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How Brands Use Emotions in Marketing

From Coca-Cola to ASOS

A deck of cards depicting different emotions
Original illustration by A.Malyavina

“People do not buy goods or services. They buy relations, stories & magic” — Seth Godin

We’re sure you know someone who likes bragging about not buying into the marketing schemes. Just as if they were Superman, with X-ray vision to see through any scheme and super force to break the system in order to make rational decisions only. Maybe, in some rare cases, this can be true, but if someone thinks all those “marketing tricks” aren’t their kryptonite, these folks are pretty naive.

The neurobiologist, Reed Montague, conducted an experiment. He gave the test group Pepsi and Coca-Cola to taste but the drinks had no labels on them, so people didn’t know what exactly they were drinking. Throughout the experiment process, Reed was monitoring people’s brain activity with the help of functional MRT.

In this blind test, compared to Coke, Pepsi caused a higher activity level in the ventral tegmental area of the brain. The ventral tegmentum is involved in the reward system and the addiction formation process. Simply put, the participants enjoyed the taste of Pepsi more.

Then Montague showed the participants the Coca-Cola and Pepsi labels. It triggered another part of the brain — the medial prefrontal cortex, which performs cognitive functions: cognition, preferences, self-esteem. The activity level went higher after people saw the Coke label.

So, despite the fact that those people liked the taste of Pepsi more, the Coca-Cola label evoked positive associations.

We don’t mean any disrespect, but Coke’s market share is 17,8% while Pepsi’s is 8,4%. Maybe it’s not connected to the results of the experiment in any way. Maybe, people’s emotional attachment to the label of a beverage allows the company to sell more products.

If we compare the ad campaigns of both brands, it’s easy to notice that Coca-Cola always refers to friendship, family hearth, joy, and happiness. They always aim at the same spot. Pepsi’s marketing campaigns don’t appeal to our emotions as much.

The collage provides a side by side comparison of the ad campaigns by Coca-Cola (on the left) and Pepsi (on the right).
Compare the ads from Coca-Cola and Pepsi

Maybe the emotional connection with your clients isn’t enough to rule over the market but you surely will build a great base for long-term, loyal relationships. Today, we’ll tell you a bit about this.

What Emotions Can Be Used in Marketing

People like positive emotions and don’t like negative ones (duh). That’s why the most reliable strategy is to use positive emotions in marketing, such as joy, trust, and belonging.

Joy

Joy is a pleasant emotion, people like to experience it (duh x2). However, joy has various flavors, just remember Coca-Cola’s ads. Their joy is usually connected to home comfort: all these Christmas lights and smiling people in red sweaters sitting around the fireplace.

The flower delivery service Serenata Flowers uses a slightly different type of joy. Their joy is connected with femininity and tenderness. For example, everything in the email below is about emotions: the banner, the inspiring text, the call-to-action, and the company positioning in the footer.

This is an email from a flower delivery service. The mood of the email is that of happiness: it has a picture of a laughing young woman and words like “joy” and “happiness”

However, the smile is the keynote of their marketing strategy: we can also see it on their website:

This is a screenshot of the website of the same flower shop. It radiates the same emotions — happiness and joy

Oreo is also a joyful brand, though in a bit different way — their joy is playful. You can check it yourselves just by visiting their Instagram account:

This is one more Instagram post by Oreo. This time the brand uses an image of a pool that is associated with summer and joy. The pool is filled with milk, there are people tanning on pool matresses that look like Oreo cookies, and a person is sliding down a water slide that looks like a straw. The post caption serves to brighten the mood: “We’ll be casually floating into the weekend with one summer activity on our mind: POOL TIME”.

Slogans and value propositions are often used by brands to appeal to the readers’ emotions.

Oreo’s slogan on the website sounds like “Twist. Lick. Dunk”, referring to the ritual of eating a cookie in a right, playful way.

A screenshot of the Oreo brand slogan “Twist. Lick. Dunk”

In the footer, they also remind us to always stay playful.

A screenshot of the footer on the Oreo website with the phrase “Stay playful”

Trust

It seems like building brand trust is the most difficult game you can play. You need to not only create an image of a reliable partner but also support this image with your every move: from the product quality to the delivery process.

Chase bank stands out from the crowd of American banks from the point of view of trust — Better Business Bureau has rated its trustworthiness with the A+ rating.

Chase likes to warn people about various frauds and phishing schemes on their Instagram.

The Chase bank establishes trust with their clients by providing them by educating them on the importance of verifying their devices. The Instagram post serves to tell people about common scams and ways to protect yourself.

It may seem a rather trite move but it shows that the bank wants people to trust it and proves that it can be trusted.

Trust is difficult to build, but in return, it builds a foundation for long-term relationships with your clients. As a result, these relationships go way beyond purchases. Clients who trust the company and interact with your emails and messages more actively are ready to recommend you to their friends and to buy more. They become the brand’s missionaries.

Belonging

Creating the feeling of belonging to the brand community is another key to long-term relationships. Emotions that go hand in hand with the sense of belonging (such as sympathy and desire to reach the same goal together)can help the brand to sound louder and better than the opponents.

