An emotional approach to advertising

Teenage girl watching television on sofa
caia image / Alamy Stock Photo

Discover how powerful emotional appeal can be in advertising as we discuss one of the most popular trends in advertising right now.

Previously we discussed the origins of advertising and the pre-internet days of print and TV advertising.  In this blog, we’re looking at the motives behind the campaigns brands produce and how they have developed over time.

We’ll also take a look at some of the most effective ad campaigns of recent times to demonstrate just what it takes to get that emotional connection with the audience.

Advertising in the 1900s…

The motives behind advertising campaigns have changed dramatically in the last 50 years, and the impact has affected both the consumer and the advertiser. We’ve seen a significant transition from product-focused promotions that were designed to simply ‘sell’, to campaigns that tried to sell a ‘lifestyle’ rather than just a product, moving in to more consumer-focused campaigns that aim to get an emotional buy-in from the consumer.

During the 1900s, advertising really started to grow in popularity as more brands caught on to the benefits. Brands began to make bolder moves with their campaigns, like Woodbury’s 1911 facial soap advert that pushed the boundaries by showing ‘sexual contact’. Throughout the 1940s, televisions began to grow in popularity and brands had a new channel to explore to help them get their products in front of even more people.

At this time, the sole purpose of an advert was to promote a specific product and the benefits it could bring to your life. It was all about persuasion – brands had to beat away the competition and persuade customers that their product was the best. Some early examples of these persuasive ads include popular items such as cleaning products, cigarettes and oil companies.

Take a look at this early advert from Fairy – note that for added benefit, it doesn’t just clean your home, but gives you “smoother hands”!

Original vintage advert from 1940s. Advertisement dated 1947 advertising Fairy Soap for a spanking clean home & smoother hands.. Image shot 1947. Exact date unknown.
Hera Vintage Ads / Alamy Stock Photo

And this 1930s advert from Shell that persuades the reader by appealing to ‘common sense’. Why on earth would you buy your oil anywhere else if it’s “cheaper, cleaner, quicker” from Shell?

Advertising postcard from Shell Oil circa 1930's. Image shot 1935. Exact date unknown.
World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

As time went on…

Advertising advanced through the early to mid-1900s, as brands began to create adverts that allowed consumers to associate certain products with a particular ‘lifestyle’. One of the most prominent and popular products around was the cigarette, with multiple brands all fighting to win the support of smokers.

It was at this time that brands began to realise the importance of not only getting customers to buy from them, but to keep their custom and stop them buying elsewhere. Using cigarettes as an example, brands began to establish target audiences for their cigarettes as they branded their products to fit certain ‘lifestyles’.

The 3 adverts below target slightly different audiences:

Cigarette brands - target audiences
Hera Vintage Ads / Alamy Stock Photo | 20th Century Advertising / Alamy Stock Photo | The Advertising Archives / Alamy Stock Photo
  • Piccadilly promote themselves as ‘Britain’s finest cigarette’, appealing to people who are, or aspire to be, upper-class
  • Philip Morris appeals to people who are bored with their current choice or who are looking to ‘change for the better
  • Camel reach out to people who want to follow the lead of societal figures like doctors, as they claim ‘more doctors smoke Camel than any other cigarette

From here, advertising began to change from simply ‘selling’ a product to a more customer-focused type of campaign. Brands began to discover the benefits of more targeted advertising, and it was becoming ever-more important for a company, not just its products, to stand out against competitors.

Forget the product, advertising has evolved

In today’s digital-oriented world, consumers are exposed to around 5000 advertisements every day through a multitude of channels. And it’s no longer just about the product – consumers are actively looking for a brand they can believe in.

The internet has given customers the upper hand – at the click of a button customers can compare prices, products and competitor websites to find the one that best suits them. Consumers today have the power – and brands need to work harder to recruit and hold onto customers.

Research suggests that a successful advertisement not only needs to provide a clear product benefit, but also needs to give the customer a reason to believe in either the product or the brand behind it. And here’s where emotional appeal comes in.

What is emotional appeal?

Emotional appeal is quite literally something that is used to appeal to people’s emotions. Whether it’s a cute puppy that makes someone smile, or a hard-hitting campaign that leaves you feeling sad or even angry – if an advert connects with someone enough to evoke emotion, it’s made an impact.

It’s a tactic employed by a variety of brands, from charities and non-profit organisations to industry-leading food retailers and the banking industry. But what is it that makes people engage with an emotional campaign?

