How Big Brands Harness Emotional Appeal in Ads to Win You Over

Have you ever wondered why some ads stick with you longer than others? It often comes down to emotional appeal.

Big brands like Nike and McDonald’s expertly create ads that focus on experiences, not just products. These ads evoke emotions that influence our buying decisions and strengthen brand loyalty.

In this post, we’ll explore how emotional connections in advertising work, using examples from well-known companies to show these strategies in action. By understanding these tactics, you’ll see how brands win you over with feelings rather than facts.

Kim Cooper
Director of Marketing, Amazon Alexa

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Understanding Emotional Appeal in Big Brand Advertising

Emotional appeal advertising creates a bond between the product and consumer by tapping into feelings and memories. This connection often bypasses rational thought, making the ad memorable and impactful. 

When viewers feel happy, nostalgic, or inspired, they associate those emotions with the brand. This strategy helps ads stick in our minds longer and makes us more likely to choose that brand when making a purchase:

To avoid Ad Fatigue create ads with emotion and imagination

By focusing on emotions rather than just product features, brands can forge stronger, more lasting relationships with their audience.

Big brands like Nike and McDonald’s have shifted from focusing on product features to creating ads that evoke emotions and connect deeply with viewers by appealing to their feelings.

This method is more effective than traditional ads that just talk about product features. Emotional response can lead to stronger loyalty to the brand and more repeat purchases.

Types of Emotional Appeals

  1. Happiness: Ads that make viewers feel joy. For example, McDonald’s highlights the happiness of family meals, showing joyful gatherings that focus on togetherness. This type of emotional appeal ad creates a warm, inviting image of the brand.
  2. Nostalgia: Ads that evoke fond memories. Coca-Cola often uses nostalgia to create a sense of unity and joy, crossing cultural lines and reminding people of shared moments. This approach makes the brand feel timeless and universally cherished.
  3. Inspiration: Ads that motivate viewers to achieve their dreams. Nike’s campaigns, like their “Just Do It” slogan, share stories of overcoming challenges and success, inspiring viewers to push their limits. These ads use positive emotional appeal to connect the brand with personal achievement and perseverance.
  4. Love: Ads that focus on connection and romance. Apple’s commercials evoke feelings of innovation and prestige, making its target audience aspire to own expensive Apple products. The brand becomes associated with sophistication and desirability.
  5. Fear: Ads that highlight risks to prompt action. These ads use fear appeal and negative emotions to create urgency, encouraging viewers to make decisions to avoid negative outcomes. This tactic is often used in health and safety campaigns.
  6. Pity: Ads that evoke compassion are often used by charities. These ads show suffering or hardship, prompting viewers to help and support the cause. The emotional connection drives donations and support. Think UNICEF’s “Save a Child for Only 50 Cents a Day” campaigns.
  7. Outrage: Ads that provoke anger about injustices, effective for advocacy. These ads highlight social issues, encouraging viewers to take a stand and demand change. This approach can mobilize people and create a strong sense of community around the cause. A good example of this is Kylie Jenner’s controversial Pepsi commercial, which got a lot of negative emotional responses: 

Let’s look at how these big brands use emotions to attract you:

  • Nike’s campaigns often share stories of overcoming challenges and success, motivating you to ‘Just Do It.’ The company’s $39 billion marketing strategy featured athletes overcoming obstacles and achieving greatness, which inspires viewers to push their limits:

  • McDonald’s ads highlight the happiness and togetherness of family meals, not just the food. The fast-food giant loves emotional appeal advertisements that show families dining together, depicting joyful gatherings and moments of togetherness. McDonald’s went from a struggling restaurant to a billion-dollar success story thanks to its marketing strategy:

  • Apple’s commercials, known for their beauty and simplicity, evoke feelings of innovation and prestige. Apple’s ads often highlight the sleek design and cutting-edge technology of their products while evoking emotions of innovation, prestige, and aspiration:

