What Johnny Cash’s Lionel Commercial Can Teach Us About Digital Marketing Today

Back when I was an account executive on Lionel Trains at HBM Boston I learned a great on LESSON about advertising, whether it’s consumer or B2B: Incorporate emotional benefit, not just logic. A little marketing research can keep your campaign on the right track to emotional success.

In the case of Lionel Trains, research revealed that the key decision maker was the mother, not dear old dad, although he liked trains. Further, the research indicated that mothers wanted their husbands to spend more time with the kids. Lionel sales were declining and bankruptcy was on the horizon when Mal MacDougall and his team came up with a brilliant commercial (and tag line) which delivered the emotional benefit, “Kids get something wonderful when they get a Lionel. They get dad.” Next, Mal got Mr. Railroad himself, Johnny Cash to deliver the story. (See original TV spot below.) The rest is history. The campaign revitalized the brand.

“Kids get something wonderful when they get a Lionel train. They get dad.”

Emotion is a key factor in both consumer and B2B buying. Our consumer research of nearly a million people to date indicates that emotion can represent up to 90% of the buy. In B2B, our 10,000+ global surveys reveal that it’s up to 52% emotion. (See chart below).


It seems like some marketers, especially the “bean counters,” have over-looked the power of emotion.

One last “emotional” tip for B2B marketers. Once you know the emotional “trigger” message, deliver the benefit in a positive way, not a negative manner because our latest digital communications research indicates that positive outscores negative two to one! Surprisingly, the majority of B2B buyers consider “the glass half full.”

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