Acting out when we first feel something is perilous – even if it’s the goal of most advertising.

August 17, 2015


Babies cry and feel… a lot

We feel something.

Maybe someone says something to us… or about us… behind our backs… in front of our peers. Whatever the stimuli, it trips one of our many internal wires and we feel. This is normal. Human beings are wired to act this way.

Then what?

Feelings are tricky. Where I often screw up. Where most people screw up. Instead of internally processing a feeling we act on it, often impulsively, as if it were actual and physical, like an insect biting through our skin. But there is no bug. And we lash out at it anyway. Our reactions to feelings have consequences. Energy is expended. Shit happens.

It’s perilous. Why? Because feelings are not facts. They exist only in our heads, inflaming egos with abstract drama. By definition, a feeling skews positive or negative, often to extremes. Therefore, we ought to think about a feeling (even if only 10 seconds) before acting on it. You’ve heard the expression “count to ten.” How many of us actually do that?


“How could you?!”

Instead we act. I feel hurt. I feel angry. I’m going to do something about it, let the dominoes fall where they may. This is when we write flaming emails. Troll ex-lovers. Why Russian President Putin burns tons of perfectly good food. Is it an overstatement to suggest that acting on feelings is how most if not all human conflicts are caused?

So much misery (in our homes, offices and the world) enabled by a small glitch in our wiring. Imagine if our code was “Feel. Think. Act.” Instead of “Feel. Act. Think.” The world would be better place. Certainly your home or office would.

An addendum about advertising:

Those of us in Adland have long known the best (and most creative) ways to get people to act is to provoke their feelings. “Illicit an emotional response.” “Tap a Responsive chord.” And all that jazz. Even with so many new tools we still think and operate this way. We fundamentally believe feelings trump facts in their ability to persuade. Our creativity depends on it. Bill Bernbach showed us the way and we have not looked back.


Oh, Bill, look what you’ve done!

Feelings are not facts, which is why they’re so human. Of course they inspire better ad copy than bullet points and rationales. Yet, for the very same reason feelings (and the behavior they inspire) are potentially radioactive. Especially on a personal and social level. The distance from insight to incite can be precariously short.


5 Responses to “Acting out when we first feel something is perilous – even if it’s the goal of most advertising.”

  1. So well said Steffani. Feelings are our reactions and not facts, a moment of truth here. More often we accept our feelings as ourselves than the fact. Nice post.


  2. I suppose in real life, I’m confounded by the idea held by many that, ‘the first response is the most honest and therefore most valid.’ The other side of that coin is that honesty, for all its virtue, can be detrimental to collaboration and compromise. Knowing this, however, hasn’t quite cured me of my chronic foot-in-mouth disease.

    On advertising: Isn’t it dangerous to have people consider thinking first? Thinking seems antithetical to the goal of advertising…if indeed, it’s meant to provoke “I need” or “I want”.

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