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Call it coincidence, but with John Travolta's comeback we're also witnessing the return of emotional advertising. The two are not as independent as you think.

Two decades ago, when the old Marschalk agency (now Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York) gave Mr. Travolta his break on TV in a campaign for Mutual of New York life insurance, it called the positioning emotional hard sell. The term united two often opposing camps: viewers responded to the "emotional" premise while advertisers to "hard sell."

Two of the most emotional commercials of the 1980s were to come from other agencies-N.W. Ayer ("Joey Called," AT&T, 1981) and Leo Burnett USA ("Little Sister," McDonald's Corp., 1983)- with both the advertisers committed to emotions and family values through the mid-80s.

Emotional advertising then all but disappeared as McDonald's followed Taco Bell with an array of price-oriented menu promotions and a post-monopoly AT&T pushed price and quality. Occasionally, they would infuse their hard sell with emotion, But it wasn't till 1993 that such efforts clicked with the viewers. AT&T reconnected when it had a mother sing her child to sleep through a viewerphone in a "You will" spot and McDonald's brought in "Single Parent."

More recently, McDonald's is getting a lot of attention featuring father/son relation-ships. The two spots that aired in the final quarter of 1995-"Wake Up" and "Growing Up"-gave the brand its best ranking since Michael Jordan participated in a high-tech "Looney Tunes" romp.

Most of these high-touch gains appear to be coming at the expense of high-tech executions-an era that appears to be fading.

Marshall Karp, who coined "emotional hard sell" along with Andy Langer at Marschalk, isn't surprised by this return. "Providing a rational end benefit is not enough," he says, "because it can be imitated [by competitors] right away. You need to develop a link between the brand and its consumers. Appealing to them emotionally provides this link."

Mr. Vadehra is president of Video Storyboard Tests. Write him at 107 E. 31st St., New York 10016. Fax him at (212) 689-0210. Campaign Clout reports consumer response to current advertising.

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