On the surface, digital marketing can be so impersonal. Your engagement with your audience is barred with phone and tablet screens, ads that appear in the middle of your post, and relentless comments that bury the most relevant ones you should be replying to.

How can you curb that distance? How can you still make sure you are able to get your branding message across and create an impact with your audience? Just one word: emotions.

The efficacy of emotional marketing and advertising

There is no greater tactic in digital marketing than evoking an emotional response from your audience. According to consumer psychology, most of the time our buying decisions are, in fact, based on how we feel towards an advertisement rather than what it contains. If you look at some of the most viral ads today, you will see how brands like McDonald’s, Dove, and even Sunsilk incite emotions through their campaigns, posts, and videos. 

Indeed, according to research, emotional campaigns are seen to outperform those that not have an emotional element to them at almost every metric available.Emotional content will be shared twice as likely, and about 70% of consumers who feel strongly about a campaign will most likely buy the product being advertised. Through this research done by Unruly, they found out that the content shared the most include stories of friendship, happiness, inspiration, and warmth.

Contrast that to the ads being created during the 90s and early 00s, when ads were more about who has the funnier tagline or which one has the more sass (like the Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi ads). To quote PJ Pereira, chief creative officer of Pereira & O’Dell, in an article by Fast Company, “I think what’s happened is that the ad industry has spent the last decade celebrating bitterness and cynicism and being mean to people. For a while it was great because it was different from everyone else, and then it became a trend and people got sick of it. It wasn’t funny or interesting anymore. So when things started to pop with a totally opposite voice, the customers totally reacted.”

Using emotion in digital marketing

Research from the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow found that there are only four base emotions instead of the conventional six, these are: happy, sad, afraid/surprised, and angry/disgusted. These are the emotions you will be targeting in your campaigns. Here is how you can do it:

Create a strong branding story

What you want to do is to create a connection with your audience, and this does not just start with your ads, articles, or banners. It starts with your branding story. How did you conceptualise your business? What was your goal? What pushed you to start this enterprise? Who did you want to help? The answers to these questions must be seen through your tagline, company name, colour and design choice, even your domain name should reflect it. 

Look at what Dove has done for their brand. They have chosen a story that tells people they can be whoever they want to be and that they are allowed to love who they want to love. They have chosen a name that speaks of peace and unity, and picked colours and a design that supports it. 

Promote happiness

The master of happy marketing is Coca-Cola, who has always been at the forefront of experiential advertising. Their “Share A Coke”, “Open Happiness” and “Taste the Feeling” campaigns have consistently shown happy people bonding together and having a great time. 

Owing, of course, to the current global climate, happy advertisements tend to get the most shares and views because they are the complete opposite of what is happening around the world. Imagine scrolling through your timeline filled with news on politics and wars — that can make anyone feel right at the dumps. 

Happy ads can become a form of micro-escapism, and you can bring that escape to your audience.

Inspire them to be good agents in the world

Cheesy, right? But apart from promoting happiness, inspiring them to be good people is an effective marketing strategy. 

Right now, the most shared ad, which won at the Cannes Festival, came from Unilever’s Sunsilk. It featured a boy who, all his life, wanted long hair. He could not have long hair because boys are ‘meant’ to have short hair. He was bullied and ridiculed relentlessly because he was different. Fast forward many years, she was able to transition and fully express her gender. She was worried that her father will not accept her, instead, the montage showed that her father has always known and expressed how proud he was of her.

These stories sell because it is an attitude society lacks — an acceptance of anyone or any idea different from theirs.

Another spin on inspirational ads would be something that is experience-based. AirBnB ran an ad that is meant to inspire people to immerse themselves in different cultures. Telling them that they should consider not going the touristy routes, and instead book a house where they can be fully engrossed in a country they are trying to learn more about.

Show frightening consequences

Fear is our default emotion when something new is happening. We are trying to address uniqueness and individuality with happy and inspirational ads, but for ads based on fear, you must show consequences for actions we keep on doing. 

Take for instance the ads made by environmental groups like World Wildlife Fund. They keep showing images of animal guts filled with plastic and kinds of trash. While these are photoshopped, it sends a strong message: we are killing these animals because we keep polluting the oceans. 

Of course, running fear-based ads is borderline controversial. Like the Superbowl ad in 2015; it was meant to start conversation on child safety. It did, but not without making a lot of households uncomfortable and disturbed. If you want to create this kind of ad, a good tip would be run it by a focus group.

Magnify anger

Off all the emotions, this is what marketers and advertisers try to veer away from. It is an emotion totally at the negative side of the spectrum. However, just like with fear ads, if you do this correctly, it can do wonders for your engagement.

A good example would be Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign. It highlighted an insult and showcased young girls addressing this insult. Always wanted to change our perception when people say “_____ like a girl”, and encouraging girls to do everything with confidence because they are girls.

You see, it is not necessarily an angry ad, but it comes from an insult that makes have the demographic angry.

Note that emotion-based ads only work if you believe in what you are saying. Remember that your audience knows when a company is lying to them to get sales, so make sure that these emotions are what you want to feel as a business first before making others feel them too.