Marketing to the Emotions in Your Customer’s Heads


Kevin Yoo

The creative mind of Roojoom. Lives to explore, explores to live.

Marketing to the Emotions in Your Customer’s Heads

Disney Pixar’s Inside Out so eloquently personified the five main human emotions in its story about growing up. The movie can teach marketers about emotional marketing: how joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust play into customer perception of marketing and certain brands.

Personalization is the new trend in emotional marketing techniques, and the best way to personalize a message is to appeal to the emotions. U.K.-based Institute of Practitioners in Advertising analyzed 1,400 case studies of successful ad campaigns. The results revealed purely emotional marketing campaigns worked nearly twice as well (31%) as strictly rational ones (16%).

Experts attribute this to the fact that emotional processing happens faster and with fewer steps than cognitive processing, making reaction to emotional appeals almost instantaneous. As the characters in Inside Out had their own unique features and quirks, so, too, does marketing to the specific emotions. This form of marketing is powerful for a myriad of neurological reasons rooted in human nature. We explore the five emotional marketing tactics below.

Emotional Marketing


Determined to find the bright side of everything, Joy is infectious and the beating heart of the emotions. Joy is the leader of the emotions in Inside Out, and for a good reason. Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott discovered the first natural emotional reaction in life is a baby smiling at his mother after she has smiled at him. Perhaps this is why joy remains the sentiment humans seek most fervently or why it is among the strongest emotions felt throughout life.

In emotional marketing and life in general, joy is best when it is shared. Scientists and analysts have found that articles, blog posts and social content that is positive, happy or humorous is likely to be shared more frequently than anything negative.

A study of viral marketing campaigns with passionate elements found that the top ten emotions used and responded to were within the realm of joy. This chart shows the emotional responses to all analyzed campaigns:

Babies share their first feeling with their mothers, making joy an intuitively social emotion. The key to getting customers to respond, spread and enjoy your marketing messages, is to make them upbeat. Don’t go overboard on splashy promotional material, but keep content light and uplifting. Don’t just find the bright side, shine it in your customers’ faces.

Emotional Marketing


The character of Sadness in Pixar’s story is an inconvenience at first, but it becomes clear she is as crucial as Joy to understanding the world. Sadness in marketing is also a complementary emotion to happiness. The chemical released when the brain processes sadness influences how humans react and grab onto certain messages and advertisements.

Researchers, led by Paul Zak, did a study to see the effects of the hormone oxytocin on people’s charitable habits and empathy when viewing public service announcements. Those who received oxytocin before the viewing donated 56% more money to the causes.

“Our results show why puppies and babies are in toilet paper commercials,” Zak said. “This research suggests that advertisers use images that cause our brains to release oxytocin to build trust in a product or brand, and hence increase sales.”

Without making customers depressed, using sadness in marketing takes a delicate hand. It’s best to use it subtly to avoid being too overt with customers. Evoking sadness is more effective than directly turning on the water works. Saved lives, changed lives, parental connection and nostalgia are all great themes to use when trying to produce oxytocin in customers’ brains. The Sadness character inside the head will greatly appreciate a gloomy plot.

Emotional Marketing

Anger and Disgust

The characters Anger and Disgust are the most literal interpretations of emotion, with Anger being a red and fiery temperament and Disgust being a broccoli-hating, image-obsessed tween. Both are easily triggered in the Inside Out narrative and within customers’ brains. One particular quality, united by anger and disgust, manifests itself readily in the average human brain. Stubbornness is never acute, and almost always affects customer reactions.

A study out of the University of Wisconsin presented an objective story about nanotechnology to test subjects to find out the effect of negative and polite comments. Half the participants read the story with polite comments and half were shown the same article but with nasty comments. Those who saw positive comments maintained their positions on the story. The other half was completely polarized into being against the subject matter.

Anger is constantly fighting the urge to use swear words and Disgust is concerned with avoiding embarrassment. In the real world, anger and disgust, whether demonstrated by peers or the company marketing to consumers, can elicit extreme reaction, stubbornness and division. Be careful using angry or disgusting content. It might turn customers into Anger and Disgust, wanting to curse or embarrass you and spoil your reputation.

Emotional Marketing


Fear is the comic-relief and sometimes voice of reason in Inside Out. His endless lists of what could go wrong range from funny to hard-hitting. Fear in marketing acts in a similar way. Arousing the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes fear, brings out the instinct of fight or flight. Either reaction, when caused by advertising or marketing, leads customers to associate great affiliation with a brand.

Fear is the best motivation to create brand loyalists. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that customers experiencing fear while watching a film felt greater attachment to a brand than those watching films with themes of happiness, sadness or excitement. The paper’s authors attribute this to the need for connection when feeling scared.

Companies afraid of using fear as a tactic because of possible negative connotations should abandon that anxiety and use it to its advantage. Being the only available coping mechanism is a powerful way to reach customers. Fear is a powerful emotion that sends us running to whatever makes us feel safe again. Be the hand to hold when the lights go out and scary noises start sounding off in the night.

 Emotional Rollercoaster

Emotional Rollercoaster

Using emotional marketing can be absolutely successful if done correctly. Touching on the big five emotions strikes right at the heart of human existence. Experiencing emotion is one of the most common and substantial things people go through. We’ve all cried tears of sadness, jumped for joy, run from fear, erupted in anger and gagged with disgust. Weaving a message into the experience of feeling creates instant connection.

A truly effective emotional marketing campaign is one that takes customers through a rollercoaster of all the emotions. Best done with videos, the rollercoaster makes an impression on all the sides of the viewer. No matter what someone will respond to, the bases are covered. They will share the happy message, cling to the brand out of fear, take a stance from anger and disgust and empathize and understand sadness.

Just as the emotional characters in Inside Out come to realize life is a mixture of emotions, so too is a great marketing strategy.