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Emotional marketing: how to use emotions in your marketing

Emotional marketing: how to use emotions in your marketing

A lump in your throat. Laughing so hard your belly hurts. The feeling you’re the only person on the planet. These are all examples of feelings you will have felt at least once in your life. They are examples of emotions: our reaction towards an object, individual or surrounding. Emotions are accompanied by behavioural and physiological changes in our body. Feel your heart pumping out of your chest when doing something scary? This is a natural reaction. Ever felt the urge to dance after hearing the good news? You’re not the only one! As with almost everything, our brain handles these reactions. It works together with our body to make sure we respond in the most effective way. In this article, we will tell you more about emotion and why it is interesting for marketing.

Fight or flight

Fight or flight
Fight or flight
Imagine standing on top of a bridge. The view is amazing, the sun is setting, but you also signed up for a bungee-jump. In a few minutes, you will take the plunge. You can feel your palms starting to sweat. Your heartbeat is going up. Your muscles tense. Everyone is nervous in this situation. Our body prepares itself for a scary and dangerous situation. Jumping off a cliff means putting yourself in danger. It is not natural, and that is why it activates the fight or flight system. This is a physiological reaction to any situation that might be harmful and a threat to our survival. After the fight or flight system activates, our sympathetic nervous system takes over. This system regulates the unconscious actions of our body. These are functions like breathing or blinking your eye. You don’t think about them, they happen. In a dangerous situation, it prepares your body for either fighting or fleeing. It can make you sweat, give you goosebumps or dilate your pupils. To make this happen, the brain works together with the body to prepare you for what’s coming. These actions of the body are the most basic emotions related to survival and instinct.

Why we blush

As explained before, emotions are an experience of our brain and our body. We perceive a certain situation and this leads to a reaction of our body. Chemical reactions in our brain prepare us to react in the most effective way. A simple example is blushing, which seems to have an evolutionary purpose. In an embarrassing situation, blushing can be an automatic and uncontrollable response. Psychologists explain this as a way to show our regret over a wrongdoing. By blushing the negative social impression of others might reduce.

The universal language of emotions

Without a doubt, you know Charles Darwin, the godfather of evolution. Darwin was a major fan of biology. Another area that fascinated him is emotion. He was the first person who conducted research on how we recognize facial emotions. Darwin studied emotion by photographing human faces with different expressions. He wanted to prove that we perceive and express emotions in identical ways. He discovered that emotions are innate and that animals also have emotions.

Emotional marketing

Now you know more about the basics of emotion, let’s see how it relates to marketing. Most people think the choices they make are rational and well deliberated. Yet, in reality, our emotions are the main drivers behind our decisions. There are two types of emotions that influence our decisions.

Immediate emotions

Emotions we experience while making a decision are immediate emotions. Our body and face add an automatic reaction (like blushing). Immediate emotions are often more intense and can have a bigger impact on a decision.

Anticipated emotions

Anticipated emotions are not experienced directly. They are the expectations about how someone will feel after making a decision. Thinking about gains or losses influence these decisions. In marketing, anticipated emotions are the most interesting. Anticipation can lead to customer engagement and more response. There is more time to respond to someone’s thoughts or feelings about a purchase decision in the future.

Emotional branding

How do you anticipate your consumer’s emotion? Emotional branding focuses on building a brand that appeals to your customer’s emotions and desires. This type of marketing can be successful when it triggers the right emotional response. Your customers will create a strong attachment with your brand if you manage to do this.

Trees and lungs

WWF Green Lungs
WWF Green Lungs: evoking emotional responses
Have you seen the beautiful images of our planet in WWF commercials? They try to increase donations by evoking positive emotions. A good example is a campaign against deforestation, which leads to reduced oxygen levels. The ad shows a forest in the shape of two lungs to make the message personal. As you can see, the left lung looks healthy. The lung on the right looks unhealthy and is damaged by deforestation. With this image, they try to evoke emotional responses by linking the lung to our own health. They’ve created emotional content by making the advertisement personal.

