerhouse Advertising
011 100 4104