The Employment of Emotion in Advertising

“People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.” This quote from Zig Ziglar, an iconic salesman and motivational speaker, provides an example of one of the most crucial approaches to use in persuading and manipulating people, whether in the related field of marketing and advertising or in general argumentation theory, namely: emotions.


The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) has analyzed 800 case studies of the most successful and effective advertising campaigns over the last three decades and the right answer is emotion in advertising.

Under the terms of their method, the companies that relied most on emotional appeal and those which used rational persuasion and information were compared, which led to the finding that advertising campaigns with purely emotional content performed about twice as well as those with only rational approaches.

Moreover, according to other, contemporary research, it is evident that not only do emotionally charged events lead to the creation of long-term memories; but also, they are more deeply entrenched in individuals’ mental archives, which leads to the motivation to take action based on emotions rather than cautious, logical reasoning.

In other words, due to their emotional responses, people tend to react instinctively or subconsciously before thinking through a certain decision, which can be and is successfully employed in argumentation and advertising.

One of the earliest and most decisive aspects of the use of emotion in argumentation or advertising is understanding the so-called emotional appeal.

According to the Business Dictionary, emotional appeal is an activity aimed at highlighting emotional factors, instead of the logical or practical considerations that bear on any situation.

The phenomenon is, basically, used to initiate and control the emotions of a person in order to achieve persuasion and belief in the particular argument.

However, due to the fact that in an emotional appeal, persuasive language is used to call for emotion-based arguments instead of facts and logic, the validity of such an argument is not necessarily verifiable.

However, as mentioned above, since emotion, also known as pathos (which is one of the modes of persuasion identified by Aristotle), is deeply entrenched, the effectiveness of its employment usually outperforms the alternative of logical reasoning.

Moreover, in some cases, not only the validity of the message can be ignored but the content, in general, can be altered, based on the emotions in play, simply due to the fact that emotional responses are always more influential than the message or content.

Douglas Van Praet, the author of “Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing”, wrote in Fast Company:

“The most startling truth is we don’t even think our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. Emotions are the substrate, the base layer of neural circuitry underpinning even rational deliberation.

Emotions don’t hinder decisions.

They constitute the foundation on which they’re made!” It is, therefore, no surprise that emotion-driven advertising is always the most successful advertising.

Due to the previously mentioned reasons, an emotional appeal can be compared with a logical fallacy, where with the help of the use of loaded language and notions (good vs. bad, religion, patriotism, etc.) the argument is presented from a certain “goal oriented” perspective, manipulating the audience’s feelings and, therefore, its choices.

Another example is the use of such “touchy” topics as children or vulnerable animals, which is a widespread technique in the marketing world.

These topics include such emotions as love, care, fear, anger or sadness and, therefore, tend to maximize the appeal to the audience’s emotional instincts, which dominate the target market segment’s sense of what is reasonable.

Based on the aspects presented, it is evident that emotion can be a powerful tool in the formulation of an argument or in advertising.

When correctly used, emotions can boost the acceptance and understanding of a delivered message. Indeed, the use of an appropriate emotion can be the difference between a successfully “bought” idea and a revolt against it. Consequently, the choice of the appropriate emotion is vital.

When it comes to the range of emotions used in argumentation and advertising, the entire spectrum of human emotions can be considered.

Nonetheless, there is a certain tendency in the use of emotions, namely, the use of certain ones, which are supposed to generate a heightened level of audience’s attention by increasing the emotional appeal.

According to suggestions arising from contemporary research, there are six universal emotions which are used in the field of argumentation and advertising:

  • happiness,
  • anger,
  • disgust,
  • sadness,
  • fear,
  • and surprise.

The effect of these emotions is quite simple and straightforward.

For instance, the employment of an emotion such as happiness, which is quite visible and commonly appears in the majority of ads, triggers the idea of a positive attitude toward an idea/product/message by implementing such concepts as joy, romance, family bonding, playfulness, etc.

In contrast, negative emotions like disgust can be used in order to make the audience feel bad about a certain situation or even themselves (a technique which is widely used in marketing pharmaceutical products).

In today’s continuously developing and changing world, however, the previously mentioned common emotions can be insufficient.

Therefore, together with the growing demand from both the general run of people and potential customers, there is a simultaneous development of the strategies and techniques of persuasion and manipulation from another side.

One of the examples of such tactics is “The 6 Principles of Persuasion” by Dr. Robert Cialdini, whose research has shown that there are 6 basic tactics to guiding human behavior with emotions; and, as a result, emotional appeals can get potential customers to a “yes” to almost any request.

Among them are such “sophisticated emotions” as scarcity, reciprocity, authority, consistency, social affirmation, and popularity.

Together with their relation to social opinion, psychological factors, and considered values, these techniques provide a deeper level of emotional influence, which leads to the maximizing of targeting.

Moreover, as mentioned above, the number of strategies is continuously growing.

For instance, such techniques as:

  • bandwagon,
  • flattery,
  • analogy, etc. can be considered as well. All of them just strengthen the emotional impact by transmitting subtle pressures, ensuring the successful outcome of any effort at persuasion.

In conclusion, it is evident that emotion can be, and is, successfully used in argument and advertising, which provides a basis for persuading and manipulating the audience’s feelings and choices.

Moreover, emotion can be considered as the core of any successfully conveyed message, presented argument or advertising, due to its ability to influence the audience’s perception at the level of feelings.

For this reason, the choice of a proper emotion, as well as the appropriate tactic for using it, is extremely significant in both argumentation and advertising.

Photo: Shutterstock

Read more here about the future of advertising.

The Future Of Advertising


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