Olive Garden Really Taps Into Your Emotional Needs

Brian James Rawson
December 15, 2023

Listen to the episode above. Read the transcript below.

Episode Transcript

Welcome to the Owl Street Studio podcast where we look at how marketing and design affect the unexpected areas of our lives. 

Today we’re picking up where we left off in our last episode. We’re looking at how businesses use selling points to tap into your emotional needs. 

What are Your Needs?

But first, let’s do a quick recap and explain what your needs are in the first place. When we say “needs,” we mean any resource you literally need to survive. On one side is external needs. These are physical, tangible resources like food, shelter, water, and clothing, and on the other side is internal needs. These are things like happiness, social connection, and self-actualization. 

Business Only Sell Needs 

But what do your needs have to do with marketing?  Well, when you strip everything away, marketing comes down to just two things: external needs and internal needs. It doesn’t matter what a business makes or what services they provide, all of them only really sell these two things: an external need and an internal need. 

For example, Tide sells laundry detergent which cares for and protects your clothes, and you need clothes to survive, so, yes Tide sells soap, but really they sell you an external need. They sell you clean clothes. 

But that’s not all they sell. Tide also sells an internal need. Clean clothes don’t just last longer and provide more protection. They also help you make friends, pass a job interview, and land a date. For instance, try sitting down and making friends if everyone can smell you a mile away. So, though Tide may not advertise it or slap it on their label, Tide sells you an internal need. They sell social connection, and when we step back like this, we can see that all businesses, like Tide, sell you two things: an external need and an internal need. 

Marketing Communicates Emotional Needs 

So now that we know that, let’s look at how businesses communicate these two needs. First, the way all businesses communicate is through marketing. And if you ask ten different marketers to define marketing, you’ll probably get ten different answers. So, for us, we define marketing like this. Marketing uses media to start conversations. Here media means any audio or visual medium. So, a sticker is media, and so is a commercial, a podcast, an Instagram post, and a coffee cup sleeve. Basically, nearly anything can be media, which means nearly anything can be used for marketing. 

Selling Points Communicate Emotional Needs 

So, marketing and media is the “what.” Now let’s look at the “how.” How do businesses communicate these needs through their marketing and media? They do it through their selling points. Selling points are basically the things business say to convince you to buy their stuff instead of the other guy’s. And it’s through these selling points that a business communicates what they’re really selling: an external need and an internal need. 

Size, Quantity, Price Communicate External Needs 

First, a business highlights the external need by using external selling points. These selling points are all the things that are outside the product or service. This is the stuff you can count, measure, and easily evaluate. It’s stuff like price, quality, quantity, features, and physical characteristics. For example, all of these are external selling points:

So, in short, any time you see a business use a surface level, easily seen or counted item to convince you to buy their stuff, you know you’re dealing with external selling points and external needs. 

Images and Subtly Communicate Internal Needs 

But when a business highlights the opposite of everything we just talked about, you know you’re dealing with internal selling points and internal needs. Where external selling points are all the things that are easily seen and measured, internal points are all the stuff that’s abstract and hard to quantify. For example, you can measure if Tide really lasts 25% longer, but how do you measure how many friends you make because Tide keeps you clothes clean and fresh? 

Often, images, subtext, and subtly communicate internal selling points. For instance, instead of saying, “We help you make friends,” Tide puts a picture of a person surround by friends right on their label. So basically, whenever you’re dealing with emotions, concepts, subtext, and subtly in marketing, you’re dealing with internal selling points. 

Olive Garden Communicates Both Needs 

And to help draw a finer point on all of this, let’s look at an example of the two needs and selling points being used side-by-side. And, yep, you guessed it, we’re talking about Olive Garden. So imagine this. An Olive Garden commercial pops up on your Hulu show. In the commercial, they talk all about their never ending soup and salad and their Alfredo pasta for $10.99. 

Both of these are external selling points. They’re using quantity (never ending soup and salad) and price ($10.99 pasta) to convince you to come to them instead of going to Chili’s. 

But then the commercial keeps rolling and, they show you smiling people all gathered around the table laughing and joking with each other. Then, they end the commercial with this line, “When you’re here, you’re family.” 

Olive Garden uses the image of friends and family, of people gathered and happy together to communicate the internal need they’re selling. Why should you go to Olive Garden instead of Chili’s? Because at Olive Garden you’ll get social connection (which is a fundamental internal need). And just in case you didn’t get it, the commercial actually says it out loud. When you go to Olive Garden, you get a lot of food at a cheap price and you get “family.” In thirty seconds, Olive Garden hooks you with both external and internal selling points side-by -side. 


So, we’ve talked about a lot, and to help round things out, let’s do a quick recap. First, your needs are the external and internal resources you need to survive. Second, all businesses sell you an external and internal need. Third, businesses communicate these needs through their selling points. Fourth, external selling points are all the surface level things of the product or service, and internal selling points are all the abstract, emotional elements of a product or service. 

But wait…there’s more! In our next episode, we’ll talk more about the specific associations we have with external selling points and internal ones. For example, the more a brand pushes external selling points the more we see that brand as cheap and a commodity, and the more a brand highlights internal selling points the more we see them as high-end and expensive. 

But for now, the next time you’re on Amazon or in the grocery store, pay attention to what selling points you see. How many brands use external points? And how many use internal ones? And which one actually makes you buy that detergent over the other one? And which one makes you get chicken Alfredo over burgers and nachos? 


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