There are a couple of approaches that brands take to appeal to emotions:

  1. The use of ‘real’ people
  2. A good old tug at the heart strings

1. Adverts that include ‘real people’

The first, and seemingly most powerful amongst consumers today is the use of real people. People that you and I can relate to. People in situations that we can see ourselves in, or that we can easily imagine ourselves in.

It’s been nicknamed the ‘Gogglebox culture’, as brands have ditched the all-singing, all-dancing productions, to go down a seemingly more simplistic route. Real people are being filmed in real life situations; in their houses, in the street, in the supermarket – and it’s working.

In a recent survey 1000 people in the UK were asked about their advertising preferences, and 47.4% said that ads featuring “ordinary real people” resonated most with them. Studies have also shown that emotional responses to adverts are more powerful in driving a person to make a purchase than the products or content in the advert.

Let’s look at some examples from different industries to show just how powerful the tactic of using real people has spread.

TalkTalk – ‘This stuff matters’

With the use of hidden cameras, TalkTalk entered the homes of its customers to record those precious everyday moments that matter the most. From chatting on the phone to your mates, to watching a video on your tablet on the sofa, TalkTalk subtly promotes its product in use in real situations that the general public can almost certainly identify with.

For more from TalkTalk’s ‘this stuff matters’ campaign, check this out.

HMRC – ‘Get in go far’

The UK government is on-board. Their latest string of adverts are featuring real teenagers who are fresh out of school and starting their first apprenticeship. It’s advertising the benefits of an apprenticeship and appealing to people of the same age as those starring in the ad. It spells out the phrase: “If they can do that, so can I”.

Sainsbury’s – Food Dancing, Yum Yum Yum

The most recent advert from supermarket chain Sainsbury’s gets inside the kitchens of its customers as they get into the rhythm of cooking. Again, the filming style is ‘real-time’, in the kitchens of real people, as the cook their dinner – an everyday activity that millions of people take part in. It’s normal, it’s habitual, and it’s marketing products in a subtle and effective way.

2. Campaigns that tug at the heart strings

Think John Lewis at Christmas, think Dogs Trust appeals or Save the Children pleas. Companies know exactly how to evoke sadness, sympathy, anger or empathy from the audience, and this is particularly effective through TV adverts. They tell a story, taking you on a journey of emotion that deters your attention away from the company behind the ad, and leaves you fixated on the message of the story.

John Lewis – Man on the Moon

A somewhat obvious starting place, the John Lewis 2016 Christmas advert. A powerful play on the idea of the elderly being alone at Christmas – enough to make even the strongest person shed a tear.

You feel the sadness of the man, feeling so alone it’s like he’s on another planet. You feel the determination and the desire of the little girl, and the overwhelming sense of joy and happiness as he receives his gift from the child. And you take away 2 key messages:

  1. The smallest thing can make a huge difference to someone’s life
  2. John Lewis is a brand that cares

Edeka – ‘Heimkommen’ (Come home)

German company Edeka took things a little bit further than John Lewis, but also followed the theme of loneliness at Christmas. I don’t know about you, but this ad brought me to tears, first with sadness, then with joy. Here, we see an elderly father and grandfather struggling every year to get his family together for Christmas. I won’t say anymore, but get your tissues ready…

Dogs Trust – #SpecialSomeone

Now for something a little different as we look at this advert from the charity Dogs Trust. There’s the cute factor, adorable puppy eyes and a happiness for the star of the ad. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, you’re overcome with sympathy and sadness for the dogs that are still without their forever home.

All these adverts have the power to leave an emotional imprint on you. Whether you’re left feeling happy, sad, empowered, reflective or determined – these adverts are allowing brands to make a connection with their audience. They speak volumes without having to use many, if any, words. And it’s all because you can imagine yourself or someone you know in the scenarios depicted in these ads.

Who would’ve thought something as natural as human emotion could unlock a whole new realm of advertising potential?

To sum things up…

Brands have never had a bigger marketplace or more platforms to reach out to their customers on than they have today. Likewise, consumers have never had it so easy when it comes to comparing products and companies and picking the one that best suits them. There’s so much scope for advertisers in our digitally-oriented world, and now brands have caught on to the sheer power of making an emotional connection with their audience, I for one can’t wait to find out where the advertising world ventures next as we enter 2018…


See more from our advertising blog series here:

Advertising through the ages: before the internet

Advertising through the ages: Gender

Gender stereotyping and the changing face of advertising


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