The Power of Emotional Appeal in Marketing

Almost anyone who’s been in business has looked at the landscape of their industry and found competition. If it doesn’t exist right away – and it usually does – then it will soon enough. As competition grows, so does the importance of finding a way to stand out. 

Certainly, a good business will have confidence that its products or services are better than what competitors are offering. And ideally that will draw in customers or clients over time. But how do you get someone to visit the first time, when they don’t know you at all? 

Your marketing can help, but you must be intentional about your approach. 

Among many potential paths, one helpful tool you can use is emotion

Emotion works in this realm for several reasons – maybe most significantly because when we feel something, we remember it better. There are plenty of examples of successful marketing meant to trigger a variety of emotions, including happiness, warmth, sadness or anger. 

Different types of emotion suit various situations and various objectives. You’ll need to keep in mind what fits the specific product, service or campaign you’re promoting and what fits the moment. What works for you at one point in time might not work at all another time. So that’s something to keep in mind. 

Why do emotional appeals work so well? 

If people don’t know who you are, they can’t know how good your product or service is until they try it. So how do you get them to try it? You’ll need something else. 

Drawing out emotion can help. Used correctly, it can be just what you need as not only an introduction to the audience but also as a way of sticking with them.  

The Hubspot blog quotes a 2006 article in the Association for Psychological Science that discusses the impact of first impressions and how quickly they are formed, coming to the conclusion that “emotional marketing makes great first impressions.” It’s key that your initial marketing strategy sticks with your audience and gives them the impression you want them to have, because it will be your only shot to reach them when they still have no notion – positive or negative – of who you are and what you want to do. 

Sometimes, a client might not have an obvious path to a certain emotional approach, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be one. Liberty Mutual is an insurance company, and merely stating what they do would make for a dry promotion. Instead, they use humor in their television advertisements to draw laughs, a perhaps unexpected emotion given their business. 

Social media offers an opportunity for your audience to expand your message to those in their social circle who might not have seen your marketing. A marketing campaign that effectively uses emotion might be exactly the kind of message someone can’t help but share with a friend! 

How do we want people to feel at the holidays? 

If your campaign will be centered around emotion, one of the early objectives is determining how you want your audience to feel. The tone of your work can draw out very different emotions, and it’s important to pick a tone purposefully so it belongs with what you’re doing. 

With the holidays approaching, you’re already undoubtedly seeing plenty of marketing strategies aiming to create a sense of emotional warmth.  

Consider as one example a promotion of cookie dough. 

– What strategies are we using to bring out emotion? Many campaigns promoting food feature people happily eating the finished product. But you can take this a step further. How many children spend time with a parent or grandparent making cookies before Christmas? Plenty do. Smart marketers understand today’s adults did the same when they were kids, too.  

Nostalgia is at play, here, as well as people’s desire for family and community. 

 – What does the audience see? Instead of focusing on a child eating those cookies, why not build a moment around the chance for that child to spending quality time with Mom, Dad or Grandma making them? They might share a smile or a laugh. It can come across corny if put together clumsily, but these feelings can work well when utilized properly.  

 – How does it make us feel? A parent seeing that understands how much they value those moments with their own children or grandchildren. And many adults – whether they’re parents or not – would likely think back to their own childhood, when perhaps an older family member spent time with them making food at the holidays.  

As a different example, consider the jewelry business. 

– What strategies are we using to bring out emotion? Jewelers know it’s a big opportunity to sell necklaces, bracelets or earrings to people wanting to show affection to their significant others. So the emotional appeal is through romance. 

– What does the audience see? While other campaigns might discuss the science of the jewelry and talk about access to diamonds and inventory and expertise, this sort of promotion calls for a more personal approach. It’s all about *the emotions* the giver and recipient will feel when the gift is presented.  

The kiss they share reinforces what the audience is supposed to understand, that that gift has a particular way of making someone feel special. 

– How does it make us feel? Anyone who has surprised a significant other with a gift like this or received one knows the feeling of anticipation that comes before it’s opened and then when the gift itself is revealed. The idea is to remind us of how exciting that moment is and how good it feels – whether you’re the gift giver or gift recipient – to be there for it. 

The power of negative emotion 

While there is a time and place for warm, fuzzy feelings, drawing out negative emotions in an audience can also be effective. 

The four main ways marketers do this are through fear, guilt, sadness and anger, according to a 2020 article in the Open Journal of Social Sciences “When and Why Negative Emotional Appeals Work in Advertising: A Review of Research.” 

It’s important to be careful here. Not every campaign or promotion calls for negative emotion. 

According to blog by Roger Dooley, “brands have damaged themselves when an emotional campaign failed to align with reality.” The last thing you want to do as a marketer is to draw out a negative emotion that doesn’t serve your purpose. 

Still, addressing negative emotions can be done effectively. Let’s look at how each of these triggers a response from the audience. It’s a call to action. Here are a couple of examples to consider. 

– Fear: The audience feels uncomfortable or nervous with a potential negative consequence your campaign could prevent. The audience asks, “What can I do to prevent a certain scenario from happening?” and your campaign ideally provides an answer. 

Example: We see this often in political marketing, when candidates ask potential voters to ponder what might happen to the community if an opponent wins an election. It’s probably unwise to use this approach too often as it can be off-putting when too frequent, but in small doses it’s often shown to be effective. 

– Guilt: The audience feels led to fix a negative situation by taking action.  

Example: Human rights organizations and animal welfare groups often do this in television and mail campaigns. They might show children or animals who are clearly living in subpar conditions, knowing many people will feel led to contribute to fix the problem they are seeing in that moment. 

It’s important to note that the audience is not left to wallow in feelings of guilt and sadness but instead is offered a chance – through the campaign – of being part of the solution. As the Onsight App blog says of these campaigns, “They inspire people to act … But what else do they do? They offer hope.”  

Which emotional appeal should we use? 

It might seem obvious, but it’s still important to remember there isn’t one answer to this question. We must be mindful of our short-term and long-term objectives and choose marketing strategies that serve those goals. 

If a topic is particularly serious, humor probably won’t help. If the topic is sad, it’s important to offer the audience hope and a chance to be part of the solution to the problem. If the topic is more lighthearted, humor will be more effective. 

In any case, marketing is often more effective when you can focus less on teaching something and instead prioritize making someone *feel* something. That is likely to stay with them much longer, and they’re more likely to share it with people around them as well. 

Want more ideas for using emotion in your marketing? 

If you are intrigued about how emotion can make your marketing more effective, J&L can help. Contact us today! 

More To Explore

Subscribe To our newsletter!

Volkswagen Digital Marketing Enrollment Form

Schedule An Appointment

Schedule Your Event

Get Your Free Political Landscape Analysis

Get A Proposal

View Our Lookbook

Download the lookbook now

Our lookbook has examples of our display ads we have created for clients.