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Emotional Advertising - Content, Campaigns and Crying

By admin 01 May 2018
Emotional Advertising - Content, Campaigns and Crying

To start us off, I think it is fair to say that the most shared content online is always in some way evocative. Whether a campaign makes us happy, sad or angry, it makes us feeland we want to share it! Just the other day I shared a video from Greenpeace and a vlog about gun control in the United States. I shared these because they made me both sad and angry.

If you have a look through your most recently shared media, it is pretty much guaranteed that you deemed it shareable because it made you feel something. Whether it made you laugh, cry, cringe or sigh you shared it because you connected in some way.

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Appreciating the power of a connection is crucial when creating content and campaigns. And this is true across all forms of media. For example, you'll find it in films, more specifically the most successful films of all time. Here are just a few from that list:

  • Titanic
  • Finding Dory
  • Dr Zhivago
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  • Jaws

They all have something in common.

Maybe some of you haven't watched these. Perhaps you've been living under a rock or have stumbled across this article whilst enjoying your rumspringa from your Amish community. If so, here's the key similarity... Your heart is going to hurt!

Most of these films deal with intense levels of loss, love and heartbreak. Apart from Jaws which (unless you really related to the shark) makes your heart hurt with pure pangs of terror! On its release and with every consequent viewing, people (me) were finding themselves questioning the safety of their own bathwater. Would it, in fact, lead to a grizzly shark attack death! There has even been a study called the 'Jaws Effect'. This looked closely at the impact scary films have on memory and its ability to embed itself into our primal reaction to survive. If this film had not been so scary, had it NOT made us FEEL actual and literal terror would it have been and remain so popular? No. No, it wouldn't.


Where the other films are concerned, their popularity and high-grossing nature were primarily down to their ability to make us feel extreme happiness, sadness and, in some instances, heartbreak. Yuri Zhivago's last glimpse of Lara, Dory's memory of her parents, E.T being torn away from Elliott and the geriatric lovers holding each other whilst waiting to be engulfed in the freezing depths of the Atlantic... (I honestly think this is sadder than Rose releasing Jack into his watery grave). And, even with all the death, who hasn't asked: "paint me like one of your french girls" whilst reclining on to any and everything?

These are all scenes that elicit an incredibly strong emotional response. Even if you haven't watched any of these films recently you can clearly recall the scenes and the way they made you feel.

These films are all proof that emotion sells.

Emotion triggers a strong memory. Studies show that people rely on emotion rather than information when making a choice between brands.  Relate your brand to something that inspires an emotional response and you're doing it SO RIGHT!  


"Emotions don't hinder decisions. They constitute the foundation on which they're made!" - Douglas Van Praet


The most shared ads rely on emotional content. Buzzsumo compiled a list of the most viral content of 2016. To summarise the subject of this viral content I've picked out three titles and their corresponding total Facebook shares:


  • 'Penguin swims 5,000 miles every year for reunion with the man who saved his life' - shared by 900,000 people!
  • 'Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker' -  shared by 1.8 million people!
  • 'Intelligent people tend to be messy, stay awake longer, and swear more' - shared by 2 million people!

Noticing anything in common? They all induce some kind of STRONG emotional reaction!

I mean, I challenge anyone to not get more than a bit emosh about this guy and his penguin best friend? 5000 miles? Most of us regularly ignore phone calls from our nearest and dearest?! The Stanford Victim article refers to a really high profile and controversial sexual assault case that caused a lot of anger and uproar. The judges sentencing was dominated by his view that a longer sentence would have "a severe impact on him"- 'him' being the assaulter. The intelligent messy people article? Well, that was obviously shared by a load of really busy, important and intelligent people. Perhaps by a Content and Social Media Exec who currently has an apple core, a cheese wrapper and a hella lot of popcorn crumbs on their desk… On a serious note, this article is interesting and A LOT of people related to its content. Heartwarmers, strong opinions, political pieces or even data-driven articles all cause an inspired response that we want to share and spread the word!

Your campaigns are aimed at people, so connecting with people is paramount. This may sound simple but understanding human response and emotion is based on extensive anthropological, psychological and economic studies! First thoughts when thinking of an ad campaign that has nailed this? Hows about the oh-so-clever driver of the metaphorical bandwagon? On to which the likes of Marks and Spencers and VERY have climbed up onto? The Mr Miyagi of the Christmas campaign? The Grand Master Yoda of the goosebump-inducing advert? That's right, your head is probably already there, I'm talking about John Lewis!

They've got a footing in this so much so, that they are often people's first thought when a festive ads is on. When you caught a glimpse of Paddington in the 2017 Marks and Spencers ad did you find yourself excitedly questioning if you were finally witnessing the oh-so-anticipated John Lewis ad? I did. And so have a lot of my friends and colleagues. John Lewis were the pioneers of these modern Christmas specials, that pull at the heartstrings and give us all kinds of the warm and fuzzies.