Product Design Companies. Apple's sleek designs

  • Coca-Cola’s worldwide ads promote a feeling of unity and joy, crossing cultural lines. Its ads often feature people of different backgrounds coming together over a Coke, creating a feeling of positive emotions about global harmony and happiness. This nostalgic approach taps into universal emotions, making the brand memorable and cherished across generations:

Supermodel and inclusivity advocate, Winnie Harlow, is leveraging the power of AI to create inclusive holiday cards for friends and family across the world, with Coca-Cola’s Create Real Magic tool, and encourages people to create their own unique cards. Digital Marketing Campaign example

Key Takeaway: Big brands are successful because their ads do more than just show products—they spark emotions that resonate with people.

Storytelling as a Tool for Emotional Engagement

Storytelling is a powerful tool for emotional engagement in advertising. It goes beyond presenting facts and features by weaving narratives that resonate with the audience on a personal level. 

Stories capture attention, create a connection, and make the ad memorable. When a brand tells a story, it invites viewers into an experience, allowing them to see themselves in the narrative.

A prime example of emotional advertising is Google’s “Parisian Love” ad. This ad tells the story of a man who uses Google searches to plan his life in Paris, from finding a café to falling in love. The narrative unfolds through simple search queries, showing how Google’s products integrate into the most personal aspects of life: 

The emotional effectiveness of this ad comes from the relatable and heartwarming story that makes viewers feel a connection to the brand.

By using storytelling, brands can evoke emotions like joy, nostalgia, and inspiration in their advertising campaigns, which helps build a strong emotional bond with the audience. This bond can lead to increased brand loyalty and influence purchasing decisions, proving that a good story can be as impactful as any product feature.

Key Takeaway: Good storytelling in ads can turn a brand into an unforgettable part of the consumer’s own story.

Sensory Marketing and Unbranded Experiences

Sensory marketing engages multiple senses to create a memorable brand experience. This approach goes beyond visual appeal, incorporating sound, smell, touch, and taste to influence consumer behavior. By stimulating the senses, brands create deeper emotional connections and enhance recall.

Unbranded experiences take this further by immersing consumers in a setting where the brand subtly influences the environment without overt advertising. This technique builds an authentic connection, making the brand feel like a natural part of the experience rather than a commercial message.

A relevant example is Starbucks’ use of sensory marketing in their stores. The smell of freshly brewed coffee, the sound of steaming milk, the comfortable seating, and the warm lighting all create a welcoming atmosphere that encourages customers to relax and enjoy their time. Even without overt branding, the sensory experience fosters a strong connection to Starbucks.

A great example of this from 2024 is McDonald’s, which used a combination of sensory and unbranded marketing in a unique billboard campaign in the Netherlands:

The completely unbranded billboards released the smell of freshly cooked fries into the air, enticing passersby without any visual cues. This innovative approach relied solely on the power of smell to attract people, creating a memorable and impactful brand experience that drew people to nearby McDonald’s locations. 

This campaign is a prime example of how powerful sensory marketing can be, using the sense of smell to evoke strong cravings and drive consumer behavior.

Sensory marketing and unbranded experiences allow brands to create powerful emotional bonds with consumers, making the brand experience memorable and impactful.

Key Takeaway: Using sensory marketing and unbranded experiences can greatly improve emotional appeal and loyalty to your brand.

Last Thoughts on Emotional Appeal in Ads

Emotional appeals in advertising help brands connect with people on a deeper level. By focusing on feelings instead of just product details, brands create memorable ads that build loyalty and influence buying choices. This method goes beyond regular ads, tapping into the emotions that drive consumer behavior.

Using storytelling, sensory marketing, and unbranded experiences, brands engage audiences meaningfully. These strategies make the brand feel like a natural part of life, enhancing the brand experience. Emotional ads like Coca-Cola’s nostalgic ones or Nike’s inspiring stories leave lasting impressions.

When planning your marketing, think about how you can use emotions to connect with your audience. By leveraging the power of feelings, you can make ads that resonate deeply, build loyalty, and drive your brand’s success.

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