Linda Johnson

Emotional Marketing: How to be a killer marketer and have a clean conscience

October 5th, 2018


I want to be a good person. Chances are, you do too. So sometimes it bothers me when people stigmatize marketers as spammers and manipulators for money. (This happened to one of my colleagues here at MarketingSherpa, Daniel Burstein, recently.)

But marketing is a neutral term. It is simply the way we speak to customers. How we use marketing is up to us. We can be ethical, or not. We can influence people for good, or bad. We can choose to appeal to the best in us or instead, appeal to the beast in us. Actually, when you think of it, marketers wield a lot of power.

It’s true that there are marketers who choose to sell a product by appealing to our baser instincts of greed, selfishness, pride and lust, but you and I don’t have to, and we can still be successful. We can understand our customers as people and tap into their emotions, become a part of the story they want for their lives, not just pushing the goals we have for our business.

That’s why I was really encouraged when I listened to some major insights gleaned from the databank of The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising UK. IPA has nearly 1,400 case studies showcasing the most successful advertising campaigns across 30 years, and discovered the most successful marketing campaigns were utilizing emotional marketing that brings out the best in people as opposed to those that simply focus on the surface-level, material desires we may have.

What really drives consumer decisions

The IPA is one of the world’s pre-eminent trade bodies for marketing communications agencies. Marie Oldham, Chief Strategy Officer, Havas Media, stated that the evidence suggests deeper, meaningful need states are driving consumer decisions.

The strongest ones [campaigns] were the ones [that] fully understood how the world has changed since 2008 and the whole credit crunch, how it destroyed some of the things that we thought were the dominant things in life, having a bigger car, getting a bigger job, getting on in life … [instead, customers said] ‘time spent with families and friends or reconnecting with our passions in our communities is really important.’ 

The winning entry for 2012 and also for 2016 IPA effectiveness awards was a TV ad from John Lewis. This chain of high-end department stores has repeatedly created extremely successful advertising campaigns.

The company traditionally used product-focused advertising but decided to shift to an emotional strategy, focusing on the consumers’ higher motivations for buying. It’s not about furnishing a house but building a home. It’s about creating a safe, inspiring and stimulating environment for their children; it’s about realizing their dreams for their family, their health and wealth. It’s not about getting rich, but about living a richer life.

The following advertisement was an immediate success going viral throughout television and social media platforms and catapulting their business forward as a leader in their industry in the UK.



Customers care how businesses behave

The IPA’s research also revealed that people are choosing brands based not only on their personal values but on the brands’ values as well. Customers care how businesses behave and how they recognize other people’s values.

HCSS, winner of MarketingSherpa 2017 awards, is a great example of this. The company chose to focus on the unsung heroes who build our country’s infrastructure rather than promoting its construction software product.

Dan Brisco, vice president of HCSS, said that once he and his team learned to make the customers the true hero of their stories, “it transformed our world. It took several iterations and a constant struggle against talking about how much our customers love our software before we finally broke free. But once we did, we flew.”

Revenue increased 54% in just one year.



Another wonderful example of marketers making a positive change in the world by bringing out the best in people was an ad campaign called “Christmas Miracle” from CanWestJet, a Canadian airline. The initial goal was 200,000 views. Currently, it is at 48+million views. Many people decided that year that WestJet was a company they could get behind and support, and ticket sales skyrocketed. The video is powerful.



When marketing is done with integrity, society benefits. Good marketers recognize that it’s more about the people than the product or service being offered. And the research shows that the ultimate reason many people buy is that they don’t just want to live well, they want a life well-lived.

Capitalizing on that is something many marketers are now doing — and they are sleeping well at night.


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Visit MarketingSherpa’s large library of nearly 1400 case studies spanning 15 years of marketing research

Linda Johnson

About Linda Johnson

Linda oversees the technical integrity of the content for MarketingExperiments, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute. She places special emphasis on clarifying the writer’s intentions while preserving the writer’s voice. But first and foremost, Linda is an educator. Before joining the team, she was an educational consultant, a blogger and a freelance writer for various print and digital magazines. Her focus is on simplifying complex topics for all kinds of learners, including aspiring marketers. Linda believes in living life on purpose.

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