Emotional Branding: More than Manipulation

June 10, 2017

We’ve all been moved by stereotypical emotional marketing. Who could forget the emaciated bodies and tear-stricken faces of the children ready for virtual adoption in the Save the Children commercials of the 1990s and early ‘oughts? Or the wagging tails of the shelter dogs begging to be brought home in the Ad Council’s Adopt-a-Pet campaign? These are extreme examples of how emotional marketing attempts to manipulate consumer feelings, with the goal of selling a product or service.

More than simply “selling” consumers on a product, emotional branding aims to connect your company directly with the customer’s feelings, desires and goals. It’s more than just tugging at an audience’s heartstrings. Emotional branding is about showing people how your product or service can make their lives better.

Take Nike’s “No Limits” campaign, for example.

These ads appeal to Average Joe Athletes on a very relatable level. The message is clear: not every athlete starts out successfully. Most of them are just like us until they push past their limits.

Even if you’re not destined to win Olympic gold or make Major League Baseball history – even if you’re a total dork struggling to keep up with the 4-year-old in your beginner swim class – you can still do something incredible. Run a 5k. Become the MVP on your flag football team.

By connecting with consumers on an emotional level, and showing how everyday people like us can succeed, Nike brands itself as inspirational. Helpful. Encouraging. The subtle message is, “Our products can help you be the best athlete you can be.”

Nike isn’t the only master of emotional branding. Here are three more emotional branding campaigns that appeal to the needs and desires of their respective markets.

“Think Different” by Apple

We want to look cool. Feel cool. Be cool. Apple’s “Think Different” campaign encourages out-of-the-box thinking. It invites us to bust out of our grey cubicles and showcase our individuality. That’s a powerful message which especially appeals to frustrated Millennials.

“Evolution” by Dove

One of the most famous ad campaigns of modern times almost never happened. In 2004, beauty brand Dove (along with Ogilvy & Mather) put together a beauty photoshoot featuring the work of 67 female photogs. Women across the U.S. identified with the campaign’s natural, unretouched models, and the company’s sales of firming cream doubled. Two years later, Dove’s “Evolution” video taking models from normal to magazine-perfect went viral.

This 2013 spot, “Real Beauty Sketches,” contrasts how women view themselves physically with the more positive impressions of strangers. It’s sad, poignant, and speaks to the ways in which American women denigrate themselves for not meeting the primped and airbrushed expectations set by magazines and other media. With this campaign, Dove completely changed the conversation on beauty.

“Build Together” by Lego

Lego’s “Build Together” series proves that emotional branding can be fun and light, yet still impactful. This series of ads, featuring fathers and sons playing with the popular brick building toy, has us feeling like kids again.

The ads hit a nerve in our tech-heavy society, reminding parents how important playtime is – not just for learning and imagination, but for helping to strengthen the parent-child bond. Buy Legos for your child and you’ll have an opportunity for family bonding.

Emotional branding isn’t just about being liked. Ad campaigns with an emotional component are also more likely to increase business. Studies conducted by the UK’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising saw a 15% increase in profit with emotionally charged ads. As mentioned earlier, Dove saw an immediate jump in product sales following the launch of their beauty campaign. By appealing to our emotions, these companies are better able to convince us of their product’s value. The bottom line? It’s not about the product. It’s about the consumer.