The importance of brand association

Emotional marketing is extremely important if you want to have a successful product. Why? Emotional ads make people buy. Research shows that we rely on emotions to make brand decisions, not on information. One example is we are willing to pay more for brand-name products. If you think about it, this is pretty strange. The product is often of the same quality. Yet, because of the brand people prefer it over others. This preference is a result of emotion and positive brand association in our memory. For example, we prefer the taste of Coca-Cola if we know the brand. If we are unaware of this, we tend to like the taste of Pepsi. Neuroscience shows that different brain areas are involved in both situations. Big brands like McDonald’s, Airbnb and Google are a big hit because of their emotional connection with the consumer. Remember that a brand is basically nothing more than a mental representation in the consumers head? The key here is to create emotional content that makes an impact and lasts in the consumer’s memory. The better the emotional content, the more likely sales will rise. To do this, it is important that the representation feels authentic and honest. You will need to fully understand your customers and brand’s identity to choose the right strategy.

How to create emotional content

Now you know how emotions work and why it is important for marketing, let’s put it into practice and make some applied neuromarketing yourself. Remember, it is very important to connect with your target audience. So how do you do this?

Direct emotional association

The most obvious way to do this is by direct emotional association. Humans have six basic emotions: happy, surprised, afraid, disgusted, angry and sad. If you choose one emotion, happy is the most logical one. Be careful, this is not applicable to all products! Think clearly about what emotion suits yours. In our priming article, we explained that positive priming can lead to more sales. The use of happy, smiling people creates a positive association with your product. Consumers will feel more attached and connected.

Make your customer feel involved

Make your advertisement personal and make your customer feel involved. Coca-Cola mastered this tactic with their Share a Coke campaign. They replaced their logo with the most common names. This way people could share a coke with a person that matters most to them. They had over a thousand names on their bottles, leading to enormous shares on socials and more than 150 million sales.

Make them feel proud

Be inspirational, so your customer feels a sense of pride. When we feel inspired, we are motivated. One way to do this is by associating your brand with a role model or a certain goal your customer can reach. An example comes from Adidas, who created a campaign around the Olympic athletes. Seeing them as fit and determined winners create feelings of inspiration and motivation.
Emotion: an important factor driving consumer behaviour

Emotions: an important factor driving consumer behaviour

Every day, we make countless decisions. Most of them are small decisions about our day-to-day activities that don’t take much thought. Occasionally there are important choices to be made that take some pondering. How do you make these decisions? You might identify yourself as an intuitive decision maker. Alternatively, perhaps you consider yourself to be very rational. The truth is, emotions play an important role in everybody’s decisions, often without us even realising. With every choice we make, our brain considers the available options. It needs to evaluate which options are good, bad, better, or worse. Moreover, for that, it takes into account how we feel about the expected outcomes. Good vibes? Go for it. Bad vibes? Best avoid it. The crucial thing to note here is that the brain isn’t very rigid when it comes to these evaluations. We are very susceptible to emotional influences, which can change our decision making. Here is where it becomes interesting for marketers. What if you could use emotions to strike a chord with your audience? Could that turn them into customers? The short answer is yes. Let’s see how that works.

Every emotion can be a marketing tool

So let’s get emotional. Spreading some good vibes sounds great. How do we get them across? One powerful emotional tool that we can use is a smile. Seeing a happy face unconsciously triggers positive thoughts and feelings, and those, in turn, influence our choices. It’s not surprising therefore that we see that “Colgate smile” in advertisements everywhere. They don’t only help to sell toothpaste! However, let’s not forget about all the other emotions that can be a source of influence. Think of pride, hope, love, surprise. Also, even sadness, fear, anger, shame, and guilt. Every one of these emotions has the potential to be a marketing tool. To understand how emotions can work in your favour, you need to know the following: emotions are multidimensional feelings. In other words, they are more complicated than they seem. Each emotion is made up of six cognitive “building blocks”, called appraisals: self-accountability, pleasantness, certainty, anticipated effort, attention and situational control. The appraisals vary in strength for each emotion. So how can we use this psychological knowledge to our advantage? In this blog post, we’ll explore this question for two appraisals: self-accountability and pleasantness.

