Should Marketing Appeal To Emotion?

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Should marketing be logical and persuasive by appealing to reason? Or should it seek to stir people’s emotions?

Many people despise appeals to emotion, like car commercials selling how powerful the car is and how fast it can go. Who after all needs a car that can do 150mph, or slam you back in your seat like a jet fighter taking off when you press on the accelerator.

Sounds pretty cool. Or perhaps despicable? You know, people spending money they can’t afford to buy a car instead of sending their kid to college?

Let’s talk about the proper role of emotion in marketing. It might be enlightening.


Appeals to emotion get a bad name because of abuse.

Some of the worst and most detestable appeals to man have come from stirring up irrational emotion. Think of the Nazis, blaming all Germany’s troubles on Jews, Gypsies, Communists, and Homosexuals.

Every stock manipulator engaging in “pump and dump” is doing a small-scale version of the same thing. Talk up a stock’s value, sell it short and clean up when the stock tanks. Who cares about the widows left to live on cat food.

But let’s have a clear look at this. You can’t say all emotion is bad. To cite the most obvious of examples, the love of a parent for a child.


If you are selling a valuable product or service to people who need and can afford it, eliciting enthusiasm for that product is a good thing.

There’s an old saying in the advertising industry, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Meaning you sell by what is interesting, exciting, appealing, or special.

Classic selling uses features and benefits. You sell the benefits. The facts – features – are there only to back up and prove the benefits. The benefits sell because that is what people want!  But they have to be sold, and that is done by emotion.

Any emotion, if appropriate, can be valuable in your marketing (and need I say it, sales) efforts.

Most security systems are sold out of fear. Sure, the customer wants something – safety. But most often the appeal is on the bad things that could happen.


None of this may be surprising or new to you.

But it raises an important question: What emotion do you use? And this is the biggest thing to take away from this article. There are different emotions, and the best emotion to use in your pitch depends. It varies with product or service, who you are selling to, even the current scene.

Appeal to an inappropriate emotion can be a disaster. Imagine being cheerful and telling jokes to the widow at the funeral service. Advertising can be just as badly off the mark.

There’s a rule. You want to be a bit or somewhat more in the direction of cheerful than your target audience, on the subject. If they are mildly interested in what you are selling, you don’t want to be wildly enthusiastic, but you could deliver a good, solid, sensible, conservative pitch.  (“Conservative” is an emotion, not an absence of emotion).

It can take some serious work to figure this out. For one thing, not everyone has the same emotional attitude on any given subject.  And you aren’t necessarily looking for where the largest percentage are at emotionally.  If most people are apathetic about something, you’d better go for the few who have a pulse on the subject. Or you’ll get no response.

If you don’t choose wisely, you might just end up with a bunch of prospective customers who are going to chew up your time and make you regret getting out of bed that morning.

Most advertising runs at conservative, strongly interested, cheerful or enthusiastic, because that appeals to people who already have an interest. They are going to be an easy sale.

But if everyone knows all politicians can’t be trusted, good luck running an enthusiastic campaign for office.

There are methods of surveying to find out where people are emotionally on a subject. But, this is a perfect example of why you test campaigns. It’s easy to be fooled in this area.


One misunderstanding we need to dispose of: That emotion has no role in business-to-business marketing. This view presumes the person making the recommendations or decisions on purchasing in a company, is coldly calculating. Not human. More like Lt. Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Input data, do the computation, spit out the answer.


No such person exists.

Even in the world of business purchasing, people have emotions.  They know that computer technicians can’t be trusted. Or that you have to be very careful picking trucking companies. And so on.

I once advised the manufacturer of a piece of medical test equipment to give it a slick, attractive packaging. He didn’t agree. Funny, I don’t recall hearing of that company afterwards.

So a word to the wise: In ALL your marketing efforts, pay attention to what emotion you are conveying. Make sure your communications hit the mark – or review and revise until they do.

You just might be surprised at your success.

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