Emotional branding

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Emotional branding is a term used within marketing communication that refers to the practice of building brands that appeal directly to a consumer's emotional state, needs and aspirations. Emotional branding is successful when it triggers an emotional response in the consumer, that is, a desire for the advertised brand (or product) that cannot fully be rationalized. Emotional brands have a significant impact when the consumer experiences a strong and lasting attachment to the brand comparable to a feeling of bonding, companionship or love. Examples of emotional branding include the nostalgic attachment to the Kodak brand of film, bonding with the Jim Beam bourbon brand, and love for the McDonald’s brand.[1]


Throughout history, branding has served as a representation of meaning through the use of a sign or symbol. Oftentimes, these symbols are meant to hold a particular meaning or stigma. Herein, lies the origin of emotional branding. An early example of the brand used as a stigma in popular culture can be found in the novel The Scarlet Letter with the use of the "A" as a brand of adultery.

It wasn't until well into the twentieth century that businesses started using branding as a standard business practice in marketing. Product branding, which can be defined as the creation of a "name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers" [2] was first used with watermarks on paper. During this time, the idea of branding was quite literal, with the use of images, logos and insignia to create familiarity with a product. With the beginning of Mass marketing in the 1900s companies started to use Brand identity in attempt to associate an idea or lifestyle with a brand. This can be attributed to the “Father of modern advertising”, Thomas J. Barratt, the ideaman behind Pears Soap advertising. Barratt used the association of high culture and quality to brand his product to a mass audience. This marks the beginning of modern emotional branding,through the use of manipulation of human emotion to sell a product. During this time, we begin to see an emergence of more psychological theories in relation to branding and marketing, which leads to new uses of the brand itself. Marketing professionals during this time learn that in order for humans to create a relationship between themselves and a brand, the brand needs to portray a particular personality with specific values and symbols attached to it. This way, based on human emotions, a consumer can develop a closer connection with the brand.

From here, many companies began to catch on to the trend of brand identity to distinguish their products from others in a growing market. The play on emotion in branding became revolutionized with Sigmund Freud’s popularization of the “unconscious mind” from 1912. According to Freud, the unconscious mind consists of the processes in the mind that occur automatically and are not available to introspection, and include thought processes, memory, affect, and motivation.[3] In advertising, this became relevant through the use of hidden messages and symbols to trigger an emotional response, without literally making a claim about a product.

During the early 1900s Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays published works concerning both propaganda and public relations, a term he coined, in relation to persuasion through human emotion. Bernays promoted the idea of engineering psychology, or manipulation of the public opinion, to persuade. An example of one of Bernays' branding experiments is the phrase "Torches of Freedom" in reference to cigarettes smoked by women in 1929. Bernays applied the values of women's rights to the brand image of cigarettes as "torches of freedom" by inviting women to march in the 1929 Easter Sunday parade while smoking cigarettes, causing a spike of female interest in smoking. This is one of the first examples of evidence during the early 1900s that emotion and values tied to a brand can increase sales. Bernays' works concerning the engineering of public consent and public relations revolutionized the way that advertisers conducted business. In the book Public Relations, Bernays suggests, "Advertising needs to apply what the social sciences already know about human nature and conduct." He goes on to suggest that advertisers must "familiarize themselves with the key texts on the disciplines with which they deal- sociology, psychology, social psychology, anthropology and psychiatry."[4] Bernays belief that advertisers paid too much focus on semantics and should direct more of their attention on the study of human behavior lead to a revolution in advertising that would eventually lead to modern emotional branding. Emotional branding is rooted in the social sciences, as it aims to provoke an emotional connection and response based on personal influences.


The purpose of emotional branding is to create a bond between the consumer and the product by provoking the consumer's emotion. Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders speaks to the emotional response of consumers to advertising. It reads,"In the buying situation, the consumer generally acts emotionally and compulsively, unsubconsciously reacting to the images and designs that are associated with the product."[5] The notion that emotion is not only associated with compulsiveness and irrationality, but is a subconscious reaction, is the framework that drives emotional branding theory.

Today's most successful companies are said to have built relationships with consumers by engaging them in a personal dialogue that responds to their needs. Marketers who've broken through the clutter have done so by connecting with consumers and, thereby, have created strong emotional bonds through their brands.[6] Author Barbara Green states “You have to have a love affair with the consumer-flirt with them, provide that titillating buzz. When that flirtatious relationship becomes a deep relationship, then you have a major brand.” [7]

Emotional branding creates a personality for the brand. In an article published in Brandweek, original source Emotional branding by Marc Gobé [1], the difference between identity and personality is stated: “Identity is recognition. Personality is about character and charisma! Brand identities express a point of difference in the competitive landscape--but that's just the first step. Brand personalities are special: They evoke an emotional response. American Airlines has a strong identity but Virgin Airlines has personality.” The brand personality is crucial in emotional branding.[8][9]

Emotional branding is a notable tool used in advertising in many South and Southeast Asian countries particularly Thailand, India and Malaysia. They normally run between 3 minutes to over 15 minutes in length and generally depict a story.[10][11]


Emotional branding uses the consumer's ability to process messages to promote a significant feeling associated with the brand.

