When NOT to Use Emotional Branding

January 26, 2018

“Think back to the moment you saw your first child (or fur baby). Remember the innocent, all-encompassing love in their eyes? The gooey center that formed in your heart? That’s how you’ll feel the first time you use our product.” If fond images passed through your mind while reading our opener, you’ve just experienced emotional branding.

What is it? Emotional branding is messaging designed to evoke an emotional response. Marketers use this technique to appeal to the consumer’s ego, desires and needs. While emotional branding can be very effective, it isn’t appropriate for every situation. To help you sort the good from the bad, we’ve compiled a brief list of when not to use emotional branding.

Scenario #1: Your target consumer has very high emotional intelligence

According to recent research for the Harvard Business Review, consumers who emotionally connect with a brand add 52% more value. Those not emotionally connected have negative value (-18%) for the business. It seems like you’d want to target emotionally intelligent consumers who would be swayed by your touching, heartfelt ads. Not true.

While emotionally intelligent people often have high empathy levels, they are also very self-aware. They can easily identify where emotions come from. Which means they might not easily fall for branding that tries to create an emotional connection. So, where the average consumer might see your adorable sad boxer billboard and rush out to buy “Super Puppy Chow,” an emotionally savvy consumer needs incentive (pet association approved) or hard data (lower price, better nutrition) to buy.

Scenario #2: The emotion you’re evoking is negative (and doesn’t relate)

We give Nike’s 2000 advertising crew some props for guts. During that year’s Summer Olympics in Sydney, the running shoe giant released a controversial video ad featuring 1500-meter running champion Suzi Favor-Hamilton. Why the fuss? Hamilton is shown getting ready for a bath in the bathroom of a remote cabin. Enter a chainsaw-wielding psycho plucked from a late-night gore flick. The three-time Olympian bolts for the door, trips, runs and easily outpaces her would-be attacker!! All in her Nike shoes, of course. Nike’s tag line for the piece: Why Sport? You’ll Live Longer.

While the cheeky commercial got some laughs, it also horrified many viewers. NBC quickly pulled the ad after numerous complaints from parents and anti-violence groups.

The bottom line – If you’re considering using emotional branding, look carefully at the emotion you’re soliciting. Fear isn’t always the wrong answer. For example, if your company manufactures pepper spray or purse-sized Tasers for women, you might opt for a campaign that shows a woman defending herself against a potential attacker. Athletic shoes, on the other hand, have a shaky connection to anyone’s survival.

Scenario #3: Your emotional branding could be deemed offensive

This one should be a no-brainer. Simply put, don’t use imagery, dialogue or text that might offend your target market (or really, consumers in general). However, in a world that’s increasingly becoming sensitized to once-private feelings – most notably, last year’s #metoo campaign and Time’s “Silence Breakers” – this isn’t always easy.

Marketers should look at an emotional branding campaign from the perspective of every target consumer, as well as the public. Case in point: Under Armour’s “Band of Ballers” T-shirt. The design pays tribute to the famous Marine Corps War Memorial depicting four soldiers raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. Marketers thought the image of basketball players erecting a hoop would be attractive to an all-American crowd. Instead they drew public wrath on Twitter and removed the shirt from the shelves.

Unsure if emotional branding is right for you? Don’t know where to start? Whether you already have emotional branding in play or want your brand to have more emotional appeal, Commit Agency can help. Contact us today to see how we can create a lasting connection between your company and the customers you serve.