I defy anyone to not feel anything about the man on the moon. Even writing this, I feel like crying whilst simultaneously fighting the urge to buy my grandad a telescope… John Lewis got the balance of emotional response and brand recognition just right. So right, in fact, that they've piggybacked their way into any Christmas themed emo advertising without any actual commercial investment! You sneaky little heartbreakers!

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On the other side of the 'emotional coin', you'll find the more controversial ads. The ads that make you cringe… One of the more cringe-worthy ads I've come across recently is the Poundland Christmas campaign. Yes, it made me 'whaaaaaa?!' but it got my attention all the same. It evokes several different emotions, shock, humour and for some (prudes) disgust. Want to see the ad in question?

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BOOM! Didn't expect that did you? Did it make you choke/spit out your tea? (Pun intended). It got A LOT of attention and some of it was really negative, so much so that they were made to withdraw this particular image. But, as they say, "all press is good press", " there is no such thing as bad publicity" etc…

In all honesty, this really does apply here, we're not talking about the tinsel that spelt out 'sale' are we? And Poundland enjoyed one of their most successful festive periods ever, partly down to their ability to evoke an emotion! If you fancy having a look at a few more of these cheeky little numbers take a look at our article Naughty Elves, Tea Bagging & Pricks. How One Company Is Nailing The Double Entendre.


Some points before putting it into practice...

Obviously, or maybe not so obviously (here's looking at you, Pepsi) there is a time and a place for emotional appeal and you should also think about what emotion actually works with what you are doing. You will not always have to elicit an emotion to get a response. When was the last time you cried at an advert for chewing gum? If you think emotion suits your campaign, what voice does it have? What tone are you working on? Is it a positive or a negative emotion that is most suited? Make sure you remain authentic and true to your brand. It's not about manipulation, it's about benefiting your brand! A prime example of this? Google's "Dear Sophie" ad.

Not everyone will relate to what you do. Not everyone is going to feel intense sadness at Donkey's struggling to carry building material in the baking sun (these people are dead inside). BUT appealing to what will be the majority and appealing to an emotion that most will relate to sets you in good stead.


When is using negative emotion the right thing to do?

Anger and sadness are two very strong emotions. They elicit a very 'proactive' response, these are the emotions which you don't want to feel and look for a way of actively rectifying them. If your ad offers a negative emotion and your brand offers the solution you are on to a winner. This a tactic often used by charities and fundraising organisations.There have been shocking ads that induce such strong feelings of negativity that the solution became overshadowed and in doing so they've brought about anger towards the brand.

One of the most recent examples of this is McDonalds 'Dead Dad' ad, showing a bereaved child reconnecting with a memory of his dead Dad over a fillet-o-fish. They were accused of "inappropriately and insensitively using bereavement and grief to sell fast food" and were forced to pull it. Need I mention Pepsi's assault on the Black Lives Matter campaign?

A Brief History of Emotional Branding

The use of emotion has been used throughout history to sell. It's interesting to look into the history of emotional branding (no, you need to get a life!).

The term 'emotional branding' refers to the way in which brands make a direct appeal to a consumers emotions. The idea of 'branding' is an ancient practice, expanding in the Industrial Revolution but not in the way we know it. Post World War 2 saw the rapid expansion of consumer goods and so emerged brand identity. This inspired strategy and understanding of public behaviours and the association of lifestyles, products and brands. One of the first instances of this is in Thomas J. Barratt's Pears Soap campaign. Using imagery of innocence and being well-groomed and how these factors could lead to a 'realistic' access to high-society. Many companies went on to adopt this approach and, to this day, tactics like using a young child or animal are used to capture the hearts of the masses. Andrex is a prime example of this!


Wash with Pears Soap and you could be just as cool as this kid...↑↑

The 1500 practice of Indulgences is another example of emotional manipulation and its ability to ensure a sale! Bare with me on this one...

Indulgences were a payment made to the church that in-turn bought you exemption from penance and lessened your time in purgatory. The Catholic church utilised fear. Inciting belief of purgatory and damnation, it worked perfectly alongside the literal sale of forgiveness and penance. So, what this means is that the church struck fear into the hearts of a congregation with the plan of then later accepting payment to ensure access to heaven… Even the robe-clad priests of the Tudor era were savvy to the power of emotion! They utilised it to provoke an emotion and reactions that led to monetary transactions!

Aside from this, the population has always relied heavily on 'word-of-mouth' for news to travel. The more shocking the better! Who is going to gallop into the next town and declare that Mr Smith in the previous town sneezed? No, they'll arrive and share the SCARY, FEARFUL news that the plague has arrived… Panic and fear. Two very strong emotions! And this is still true today! Though hopefully not the plague bit... People WILL talk about something shocking more than something boring. Fact.


And in conclusion...

Need any more proof? Maya Angelou is one of the most renowned writers of modern history. So renowned in fact, she was the mentor of Oprah Winfrey. Yes, OPRAH. The presenter of the highest rating television show of all time. Her mentor is famous for many inspiring quotes but in this instance, this one seems both apt and true:

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou

And, in conclusion... Be like Oprah.

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(Media from Wikipedia, Giphy and Youtube)