The two types of processing that a person can use to comprehend branding are Active Processing, which is learning that happens when deep, attentive processing is being applied, or, Implicit processing, which is when meaning can be processed without awareness.[12][13] Emotional branding is quite complex, in that a person can interpret a brand image through attentive processing, but once their emotions are provoked, the meaning that they take from the brand image can be implicitly processed, or in other words, subconsciously created. Author Antonio Damasio notes, “We are more vulnerable when we are only vagely aware that our emotions are being influenced, and most vulnerable when we have no idea at all that our emotions are being influenced.”[14][15] An example of this could be music playing in a store to create a subconscious mood.

There are multiple techniques for achieving an emotional response to a brand. The first, and perhaps the most complicated method is by attaching the brand to a certain set of ideological values.This works best when the advertiser has done substantial amounts of research on the demographic audience, knowing what values and ideas will trigger an emotional response and connection to the brand. The values can be embedded into the brand through images and language. An example of this would be the family values and essence of childhood and bonding portrayed in Walt Disney World Ads.

Emotional branding uses a series of themes and symbols to create meaning for a consumer.[16] In this sense, "theme" means a concept or story line that is present throughout an ad, and if integrated well-enough, throughout the brand. A "symbol" is representative of the theme. Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders suggests that the symbol represents a promise and consumers buy the promise. The text reads, "The cosmetic manufacturers are not selling Lanolin, they are selling hope. We no longer buy oranges, we buy vitality. We do not buy just an auto, we buy prestige."[17] As suggested in Edward Bernays' The Engineering of Consent, Themes must appeal to human motivations in order to be successful. Motivation lies deep with a person's subconscious desires to achieve or meet certain goals. Bernays suggests that there is an extensive list of factors that drive motivation based on both ideological values and personal experience.[18] There are a few techniques used with symbolism. The first is making the theme and symbol of a brand continuously publicized. The second technique is making sure that the theme and symbol hold substance and promote a specific idea about the company. The company symbol needs to be adaptable to a changing society while standing firmly as a set of values. Symbols can represent multiple themes simultaneously, as suggested by Bernays. For example, a kitten can represent both playfulness and comfort. Symbols provide a promise for a sense of fulfillment associated with their brand. Vance Packard highlights the eight hidden needs that consumers have that themes and symbols attempt to sell. The eight needs are as follows:

  1. Emotional security
  2. Reassurance of worth
  3. Ego-gratification
  4. Creative outlets
  5. Love objects
  6. Sense of power
  7. Sense of roots
  8. Immortality[19]

These needs, which are subconsciously emotion-based, serve as a foundation for emotional branding and allow marketers to create a self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to consumer needs. People want to fulfill these needs, and advertisers promote the need to fulfill these needs in a perpetual cycle.

A second method of emotional branding is making a literal statement about a product and its association to emotion. An example of this can be seen in a 1966 Hamlet Cigar ad that states “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet.” [20] This associates the brand with a particular emotion in the most literal way possible.

A third method of association to emotion is giving the consumer an emotional reaction to an ad. An example of this in advertising could be calming music playing simultaneously with images of people enjoying the product. This method works best when irrational emotions are evoked. For example, playing somber music with images of people struggling without the product would create an irrational connection to the product by playing on the consumer’s sadness. In one way, the brand creates a positive connotation with itself, in another, the brand creates a negative connotation of life without the product. These are both examples of emotional branding.

It is important to note that emotional branding is something that comes with time and long standing presence. For example, attachment of the specific emotion of “nostalgia” to the Kodak brand of film, “bonding” to the Jim Beam bourbon brand, and “love” to the McDonald’s brand are built over time.[21] Through repetition of these themes and symbols, these brand names have reached brand euphoria, where meaning no longer needs to be created, as enough branding has been done to solidify the brand image.


