Point of View: The empathy imperative

Molly Flatt

Empathy has always been the emotional G-spot of advertising. If you can make a consumer believe that you truly share their pain and their dreams, you're more likely to convince them that you'll be able to plug that lipstick/car/consultancy-shaped hole in their soul. And one of the chief appeals of social media for marketers is its ability to bridge the divide between 'us' and 'them'. "If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something," David Ogilvy said, "it seems to me you should use their language." Social media allows brands to create instant verbal and visual rapport.

As a result, boundaries between cultural castes are being dramatically traduced in this drive to relate. Think teen bloggers such as Bip Ling being given journalistic privileges in the super-elite fashion front row. Consider the spread of the #26acts hashtag, through which people across the world who have never set foot on American soil pledge to do 26 good deeds in memory of the victims of the Newtown school massacre. Or observe Richard Branson ensuring he stays 'close to the little people' – and keeps his Virgin empire feeling human – by tweeting personal tips, opinions and experiences.