Disclaimer: This post contains my personal opinion and thoughts on the topic.
A topic that has repeatedly bothered me is how to best evoke emotions in marketing, and more specifically, in Advertising. While there are several (proven) tactics that may be used to create emotions for viewers (or listeners, for that fact) it almost seems like you need a magic spell or some secret recipe to actually get the results you want. So I decided to look into this a bit more and found a couple of interesting insights.
Firstly, we should ask ourselves WHY we even want to evoke emotions in consumers so badly? What’s the benefit of it in comparison to just “normal” or rational advertising? The answer is simple and not simple at the same time.
Emotional experiences are more memorable
I am sure there is some scientific proof based on the dopamine levels in our brain or something similar but I would like to go with the more practical explanation. Everyone who got married remembers their wedding day because it’s connected (usually) with incredibly powerful, positive emotions. Similarly, everyone remembers where they were when the airplanes struck on 9/11 because it has been such a devastating and incredibly sad event.
In Marketing, we want our products or services to be remembered. While we mainly think about the solutions we can offer to our customers while business planning, we often forget the emotional component there is to every decision.
Studies have found that (see sources below for more details) that people whose area of the brain responsible for emotions was impaired had a hard time making decisions. They were able to rationally assess choices and criticize them but in the end they couldn’t choose. Therefore every decision is an emotional one. It’s not for nothing that people ask “What do you feel like?” 😉
Another finding that supports this theory is that emotions lead to action. We often say that we need to sleep on something, however, usually we have already made up our minds. This is because most decisions are subconsciously already taken before we even start considering it. Yes, their might be rational factors that make us lean towards one or the other option but more often than not they only serve as justifications for things we already know.
So which emotions are relevant for Marketing?
In short: All of them. Of course, any marketer wants their costumers to associate positive feelings with their brand but there are subtle distinction even within the emotion “happiness”. Some companies focus on inspirational content that makes the customer aspire to be or to experience something more. Others, simply want to leave us a with a cozy, comfy fireplace-feeling.
On the other hand side, there are ads that move us, that make us sad or get us thinking. Usually, we get involved with the characters of the advertisement who go through something terrible. However, don’t despair! There is a solution offered to us in form of the company’s product/ service right at the end of an ad.
This tactic is especially popular for NGOs who are dependent on donations. The general understanding is that sadness makes us more open to “giving” as we want to do something to help ease someone’s pain.
In my personal opinion, the best ads are the ones that get us thinking based on an emotional stimulus. For example, the Edeka ad from 2019 is a prime example for that:
It tells the story of an elderly man who calls members of his family up about spending time over for Christmas. However, everyone is busy and therefore won’t be able to make it. So he sends them a fake death certificate (the audience doesn’t know it’s not real) so the family would come for the funeral. It ends with a big surprise as the old man is still alive once they arrive and they end up spending Christmas eve together.
This ad has been mentioned as one of the best of its kind by several sources, e.g. Marketinginstitut.biz or horizont.net. Firstly, it makes you really feel for the old, lonely man who can’t even get it family over once a year. You feel for him and you get his desperation. Since it’s an imaginable scenario for many of us we trust the story. Therefore, we also believe the death certificate to be true only for the surprise to hit us harder.
The best thing about this ad in my opinion is that you keep thinking about it. On the one hand side you feel betrayed by the storyline since it intentionally lead you down the wrong alley. On the other hand, you can’t help but feel like the old man had no other choice than to mislead them. Either way it sticks with you.
How can we transport emotions?
One of the most useful ways to get a certain emotion across is music. The choice of tune you pick for your ad – even if it’s just a facebook ad – is crucial. It’s one of the factors you can fully control and therefore, this opportunity should not be wasted. If you create your ad with Canva, for example, you can even search for certain emotions (happy, sad, etc.).
I experienced the power of music myself when picking the right background music for my podcast intro. Listen to the different options below and you will notice how the content seems to change although it’s exactly the same voice over.
Another, more subtle distinction is the use of color. In Psychology it is well-known that certain colors relate to specific emotions. While blue is trust-worthy, stable and secure, red is dangerous and passionate. By using the right colors you can further enhance the consistency of your messaging and the imagery or on purpose create tension.
Furthermore, don’t underestimate the power of body language. The way someone walks, talks and moves generally is a clue towards how they are feeling. Even when we watch shows on mute we can guess the atmosphere based on facial expressions and the way someone moves. Take the Volkswagen ad below as an example:
Although we don’t see the facial expression of the kid (due to the helmet), only by looking at body language we notice how impressed and proud he is. The way he leans forward and holds his hands up shows just how amazed he is that the lights went on.
A big part of why we are using emotions to make decisions is simply that it’s easier and faster. In a world where we are confronted with thousands of stimuli everyday it’s just not manageable to analyze every single one.
That’s also why Social Proof works so well. We rely on other people’s judgements so we don’t have to make an effort and analyze everything by ourselves. Netflix uses this concept impressively. Introducing ratings that show you how likely you are like to like a show was a truly genius way to make the viewing experience even more relaxed.
Using shortcuts is also common in “real” life. Everyone knows that the first impression is what counts and the same goes for advertising. This is also why a certain atmosphere is created right at the beginning of an ad. The music combined with the lighting, body language, colors and text immediately give us a sense of what the storyline is going to be like.
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