Oct 16, 2018

What is Emotional Branding and How is it Effective?

by Digital Marketing Institute

Do you know the saying "humans buy on emotion and justify with logic"? Emotional marketing is a way to connect with your consumers, develop meaningful relationships and cultivate lasting customers.

An extension of that is emotional branding, the art of storytelling that helps connect a product or service with an appropriate audience. This type of marketing is meant to humanize or personalize a brand, allowing your customers to form an emotional connection with your product or service. Through a strategic mix of mediums, marketers can convey their brand identity and vision.

In this article, we explore the science behind emotional marketing and look at key examples of brands using emotion to convey a message. 

The Science Behind Emotional Branding

There is a science to creating the right type of advertising campaign. It takes a keen understanding of a brand’s audience, and what emotion works best to get a response. It could be anger or happiness, sadness or inspiration.

Consumers want to feel emotionally connected to the brands they select because it’s an extension of their own personality, style and identity. And loyalty grows once a close emotional link to a brand is formed. For example, think about some famous business rivalries that have emotionally-charged fans:

- McDonalds vs. Burger King

- Pepsi vs. Coke

- General Motors vs. Ford

Have you ever heard someone tirelessly fight for a brand? According to CMO, “awareness and relevance can make brands strong and big, but it’s the emotional seduction that makes brands great”.

Some brands are leveraging actual science to find the emotional branding secret sauce. For example, earlier this year Honda began measuring eye tracking, facial coding and electroencephalograms to quantify emotional activation in people to optimize the effectiveness of its branding. But, how can they hit their audience right in the feels? And how are other brands using emotional branding? 

Inspiration-Driven Branding

When you think of a professional athlete, what are some of the first traits that come to mind? Perhaps driven or hard-working, dedicated or devoted?

These characteristics describe successful individuals in the profession, yet it’s hard for most people to achieve the level of devotion that most professional athletes possess. And Gatorade knows that.

Gatorade aims to instill those qualities in anyone aspiring for success. You can see that through the focus of many of their ad campaigns, which evoke inspiration. Take for instance the commercial below, featuring US women’s soccer player and Olympian Abby Wombach. In the ad, she encourages the audience to “forget her”. Rather than focusing on her achievements, she wants to leave a legacy so the next generation can accomplish greatness beyond her. 

The message is inclusive and inspiring, precisely what an up-and-coming soccer player would want to hear.

Key takeaway: Inspiration-driven branding is effective because it allows the audience to share accomplishments, goals, talents and perseverance with those who promote the brand. 

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Be Aware of Societal Issues

People love to feel connected to a cause. In fact, people feel so strongly about it, it’s increasingly how Millennials and Gen Z'ers are selecting their careers. People want to be a part of something greater than themselves, and certain brands can offer that from a consumerism standpoint.

Patagonia is an example of a brand that has dedicated its existence to social causes and cause-based marketing. Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1% of all annual sales to the preservation of the natural environment. Among other examples, Patagonia helped create a national park and touts fair-trade certified wages for its supply chain workers. The consumer can feel good about spending money with the brand because the proceeds go to a good cause.

Patagonia's dedication to the environment is a key tool for the company. Last year, Patagonia released their first commercial in over 44 years, and the ad wasn’t even about selling their clothing. Instead, the company focused the entire minute-long segment on the importance of protecting our public lands. 

Key takeaway: Cause marketing is a brilliant tool because it shows that an organization is willing to extend a helping hand, and customers can feel that they are a part of the goodwill by associating themselves with the brand.

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Issues of the Heart - Subaru

Subaru is one of the best brands to capture love in their branding. In 2007, creative agency Carmichael Lynch was tasked with creating emotionally-charged ads for Subaru. In a seemingly bold move, the agency chose to run its first set of ads during the Puppy Bowl over the Super Bowl to present their message to a new audience.

That campaign, which is relatively known now, is the “Love, it’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru” campaign. The campaign still continues.

One of the most recent examples of the Love campaign is the “Welcome to the Pack” commercial where a dog is reluctant to accept his owner's new companion in the family. But, once the dog, Butch, sees the love his owner and new suitor share, he warms up to the new boyfriend. The final scene shows Butch resting his head on the new boyfriend’s leg for the first time, as the voice-over says: “You can never have too many faithful companions, that’s why I got a Subaru Crosstrek”. 

It's also worth noting how this commercial takes place throughout a road/camping trip, a theme Subaru often hits as they actively brand to outdoor enthusiasts, who like that Subarus could handle any adventure. Adding the additional layer of a dog’s loyalty in this campaign is a perfect example of marketing to an audience and evoking the appropriate emotion.

Key takeaway: Subaru has carefully pinpointed their audience personas: family-oriented, progressive and driven by emotion. They have effectively catered to that demographic by creating content specifically for their ideologically progressive consumers.

Let Language Evolve

Selling is most effective when your audience understands what you’re saying. But with the rise of emojis in marketing, the universal language has many implications and purposes. According to Neil Patel, emojis are the fastest growing language in history in the UK. This “new language” is particularly helpful when communicating with younger audiences.

Many businesses have started to include emojis in their email marketing campaigns, social media strategies and new product rollouts.

Dominos, for example, rolled out a "tweet-to-order" system for US customers, which allows users to initiate a pizza order by texting a pizza emoji. 

Quick-serve restaurants aren’t the only ones incorporating the fun of an emoji language. FinTech company DailyPay has also taken up the use of emojis to make their product more relatable to the end user. DailyPay works with businesses to allow employees on-demand access to their earned but unpaid wages. With a simple emoji, employees can withdraw funds from their already worked hours before payday.

DailyPay keeps a record of the most used emojis, which can also help them understand their consumers better - are users optimistic or pessimistic when using their application?

Incorporating emojis in your marketing plans can do more than strengthen an advertisement or product offering. It can also boost the perception of a brand.

Research from the Florida Institute of Technology showed that using emoticons in business-related emails can actually improve messaging. Feedback indicated that the end user thought the tone was less negative when paired with a smiley face. This finding can help customer service teams find more effective ways to communicate less than ideal feedback with customers.

Key takeaway: Using emojis is a great way to communicate with one of the most prolific sources of consumerism - Millennials and Gen Z. Using emojis for fast and useful service helps build an instant and compelling brand. 


Emotional branding requires strategy. To evoke an emotion that moves your audience, you need to have a firm grasp of your buyer personas. Who already loves your brand, and how can you categorize them? What is their demographic? Is there a particular emotion or feeling that you want to evoke?

Ask yourself these questions before diving into the branding. When done effectively, emotional branding can propel your brand story to the next level. 

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