Taking responsibility

Self-accountability plays an essential role in some emotions, like regret and guilt. In other emotions, like hope and fear, it does not. This information is useful if you want to create a compelling message. In a neuromarketing study, researchers looked for the optimal way to promote the use of sunscreen. One strategy painted the scenario of getting skin cancer, with the purpose of inducing fear. Spoiler: this wasn’t the winning strategy. You might wonder why. Fear is a robust primitive drive and seems like a convincing motivator. The problem is that fear lacks a sense of self-accountability, so it wasn’t effective in inspiring people to take action to change their habits. Now let’s move on to the winning strategy: triggering feelings of guilt. The researchers made people imagine what their family would feel if they would lose them to skin cancer. Their feelings of guilt came with a strong sense of self-accountability, making it a more powerful motivator to change intentions and behaviour. "<yoastmark

Why so negative?

The examples we’ve discussed so far have made a jump from feel-good happy smiles to disturbing scenarios that induce fear and guilt. So, with that, we have touched upon the second appraisal: pleasantness. This appraisal sharply divides emotions in a group that is pleasant to experience, and another group that makes us feel uneasy. Why would we deliberately put thoughts in peoples’ heads that are confronting, or even shocking, and make them feel bad? The thing is, these kinds of negative emotional appeals sometimes are a marketer’s best friend when they want their campaign to make an impact and inspire change. Often, it’s these confronting campaigns that end up going viral due to the intense emotions they evoke.

A powerful impact

An example of this is a campaign from 2014 about road safety, by the New Zealand Transport Agency. The powerful advert shows two cars moments before an imminent high-speed collision. Using a time freeze, both drivers get out of their vehicles and consider their actions leading up to the crash. The guilt, fear, and sadness building up toward the accident are tangible, giving their message a powerful impact. Did you notice that this campaign is also an excellent example of tapping into people’s feelings of self-accountability? Again, it’s the guilt motive that did the trick here.

Avoid bad vibes

Viral success stories like this one might make you feel that negative emotions are the way to go. They come with potential downsides, however. For one, trying to make people feel guilt or shame comes with the risk of stepping on toes. When people feel confronted with their bad behaviour, they can respond defensively, dismiss your message, and your campaign could end up backfiring. What’s more, having your brand associated with a negative emotion can be hurtful further down the road. Remember what the brain thinks of bad vibes – best avoid it. A negative emotional approach is therefore ideally suited to make people avoid certain behaviours and events. If you aim to build loyalty to your brand, a positive strategy is usually more advisable. So those happy smiles and beach scenes that you typically see in sunscreen commercials are probably still the best way to go. Are you inspiring your customers to take action? Do you spread positive vibes on your social media? Come back soon to read the second part of the role of emotion in neuromarketing and find out how the other appraisals can help you motivate your customers. Want to know more about the unique way your business could use emotional cues and other neuromarketing strategies to strike a chord with your customers? Expert advice can help you make the most out of your marketing efforts. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!


Achar C., So J., Agrawal N., Duhackek A. What we feel and why we buy: the influence of emotions on consumer decision-making (2016). Curr Opin Psychol; 10: 166-170. Phelps E.A., Lempert K.M., Sokol-Hessner P. Emotion and Decision Making: Multiple Modulatory Neural Circuits (2014). Annu Rev Neurosci; 37: 263-287. Passyn K, Sujan M. Self-accountability emotions and fear appeals: motivating behavior (2006). J Cons Res; 32: 583-589.