One of the more obvious criticisms of emotional branding is concerning the morality of manipulating human emotion, which is often an extremely vulnerable and irrational element of human thinking. Ethicist Richard Lippke notes that certain messages portrayed through branding should be criticized. These messages are:

  1. Encouragement to accept emotional appeals, oversimplification, superficiality and shoddy standards of proof for claims.
  2. An emphasis on ease and gratification rather than on austerity and restraint.
  3. The notion that advertisers should allow people to show them how to live the good life.
  4. A constant encouragement to consume lest one miss out on something new.
  5. The false belief that products will deliver the non-market good with which they are associated.[22]

A similar criticism of emotional branding concerns it's very origin as the use of propaganda. Many criticisms have been formed concerning advertising's relation to propaganda, as the very first ideas about public relations and many ideas about advertising and branding came from the same man, Edward Bernays, who perfected the art of propaganda.

A third criticism of emotional branding is in reference to the growing "sameness" of products on the market and the desperate attempt of marketers to distinct their brand from others. From The Hidden Persuaders: "The greater the similarity between products, the less part reason really plays in brand selection."[23] Because of the amount of competition today, the industry calls for more ways to subliminally affect the consumer. The very thought of affecting a consumer based on psychological research is controversial in itself and has been subject to extreme criticism throughout the development of the advertising industry. Because of both the likeness of products on the market today and the clutter of advertisements, more creative tactics, which may be criticized by some, are being used to subliminally affect the mind.


  1. ^ Rossiter and Bellman
  2. ^ American Marketing Association Dictionary. The Marketing Accountability Standards Board (MASB) endorses this definition as part of its ongoing Common Language: Marketing Activities and Metrics Project.
  3. ^ Westen, Drew (1999).The Scientific Status of Unconscious Processes: Is Freud Really Dead?. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 47 (4): 1061–1106. doi:10.1177/000306519904700404.
  4. ^ Bernays, Edward L. Public Relations. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1952. Print.
  5. ^ Packard, Vance. The Hidden Persuaders. New York: D. McKay, 1957. Print.
  6. ^ Making the Emotional Connection.(2001) Brandweek. General OneFile.
  7. ^ Green, Barbara.(2003) Product is no longer enough; smart marketers know the way to the wallet is through the heart. National Jeweler: 40+. General OneFile.
  8. ^ Brandweek
  9. ^ Emotional Branding by Marc Gobé
  10. ^ http://www.techshu.com/blog/emotional-branding-7-indian-brands-tapping-emotions
  11. ^ http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/thailand-television-commercials-will-make-you-cry-or-at-least-get-a-bit-sad/news-story/8640bf2660dbd5c84140dcd7452b3c08
  12. ^ James,W.(1890) Principles of Psychology. Dover, New York.
  13. ^ Heath,Robert.(2012)Seducing the Subconscious. Wiley Publishing
  14. ^ Damasio, A.R.(2000)The Feeling of What Happens. Heinemann, London.
  15. ^ Heath
  16. ^ *Giesler, Markus (2012). "How Doppelgänger Brand Images Influence the Market Creation Process: Longitudinal Insights from the Rise of Botox Cosmetic". Journal of Markeing 76 (6): 55–68. doi:10.1509/jm.10.0406. 
  17. ^ Packard
  18. ^ Bernays, Edward L., and Howard Walden. Cutler. The Engineering of Consent. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1955. Print.
  19. ^ Packard
  20. ^ Heath
  21. ^ Rossiter and Bellman
  22. ^ Phillips, Michael. (1997) "Ethics & Manipulation in Advertising : Answering a Flawed Indictment." Greenwood Press. (page 6)
  23. ^ Packard


  • American Marketing Association Dictionary.
  • Bernays, Edward L. Public Relations. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1952. Print.
  • Bernays, Edward L., and Howard Walden. Cutler. The Engineering of Consent. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1955. Print.
  • Damasio, A.R.(2000)The Feeling of What Happens. Heinemann, London.
  • Green, Barbara.(2003) Product is no longer enough; smart marketers know the way to the wallet is through the heart. National Jeweler: 40+. General OneFile.
  • Heath,Robert.(2012)Seducing the Subconscious. Wiley Publishing
  • James,W.(1890) Principles of Psychology. Dover, New York.
  • Making the Emotional Connection.(2001) Brandweek. General OneFile.
  • Meenaghan, T. (1995), "The role of advertising in brand image development", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 4 No.4, pp. 23–34.
  • Packard, Vance. The Hidden Persuaders. New York: D. McKay, 1957. Print.
  • Phillips, Michael. (1997) "Ethics & Manipulation in Advertising : Answering a Flawed Indictment." Greenwood Press. (page 6)
  • Rossiter, John, and Steve Bellman.(2012) Emotional Branding Pays Off. Journal Of Advertising Research 52.3 (2012): 291-296. Communication & Mass Media Complete.
  • Westen, Drew (1999).The Scientific Status of Unconscious Processes: Is Freud Really Dead?. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 47 (4): 1061–1106. doi:10.1177/000306519904700404.