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What are emotions and why do they matter for marketers?

Imagine this scenario.

You wanted to buy a new juice maker, after reading a lot of reviews and product comparisons, you decided it’s not really necessary, your old blender works fine.

Now it’s Friday 18:07. You had a particularly long and rough week, feeling exhausted. Then you see the pop-up ad of this beautiful shiny magimix Juice Expert:

In desperate search of an emotional cheer-up, you click “add to cart”. Now you feel satisfied, but what you don’t know is that in two months, you will still be using your good old blender with this juice expert forgotten in the corner of your cupboard.

Sounds familiar? No offense to people who have bought the juice maker, it really happens to everyone…

In this article, following a neuroscience approach, we will unmask the secrets of consumer behavior driven by emotions. What’s more, you will also be able to optimize your marketing strategy with the help of five superpower of human emotions.

Ready to dive in?

Let’s go on with a story – this time not an imagined scenario! We continue with perhaps the most famous story of brain injury in the history of neuroscience.

The astonishing brain injury of Phineas P. Gage

On the 13th of September 1848, the 25-year-old Phineas P. Gage was working as the foreman of a crew preparing a railroad bed near Cavendish, Vermont. He was using an iron tamping rod to pack the explosive powder into a hole. Unfortunately, the powder detonated, sending the 1.1 m long, 6 mm diameter rod out of the hole hurling upwards through his left cheek, his (later known as the frontal cortex part of the) brain and exiting out of the vault of his skull.

Surprisingly, Gage survived despite his injuries. He was soon back on his feet, but he could no longer make simple reasonable decisions. Perhaps the most important part is that he no longer had emotions. As observed by Gage’s former colleges, his personality changed. He became unreliable, impatient and emotionally shallow. He was no longer Gage!

Emotions & decision-making: Descartes’ Error

Fast forward almost a hundred and fifty years, in 1994, in order to save a patient from a brain tumor, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio removed the same part of brain from the patient. After the surgery, the patient ended up experiencing the same thing as Phineas Gage. He could no longer make rational decisions, nor could he control his emotions.

Damasio went on to write a seminal work Descartes’ Error describing how emotions and rational decision making are deeply intertwined: our brain is not designed as a computer – we don’t have a neat printout of arguments for and against a decision. Emotions are so paired with the process of decision-making that it is impossible to identify situations where deliberated decisions do not incorporate an emotional dimension.

Five features of human emotions & their marketing power

The intertwined relationship between emotion and rational decision-making offers enormous potential for brands and marketers.

Consumer behaviors are much more complex than the rational choice model developed by the economics. In this part, we will put human emotions in the context of marketing and point out five fundamental features of emotions that will boost your marketing strategies.

In an illuminating work The Marketing Power of Emotion , the authors identify five essential characteristics underlying the marketing power of emotions:

  1. Emotions have an object. We are happy, sad or embarrassed about something. This might be an obvious point, but if you are to stimulate a particular emotion in consumers, you need to be clear about the object or the attributes of the object that will be responsible for triggering this emotion. The object doesn’t need to be concrete, it can also be a mood, a story, an expectation or an imagination that is related to your brand or your product/service.

  2. Emotions arise from highly negative or positive appraisals. There must be something that concerns your target consumers, or in other words, something that relates to what your consumers value. Only in this way emotions can be aroused.

Tips from FEELIN: Remember the Renault ad from Ad Battle #3? The moments of tenderness between mother and son prove to be valued by Renault Clio’s target audience.

  1. Consumer emotions are closely associated with consumer experienceEmotions are considered by marketing literature as felt experience. If you want to create the right customer experience, you need to create the right emotion.

  2. (Anticipated) emotions push to action. A nice offer for an extraordinary product on sale (What?! A magimix juice expert for only 390€!!) most often causes consumers to expect the happiness they will soon experience after they purchase the product. This anticipated positive emotion thus leads to the action of purchasing.

  3. Emotions express themselves in involuntary facial displays and other physiological expressions like pupil dilation and body posture. Even when you are watching a horror film at home and your reason tells you there’s nothing to be afraid of because it’s fake, you might still get nervous and frightened. Your eyelids will tighten, lips will stretch, and your pupil dilation will increase.

Tips from FEELIN: Yes, emotions can register on the face and influence pupil dilation before the conscious mind can act to control reactions. Directly looking at people’s emotional reactions is a more universal, objective and “honest” way than surveys or questionnaires. Posing people questions about their feeling can easily be tricky since verbal reports are much more influenced by conscious intentions and external factors.

… and that’s why marketers must consider the power of emotion when designing advertising and branding strategies.

… and that’s also where FEELIN comes into play: instead of traditional forms of survey, we directly measure consumers’ emotion with the help of several cognitive-behavioral methods. We enrich your insights by accessing both the audience’s conscious and unconscious emotional responses towards your product or service. With the results of our analysis, you will be able to optimize your advertising strategy, assess market segments and identify your target consumers in a much more efficient and accurate way.

This article can also be found under a series of blog content created by FEELIN Human Emotions in Marketing, where you will discover tons of scientific facts (simply explained and mind-blowing) and explore more practical tips that are easily applicable to your own advertising strategies.


The British Psychological Society: Phineas Gage – Unravelling the myth

Lakritz, Kenneth: Antonio Damasio’s Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. Psychiatric Times, Vol. 26 No. 12, 2009.

SPARK Neuro: The Effects of Emotions on Decision Making

O’Shaughnessy, John and O’Shaughnessy, Nicholas Jackson: The Marketing Power of Emotion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. pp. 21-23.

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