Feelings over Functions: Why (and How) We Should Market to Emotions

Feelings over Functions: Why (and How) We Should Market to Emotions

14/09/16 | Chloe Mayo

When selling a product, the temptation is to, well, sell that product. We list USP’s (Unique Selling Points), we pay attention to features, we insightfully prattle about its functions. We’re missing the point. By focusing on features rather than focusing on how that product will directly benefit someone’s life, we are negating the very essence of consumerism; we don’t buy that particular product because it is the best option for us, because in almost all cases, the products on offer are all largely the same. No, we buy that particular product from that particular brand because we feel something for it – we feel that it will bring us happiness, or safety, or excitement. That is the basis for how to market to emotions.


A screenshot from the TV programme 'Mad Men', with a quote from Donald Draper saying "Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is OK."

Emotional marketing, marketing that targets how the consumer will feel, is what builds a brand identity on the scale of Niké, or Coca-Cola. Advertising is about making you feel for the product, whereas marketing is about making you feel for the brand; when we market to emotions, we are encouraging the consumer to not just identify positively with that brand but to invite them into their home, their garden, their children’s lives, their marriage.


A Michelin advert with a baby sitting by a car tire, with the tag line "Michelin, because so much is riding on your tires."

As marketers, our role is to build trust and authority in a brand’s persona. One method is to always promote the product, the unique benefits it has over others in the industry, and the company’s reliability. Another way, though, is to market to emotions. There are multiple ways to do this, and multiple emotions to target, and multiple personality types to cater for within the multiple emotions and so on. It’s not an easy task, but when emotional marketing is done well it can be staggeringly effective. To make it a little more manageable for small businesses or those without an agency helping them with marketing, the best thing to do is to identify and understand the four key emotions that exist, and understand how to elicit those emotions in your viewer or visitor whilst linking that feeling (or the removal of that feeling) with what your brand is selling. Here are some intelligent and successful real-world examples.



Market to Emotions:



The first and most recognisable emotion is ‘happy’. If you can link this positive feeling with your brand’s persona, people will link the concept of happiness with the reality of your product. The optimal example of this is Coca-Cola:


A Coca-Cola advert with a big red Coca-Cola truck with Santa Clause featured on the side, drinking a Coca-Cola drink, with the tag line 'holidays are coming'.

Coca-Cola managed to align themselves with the happiest, most joyful time of year. Holidays are coming, Santa is bringing presents, you’re a kid and you get that flutter in your belly at the thought of Christmas morning; whilst all of these happy emotions are tumbling through you, you’re also staring at a big picture of the Coca Cola logo. These two logically separate things are now linked in your brain.


An advertisement for Coca-Cola in which a Coka-Cola bottle lays on its side, open, and the words coming out of it are 'open hapiness'

They’re not even particularly subtle about it.



Marketing to the emotion of ‘happiness’ is one thing; you create a happy feeling and it’s then connected with your brand. What has to be far more insightfully carried out is harnessing the feeling of ‘sad’ to build your brand. The risk run here is that sadness will then be linked to you – you need to ensure you’re clearly showing that your product or service will remove the feeling of sadness. You can either do that by blasting about happiness instead, as above, or you can carefully and cleverly use the focus of sadness to highlight your brand as the remover of it.

As far as advertising and marketing goes, ‘sad’ is not so much the word; realistically your emotional marketing should be ‘moving’. In researching for this post, I was brought to tears many times, but I often could not tell you just what brand it was, or what they were trying to sell me – I was too busy ducking behind my computer screen to fix the streaming mascara. I wasn’t being comforted by the brand; I was being presented with sorrow and having my tear ducts thoroughly poked at. However, every now and then I think a brand lands on that sweet spot between sadness and comfort.


An advertisement showing an elderly man sitting on his bed with an giant pill on the bed beside him, and the tag line 'we can help you', to advertise a nursing service who have run a campaign that for elderly people, small tasks become much bigger.

This is marketing to the emotion of sadness, but it is not creating sadness – it is acknowledging existing sadness and offering a helping hand.



The theory goes that both being afraid and being surprised are the same emotion – it is the societal context that differentiates between the two. Both can be utilised in emotional marketing. ‘Surprised’ within the context of adverts generally relates to being funny; subverting our expectations creates humour, hopefully eliciting a giggle from us.


An advert featuring a lion with a big mane titled 'before' and beneath a lion with a glossy, sleek mane that looks like styled women's hair with the caption 'after', advertising shampoo.

Afraid, however, is targeting the other side of this emotion, and is generally used to warn people of the potential consequences of not using the product or service. If one chooses to market to this emotion, success rests upon how genuine your intentions are. Are you creating a non-existent but seemingly terrifying problem in order to scare people into buying your product, when they really didn’t need to before? If that’s the case, pick a different emotion.

However, the most prevalent ‘fear’ campaigns that we see nowadays are of a slightly different ilk. Now, ‘fear of missing out’ is the fear we’re having poked.


An iPhone 7 advert, showing the new iPhone with spec details, and the tag line 'Welcome to the next generation'

The iPhone you have that is still working? Cuh, you’re missing out. This is the NEXT generation, as in, you’re the OLD generation… Just… Just buy the iPhone 7, guys, OK?



Similar to the above, the psychological theory goes that both anger and disgust are the same emotion, presented in different ways depending on the cultural situation. Fighting germs is the same as fighting, goes the rhetoric. Generally, those that harness anger during their marketing are those that are trying to fight for a cause; charities will generally attempt to engage that fighting instinct in you by showing you a despicable situation that makes you angry or disgusted.


An Oxfam advert with a woman showing her entire food for the day fit into the palm of her hands, with the caption 'The System's bust'

This style of emotional marketing should only be employed if your company, or service, is actively doing good to combat the thing you’re presenting. Otherwise, you’re just latching onto a cause in order to promote your own product. As with every method when you market to emotions, whether it be happy, sad, angry, or scared, the biggest way to fall short is to be disingenuous in your efforts. The adverts that have consistently successfully managed to market to emotions are the ones that want to form a genuine connection, and offer a genuine service. That is what creates a brand identity; that is what makes people trust you; that is what makes things sell.


If your company would like to market to emotions in order to strengthen your brand persona and relationship with your customers, speak to Active Internet Marketing (UK) today. We have years of experience and are creatively focused in order to ensure that you can make that genuine connection. Contact us now to speak to a member of our team.