emotional experience banner 52015

How Brands Use Emotion to Drive Purchase Behavior

How Brands Use Emotion to Drive Purchase Behavior

We make thousands of decisions each day. As much as we’d like to think of ourselves as logical and in full control of our decisions, our “gut” reaction often makes the final call and our emotions make the real decision. Research has shown that an emotional response to an advertisement has much more influence on a consumer’s reported intent to buy than does the ad’s content (3-to-1 for television commercials and 2-to-1 for print ads).

Let’s take a look at major brands that are incorporating these emotions into their marketing strategies.

Altruism – Altruism or selflessness is the principle or practice of concern for the welfare of others.

“If I make this decision, I will help others in need.”

America is considered to be one of the wealthiest nations in the world. With great wealth comes responsibility, and Americans feel the need to give back with 95.4% of households donating to charity. On the world stage, per capita and as a percentage of gross domestic product, Americans give more to charity than the citizens of other nations. With such charitable tendencies, appealing to the altruistic side of people can be a powerful strategy for marketing your brand.

A great example of a brand that has fully committed to this principle is Honda. Long known as a reliable and safe auto manufacturer, Honda decided to rebrand itself into something more meaningful. In a market with high competition and low margins, it has elected to use emotion to earn the sale.  


Embarrassment – An emotional state of intense discomfort with oneself, experienced upon having a socially unacceptable act or condition witnessed by or revealed to others.

“If I make the wrong decision, I will be ashamed.”

People hate being wrong. Often, people hate being wrong even more than they like being right. This has to do with the common human tendency to avoid risk as much as possible. We view being right and making the correct decision as something expected, while making the wrong decision will mean ridicule from others. Helping people avoid this nerve-wracking emotion can be a boon for brands.

The travel booking website, Booking.com, relies heavily on leveraging this emotion with humorous commercials on the importance of making the right decision.


Insecurity - A feeling of general unease or nervousness that may be triggered by perceiving of oneself to be vulnerable or inferior in some way, or a sense of vulnerability or instability which threatens one's self-image or ego.

“If I make the right decision now, I won’t feel weak.”

From the way we look, to the things we have, most of us are aware of how it affects the way society looks upon us. In improving our social standing or career, looking good and feeling great are important. Like it or not, the first impression we give off sticks with people for some time. Brands that can help us look good physically, or give us confidence and prop us up emotionally are a natural fit for incorporating this emotion in their marketing strategy.

Across the beauty industry, most brands target this emotion in both men and women. They know that people want to stay looking young forever, and they hail their products as the key to looking youthful. Take a look at this Olay Regenerist commercial and notice the way they talk about your current skin, and what it could be after you use their product.


Happiness - A mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.

“If I make the right decision now, I will feel great.”

Every person in the world knows when they’re happy; yet often have a tough time describing what happiness is and how to achieve it. A pure and powerful emotion, it can be thought of as a trump card, as it can overpower the other negative emotions like insecurity, embarrassment, fear, etc.  

With controversy surrounding McDonalds regarding the contents of their food and its contribution to the obesity epidemic, the brand continues to lean heavily on marketing “smiles” instead of explanations. Rather than airing negative commercials using logic to back their side, they focus on how McDonalds is synonymous with happiness and smiling, no matter what age.


Fear - An emotion induced by a threat perceived by living entities, which causes a change in brain and organ function and ultimately a change in behavior, such as running away, hiding or freezing from traumatic events.

“If I don’t make a decision now, bad things will happen.”

The most devastating of the emotions, fear can cause both indecisiveness and poor decision through negativity and the thought of potential consequences. Brands that use this powerful emotional trigger can drive consumers to make a snap decision in order to prevent a painful situation later.

A humorous take on many NFL fans’ mindset is the thought of missing their favorite team play because of factors out of their control. This “Fear of Missing Out” can be avoided by downloading the NFL mobile app on Verizon Wireless. 


Pride – A satisfied sense of attachment toward one's own or another's choices and actions.

“If I make this decision now, others will be impressed or envious.”

Social media networks like Facebook and Instagram provide a bigger window into our personal lives than we’ve ever had before. Millions are trying to show how great their lives are to their peers, friends, old classmates, etc. Brand that can offer an edge to their consumers by boosting their confidence in themselves and their decisions can cash in on this self-centered emotion.

After rebranding itself from a perception of an old person’s deodorant/antiperspirant, Old Spice is promoting itself as the ultimate confidence builder. Spray some Old Spice on yourself and you’ll feel like a new man, who no one can resist.

Greed – Is the inordinate desire to possess wealth, goods, or objects of abstract value with the intention to keep it for one's self, far beyond the dictates of basic survival and comfort.

“If I make this decision now, I will benefit greatly.”

America is known for its consumerism, easy credit, and the need to “keep up with the Jones’.” Fortunate to be in a position to have it all, many consumers want more and bigger, just because they can. Constant sales feed the seasonal sales cycles, and brands that can ride this wave can rack up their own sales figures.

This clip from the popular TV show, Modern Family, beautifully encapsulates the “I got to have it all” attitude of people that show at Costco.

Go to top