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Romance: Marketing’s Most Powerful Weapon

January 18, 2013 Jeff Bradford

“Hadley Hemingway” was a very popular search term last year. The reason for the sudden interest in all things Hadley was the publication of a new book about her: The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. It is a retelling of A Moveable Feast through the eyes of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley.

Hemingway’s last book (unless you count the dredged up and cobbled together Garden of Eden ), A Moveable Feast recounts the author’s years in Paris in the 1920s – when Hemingway, Picasso, Fitzgerald, Pound, Dos Passos, Anderson and other luminaries were there. When the “Lost Generation” was born. It was also the time when Hemingway was married to Hadley. And when he did his best work, ever, including The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls.


Take it from a man’s man – this is powerful stuff.

It was the happiest time of his life. Maybe the only happy time in his life.

I had recently reread A Moveable Feast when I met and fell in love with my wife. It felt like I was living the book, which was absolutely stupendously marvelous. (And still is.) No other book so captures the experience of being in love. Not in a gooey, sentimental way. This is Hemingway, after all. It is a clear-eyed, intense, alive description of “profound intimacy and connection” utterly without artifice or pretension. McLain calls Hadley and Hem’s relationship “one of the great romances in literary history.”

Though I knew very little about Hemingway’s first wife before researching this article, I had long had the feeling that she was the one who really mattered. And I can’t tell you why I thought that. It’s just in the ether, somehow.

Which brings us to our topic: the use of romance and romantic themes in marketing. “Sex sells” is a revered bromide. But… No. Like the cicadas‘ drone, sex attracts. Romance closes the deal. Because we are human, not insects. We have a soul, not just instincts. We are capable of feeling deeply.

It is deep feelings, not animal instincts, that the best marketing mines, which is the basis for another marketing bromide: All buying decisions are emotionally based, though we may coat them with a veneer of reason.

And it is these deep feelings, not animal instincts, that the best marketing mines, which is the basis for another marketing bromide: All buying decisions are emotionally based, though we may coat them with a veneer of reason. (This one is true.)

Romance is the sine qua non of emotional fulfillment. Indeed, in today’s highly secularized culture, romantic attachments are humanity’s ultimate goal. Intimacy with a potential or actual mate for life with whom we form an ineffable spiritual bond is as close as most of us get to God – and unfortunately, most don’t even get that close. If a marketer can wrap his product or service in the mantle of romance, which everyone craves but few achieve, he is much more likely to generate the response he seeks. He is fulfilling a basic need that is higher than the sex drive, one that results in a longer lasting attachment, because it works on so many levels and is endorsed by society, rather than frowned upon, as is raw sexuality.

“Give us a break,” I hear from my brethren. Chick flicks and royal weddings and all that other stuff may work for women, but not for us, gosh darn it. Well, all I can say is, romance was the most important motivator to the most macho author of modern memory. And I’m not talking about just A Moveable Feast. Two of Hemingway’s greatest books, A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, are basically romance novels. Again, not in the Harlequin mode, but in terms of forming a deep, life-changing, often gut-wrenching, sometimes soul-saving relationship with a woman.

And, of course, Hemingway the man is Hemingway the author. He does not don a persona in his books; he is in his books. All of him. As McLain puts it, “Everyone always says his fictional characters are him only thinly disguised.”  Like his characters, like most secular 21st Century American men, Hemingway spent his life trying to find a woman who could save him. He was continually “yearning for a woman who would love him so much he could kill his ‘lonesomeness in that woman or pool it with hers.’”

He found her in Hadley. Who was “hard-wired to be decent, kind, warm, and accepting…loving him even though she knew how flawed he was.” Who found with him a “deep happiness as well as zest for life, physical endurance, and emotional resilience she didn’t believe were possible.” To whom Hemingway dedicated his best book, The Sun Also Rises, even though he wrote Hadley out of it entirely, and to whom he signed away all the royalties.

A woman of whom this ultimate American male, who finally blew his brains out with his favorite shotgun, said, “I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”

To a marketer, there is nothing, nothing more powerful than romance.

Our responsibility is to use it wisely.

photo credit: Ben Ledbetter, Architect via photopin cc

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