Emotion in advertising: It’s not an either/or.

Emotion in advertising isn’t a choice.

Ads that are inherently shareworthy and those that prompt people to make a purchase both share a common denominator: They use emotion.

Emotion is present in both types of advertising (e.g., brand building and sales activation) because it is the substrate — the base layer of neural circuitry upon which information is encoded into memory and the foundation on which decisions are made. Or, as I’ve heard it said: “Emotion is the ink memories are written in.” Emotion also is the catalyst for choice. When provided with the most comprehensive, robust set of information needed to make a rational choice, people still rely on their intuition, instinct or a hunch to make a decision. It’s that gut feeling about something that is so compelling and moves us to act.

Our emotions are in charge.

In his book, Descartes’ Error, the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio proves that it’s our emotions that are in charge, exercising almost complete control over our thoughts and decisions. In the 2000s, Damasio studied people with damage in the parts of their brains where emotions are generated. He discovered that they couldn’t make simple decisions. They could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, yet they found it impossible to decide on some things, such as what to eat.

Having emotion in advertising isn’t a choice. It’s a given.

But this isn’t a treatise on the need for Emotional advertising with a capital “E,” or advocating that all ads need to show emotion. It’s an acknowledgment that emotion is at the core of how humans process information, and understanding how we tap into emotion is critical for effective communications. Ads that are memorable are more effective at building brands because they make brands more salient, or top of mind, when in a buying situation. Emotion builds muscle memory, whether that emotion can be tickling your funny bone or pulling at your heartstrings. In either case, the goal is to maximize your brand memorability by tapping into emotion.

Even lower-funnel direct-response ads work best when they are designed around an emotional underpinning, such as using scarcity effects to prompt people to “act now while supplies last,” or engendering confidence in their choice of toothpaste because “four out of five dentists agree.”

So how do we use emotion?

The question we should be asking ourselves is not if we are creating an emotional or rational ad, but what is the outcome we desire from our communications? Are we using emotion to build stronger memories about our brand or leveraging emotion to incite an action? Regardless of the answer, emotion is the playground we’re all in; we just need to decide which game we’re playing.

About the Author

Eric Holubow is a brand planning director on Pioneer/Corteva. For the past fifteen years he has applied strategic planning and design thinking to solve his clients’ marketing and commercialization needs. He has spent most of that time at top full-service creative shops Leo Burnett and DDB helping clients like P&G, Walmart, Comcast, Esurance, Invesco, and Whirlpool breakthrough in an increasingly saturated and fragmented media landscape. Whether that be identifying front-end innovation opportunities within internal venture capital groups, leading the definition of integrated brand marketing strategies across holding company agencies, or deploying go-to-market plans for new product launches, what excites him is finding that sweet spot of what’s desirable for people, viable from media/technology and feasible for businesses.