The feeling of belonging is especially strong in fan communities. For example, let’s take a look at Capcom, the Japanese company standing behind the Resident Evil franchise. Capcom has a special program called Resident Evil Ambassador which is not just about giving access to limited edition merch or something like this, no. The ambassadors get different perks like access to private game tests, a priority at gaming conventions, and even the ability to influence the development process (well, almost).

A screenshot that contains the benefits that you get once you become a Resident Evil Ambassador. This stimulates the feeling of belonging making it more exciting for the users to join the club.

Anyone can enter the program, but to gain the most interesting benefits you will need to progress through 4 levels. Two for the price of one: the company does not only give the players the feeling of belonging but also engages them into this program with the help of a simple system of progress.

Victoria’s Secret is the brand that used to make their buyers feel belonging to some exclusive community with a touch of sexuality and luxury. They used to call their models “Victoria’s Secret Angels” and anyone could get a sense of belonging to this elite society by getting an angel’s card.

A banner telling about the benefits of the Angel Credit Card. The brand appeals to the customers saying “So many benefits, so many reasons to shop with your Angel Card!” inviting them to become a part of the Angel community.

However, recently, the situation has changed. After a pretty loud scandal, the brand decided to move away from discriminative policies towards more inclusive ideas. Today we can see how Victoria’s Secret culture changed.

Now the brand emphasizes the idea of equality and inclusivity implying that anyone can belong to the community, no matter what. Yes, it’s not that luxurious now, the club is no longer that private, you may say, but why can’t everyone feel beautiful?

Fear

Using negative emotions in marketing is a bit risky. You cannot build a stable emotional connection with your audience based on threats, intimidation, and aggressive attacks.

Still, you can think of examples when marketing seems to be built on fear. However, if you take a closer look, you’ll see that fear is not playing the main role there.

Anti-aging beauty products may come to mind. Any anti-aging beauty product will be a bestseller just because people are afraid their beauty will soon be gone. However, first of all, brand loyalty isn’t about sales only. The buyer cannot like the beauty product of a certain brand just because they’re scared of losing their beauty. Even if they’ve been buying a time-reversing serum of a certain brand for many years, they do it because they trust the quality of the product. Secondly, the anti-aging beauty brands never use fear to advertise their products — instead, they trigger people’s strive to look better. We hear about “shining”, “fresh”, “smooth” skin, and even the word “fine lines” is always accompanied by the word “smoothing”.

It may look like Nike’s brand positioning is based around the fear of being an imperfect human: don’t be afraid that you can’t do it, just do it. Still, Nike’s emotional connection is based not on fear but on the desire to be better, to be a human who achieves their goals and who’s not afraid of the obstacles on their way. It’s also based on the feeling of belonging to that category of special people.

So there are three ways to use fear:

  • in public service advertising as negative emotions stick in people’s memory and are felt deeper;
  • for short-term sales promotions;
  • as an additional motivator that is implied but not mentioned out loud.

Fear can be innate and learned. The first type strikes terror into people and is felt on a deeper level: fear of death, pain, injury. Public service advertising focuses on this type of fear. Acquired fear is imposed on us by society (fear of losing attractiveness or social status) and can be exploited by brands.

There’s a relatively new term connected with the development of digital technologies called FOMO (fear of missing out). This fear makes us surf social media for hours and subscribe to newsletters. I don’t want to get into a situation when everybody knows that Lady Gaga is now with Bradley Cooper and I don’t! Probably, the most popular way to use FOMO is countdown timers.

FOMO is used to make clients rush to use their discounts. Lots of companies exploit it on Black Friday, for example, LOOKFANTASTIC. A bright photo, big letters telling about the discount (even with an extra discount), promo code, everything crowned with the head title “2 hours left”:

The brand uses phrases like “Black friday is here!”, “up to 50% off + extra 10% off” written in caps to create a sense of urgency and make people hurry to buy their products.

The online retailer ASOS reminds you of an up to 50% discount on gifting goodies. Just to ensure you will go and buy something they say when the discount ends, so come on, hurry up. A rather laconic and minimalistic design helps to emphasize the main parts: what you can buy, how much you can save, and how much time is left.

Asos uses the phrase “ends sunday 3AM EST” written in caps to urge the customers to buy their products now.

Booking.com also exploits FOMO rather enthusiastically:

A screenshot of choosing rooms on Dooking.com. To create the feeling of urgency, the website uses a phrase “Only one room left” written in red.

Messages say that only 4 or even only 1 room is left. It makes you feel that people book these in the blink of an eye and you need to put on your Flash suit to be the first.

How To Build Emotional Connections With the Client

Emotional connections with clients are built gradually, brick by brick. It’s important to be persistent while doing it and stick to one position: if you decide to induce joy in your clients just the moment they see your logo then this joy must be seen in every contact point. Well, of course, you mustn’t go full “UwU” in your SMS messages that say that the order has been transferred to the delivery service.

The main flaw of this strategy is that it’s pretty difficult to evaluate the result. Few teams can afford the experiments with the functional MRI machine and a focus group.

The only way left is to hit the same point expecting it to work in the long run. To simplify the process of hitting this spot, here is a list of online opportunities where you can use emotions:

  • email campaigns: banners, images, design, tone of voice;
  • website: banners, pop-up windows, copies, design;
  • social media: content, design, social media campaigns;
  • advertising: banner ads.

Good luck with your emotional experiments!

Oh, did you notice? The article is over and we haven’t mentioned Apple once.

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