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What is Emotional Branding and How is it Effective?

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 when creating the right type of advertising campaign. It takes a keen understanding of who a brand’s audience is, and what emotion is best to elicit for 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
  • GM 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's secret sauce, for example, earlier this year, Honda began measuring eye tracking, facial coding, and electroencephalograms to quantify emotional activation in humans 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 words 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 most professional athletes have. 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 this commercial featuring U.S. 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.

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 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. Rather, 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 apart of the goodwill by associating themselves with the brand.

Issues of the Heart- Subaru

Subaru is one of the best brands to capture the love in their branding, in fact, that’s the name of their campaign.

In 2007, creative agency, Carmichael Lynch, was tasked with creating emotionally-charged advertisements for Subaru. In a seemingly bold move, the agency selected 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 to date.

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”.

Let’s also notice how this commercial takes place throughout a road/ camping trip, a theme Subaru often hits as they actively brand to outdoorsy types 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.

Celebration - Oscar Meyer

Most humans share similar milestones:

  • The first day of school for your children
  • The day we graduated from high school or college
  • Our first date
  • A first kiss

Forgetting the feelings of “firsts” or accomplishments is hard which is precisely what makes nostalgia and celebration a powerful advertising tool. By re-creating special moments or celebrating milestones, your message can resonate with those who understand your experiences.

For example, Oscar Meyer crafted a back-to-school campaign that has children writing notes to their mothers. After all, moms can relate to the back-to-school feeling that takes much preparation to achieve.

Milestones can also be product anniversaries. Do you have a connection to the way Apple products have changed your daily life? Apple sure thinks so. They capitalized on milestone advertising during their 30th anniversary by shooting a commercial entirely on iPhones. How grateful are you to have easy access to a camera when you want to capture your own milestones?

Key takeaway: Celebrating milestones allows you to connect with your audience nostalgically. With all the trials and tribulations of life, there are still so many things to celebrate together. And, it’s great that your brand can celebrate with their customers.

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 U.S. customers, which allows users to initiate a pizza order by texting a pizza emoji.

Dominos tweet-to-order campaign

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.

Let Language Evolve - DailyPay

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 department can do more than help strengthens an advertisement or product offering. It can also help the perception of a brand.

Research from the Florida Institute of Technology showed that using emoticons in business-related emails can actually improve messaging. In their experiment, they used the following messages:

Let Language Evolve - Florida Institute of Technology

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 takes strategy. To evoke the 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 that suits your persona?

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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skills that keep you ahead of the pack

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