Emotional Marketing

Ads That are More than Skin Deep – The World of Emotional Marketing

When talking about emotional marketing, we may think about ads on TV or video that makes us laugh or cry. However, this basic understanding leaves out the memorable connections that are built during such moments. Emotional marketing does more than just create feelings – it builds relationships.

Emotional marketing draws upon emotions to make audiences remember, share, and buy. As neuroscience professor Antonio Damasio has demonstrated, people often make decisions based on emotions, rather than a dispassionate analysis of information. Hamish Pringle and Peter Field drove the point home, showing that emotional ads used in their study performed nearly twice as well as logic-based content – eliciting a 31% ‘profitability boost’ via emotions compared to 16% via logic, whereas a combination of the two led to a 26% boost.

While the science isn’t entirely clear-cut, many studies do suggest that different types of emotions lead to different reactions, which is why it is important to use the right emotion to achieve your goal. Appealing to emotion is a useful marketing tool – sometimes even those emotions traditionally considered to be ‘negative’, like anger or sadness.

Positive Emotions

Happiness leads to social media shares. Contrary to popular belief, which says that ‘bad news sells’, recent studies suggest good news may actually spread faster and further on social media than tragedy.

While the more traditional ‘bad news’ rule still works for mass media ratings, when it comes to word-of-mouth digital communications, research points to a more positive outlook. A study by Facebook concluded that users who saw more positive messages on their feed, ended up sharing more positive messages of their own. The same pattern was seen with negative messages. This result suggests that brands which constantly promote more positive messages, will likely create more positive engagement around their own brand and campaign.

Humor is another effective emotional marketing technique. Humor appeals to and elicits various positive emotions, leading to positive brand associations and a good lasting impression. A study by the Journal of Marketing suggests that when humor is properly and appropriately integrated into an advertising campaign, it leads to better recall and helps reduce purchase resistance.

Negative Emotions

Content which promotes sad emotions can potentially appeal to instincts like altruism and empathy, motivating audiences to want to take action to connect with others. These emotions are often employed in campaigns by various charities like Save the Children, or the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Studies by “neuroeconomist” Dr. Paul Zak have shown that donations are much more likely to occur after an emotional story has been viewed. While sad emotional marketing can indeed inspire action in certain cases, sadness is most effective when it is used in conjunction with other emotions. Although audiences do share content even if it creates negative emotions, they more often share content that also made them anxious or angry, not just sad.

Naturally, there needs to be a clear purpose for organizations to use sadness effectively, and it is generally appropriate only in a limited number of cases. Yet in an environment of constantly upbeat advertisements, negative emotions like these can help certain marketing efforts truly stand out.


Branded Storytelling is a crucial component of effective emotional marketing. Storytelling is a surefire way to connect with your audience, as stories in themselves are vehicles that take the viewer through an emotional journey. Whatever emotion you want to elicit – be it sadness, anger, passion, or excitement – stories create emotions that are easily relatable and shareable for all audiences.

Emotional marketing and storytelling work because we all connect through stories. Whatever form they may take, good stories resonate with their audiences and create strong emotions. And as previously discussed, these emotions play an important role in influencing consumers to make purchases or take other meaningful actions.

Types of stories

Inspire and appeal to aspirations

While inspiration is not in itself an emotion, the feelings that come along with it are. When people are inspired, emotions are formed which leads them to act and think differently, which at the end of the day is the fundamental purpose of marketing.

Inspirational ads take many forms, leading to a range of different responses – from feelings of pride, to taking direct action. For instance, depicting an athlete overcoming barriers to achieve lifelong goals – a genre which Nike and Adidas have mastered – can lead to feeling pride for the person. Whereas seeing people perform acts of charity can motivate others to do the same.

Human interest stories are impactful because they target the inspirational core of the audience. They are also relatable, letting viewers connect to them on an emotional level. Inspirational campaigns can also link your brand with the success stories it tells.

Moreover, inspirational campaigns are often used to tap into the audience’s own aspirations. By seeing others succeed and achieve their shared goals, the audience too becomes energized to achieve them – whether the goals involve becoming a better self, improving the community, or manipulating some other lever of change.

For aspirational marketing to work, it has to clearly show how the product or service can help the consumer reach these shared goals. By showing how the brand can help customers achieve their goals, the brand becomes the guide in the story – something we discussed in more detail in a previous blog.

Understanding shared values and challenges

Shared values connect people. By promoting and tapping into these values – be they environmental causes, human rights, or any other widely shared aims – brands can tell impactful emotional stories. If done well, these stories can benefit from free publicity, as those with the same values will likely want to share it.

When a brand promotes a value that is held dear by the targeted audience groups, they will in turn associate the brand with that value, and begin to connect with them on an emotional level. As long as the brand’s behavior supports its declaration of values, customer loyalty may very well follow – and far more quickly than would have been possible in the absence of such shared values.

Create a community

Emotional marketing can help create a community between a brand and its customers. Once a brand is trusted, customers will more likely buy the product or service. This connection between the audience and brand inspires feelings of camaraderie, which in turn lead to brand loyalty. Why do people use Google over Yahoo, or one product over its competitor? Most likely it’s because somewhere along the line, they were emotionally compelled to choose one over the other.

Such moments will reward brands that take the time to create a community, based on highlighting the needs that their brand can satisfy. A story can bring people together on an emotional level, or even involve the customers themselves in the marketing campaign.

The process begins when a company starts conversations and engages with their audience. The aim should always be to create an association with the customer that goes beyond the mere product or service that the brand offers. Sometimes the best way to add value is by giving customers the type of emotional satisfaction that will make them want – not just in their heads, but also in their hearts – to keep coming back for more.


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