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Good marketing means more than just telling consumers why they need your product, it’s about making a human connection. So how can emotion turn a good campaign into a great one?

Confession time. I keep switching off every time a certain six letters enter the conversation - B-R-E-X-I-T.

Even if it is all one big turn-off, the Brussels-based soap opera has some important lessons for the world of marketing. Be honest – how many of us thought we’d be negotiating our EU exit right now? To most, the leave vote was a bolt from the blue. But when you look at the campaigns run by the Leave and Remain camps, the writing was on the wall.

It’s not always in the detail

The Remainers focused heavily on the rational arguments for staying in. They spent weeks patiently assuring us that, despite the EU’s shortcomings, our economy/country/family would be much better off if we stayed put.

The Leavers, on the other hand, went for the ‘feels’. Their over-arching message pretty much amounted to ‘We want our country back’ – an amorphous platitude that didn’t even dip its toe into the waters of detail.

And yet this purely emotional appeal struck a chord with enough members of the British public to overpower the practical argument advanced by the Remainers. 

Ad-guru-turned-academic Steve McKevitt has cited the Brexit campaign as a prime example of the extraordinary power of emotional marketing.

McKevitt spent 30 years in brand communication creating hugely successful campaigns for the likes of Nike and Coca-Cola. An expert dissector of what he calls “the persuasion industries”, he explains the success of the emotional approach by pointing out that while people love buying stuff, they hate being sold to.


Why the emotional beats the rational

Many marketers have a soft spot for the AIDA model – Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action – to understand the stages from a consumer first becoming aware of a product or brand through to them making a purchase.

Here, the difference between your product and a competitor’s is the key focus of your messaging. Headache pill manufacturers talk about 'fast pain relief'. Washing detergent brands tell you their product will get your 'whites even whiter'. The emphasis is on repetition along with a big spend on advertising to get the message across to the rational consumer and ensure it sinks in far enough to influence their decision-making further down the line.

The trouble with this marketing model is that it doesn’t always hold true. Why? Because it relies on consumers being rational, straight-line thinkers. The reality is that it’s often tough to predict what people are going to do next. Like voting for Brexit, for example.


Using storytelling to build your brand 

As humans, we tend to take on information in one of two ways. The first is a rule-based system founded on the rational approach. It allows us to learn new things, but it takes time. The other way is intuitive, quick and pretty much effortless.

That’s because it taps into something we already know or feel, making it far more likely to bed itself deep in our brains. Unsurprisingly, many of us can’t be bothered with system one, so we rely on the more emotional, intuitive response of system two.

The numbers back this up. The UK-based Institute of Practitioners in Advertising took a look at 1,400 successful advertising campaigns over the last three decades. When it compared campaigns that relied primarily on emotional appeal with those that used rational persuasion and information, it found the former performed twice as well as the latter in terms of influencing intent to buy.

It makes sense. Think back to the last campaign that resonated with you. Was it one that extolled the virtues of a certain toilet cleaner over another? Or was it the one about a giant cuddly monster living under a little boy’s bed?

As narrative thinkers, we’re hard-wired to respond to storytelling. And those stories tend to be more powerful when they’re implied rather than overtly explicit in their meaning, because we end up thinking about them for longer.

Part of the family

When it comes to brands that pursue more emotional campaigns, we’re also more likely to project personalities on to them. We end up humanising them – they almost become part of the family. And just like with people, we’re more attracted to some personality types than others.

Research has shown that the positive emotions we feel toward a brand end up exerting a far greater influence on our loyalty as consumers than judgements based on the attributes of that brand or product – the rational stuff like ingredients or facts and figures.


Of course, an emotional campaign is no guarantee of success – and it’s something that tends to work better for brands that already have a good level of awareness. But if you can get it right, the rewards are clear. As Nigel Farage will tell you.

Grant Woodward is senior content editor at Stickyeyes