Connecting the Dots Between Emotions and Ad Creative


  • Emotions have always been a leading factor in our decision-making process (especially when it comes to how we spend our money.)
  • Brand loyalty is being redefined in recent years around how much audiences can emotionally relate to the businesses they love.
  • The best way to drive action in modern advertising is by connecting with your target audience on an emotional level.

Back in 2016, Innisfree, a Korean beauty brand, went viral thanks to an in-store shopping innovation.

They gave their customers the option between two different styles of hand-held shopping baskets. If you needed help from a customer service representative, you could pick an orange-labeled basket that would telegraph to the rep that you’d like their assistance. But if you know exactly what you’re looking for, you could opt for a green-labeled basket that’ll tell everyone in the store, “Don’t worry, I got this.”

Ingenious, right? Rather than having their support team hover over shopper’s shoulders–instigating anxiety in those who might not want a sales pitch–Innisfree did something few brands even try to do. They reached their customers by expressly not trying to reach them.

Through the lens of the advertising industry, that advice sounds a little counterintuitive, right? Not so much.

Advertising–from digital to TV–is notoriously disliked. It shouldn’t come as a shock that a lot of people still use ad blockers on their browsers and time bathroom trips during commercial breaks. Certain industry leaders are trying to change the public perception of adland, but there’s a major lesson to be learned from Innisfree’s success story. Rather than trying to reach your audience through brazen sales pitches or product demos, try a novel approach like instigating an emotional connection between your ads and your potential customers.

But the importance of emotional connection goes a step beyond getting audiences hooked on your product or service. It can be a major driver in getting your audience engaged with your brand in a wholly modern way. Because now more than ever, consumers are buying from businesses that align with their own viewpoints and values. An eMarketer report found that, in 2020, 53% of respondents felt an emotional connection to the brands they buy from the most. By 2022, that number had jumped to 62%.

Let’s dive into why.

Why Now?

In May 2020, eMarketer surveyed B2B marketers in the U.S. and found ​​26.5% were shifting the focus of their content marketing goals to creating an emotional connection with their target audience. 

The short answer to why this is happening should be evident. We’ve been living in emotionally tumultuous times over the last two years, leading to an increased need for emotional connections in all aspects of our lives. 

But there’s more going into our increased appetite for emotionally resonant content than just the COVID-19 pandemic. As mentioned on Hubspot,

“I think what’s happened is that the ad industry has spent the last decade celebrating bitterness and cynicism and being mean to people. For a while it was great because it was different from everyone else, and then it became a trend and people got sick of it. It wasn’t funny or interesting anymore. So when things started to pop with a totally opposite voice, the customers totally reacted.”

PJ Pereira, Chief Creative Officer, Pereira & O’Dell

What Pereira is describing is a form of ad fatigue, just on a much larger scale. Maybe a better phrasing would be “trend fatigue.” After years of relishing in the jaded vibes championed by Gen-X–itself a reaction to the saccharine sentimentality of their Baby Boomer forebears–the next generation grew tired of the trend of emotionally-distant pessimism in entertainment and advertising. 

As we entered the internet age that gave way to a more connected world, millennials demanded an authentic approach to advertising that could engage with deeper emotions than simply “Buy now before it’s too late!” This shift has even redefined what “brand loyalty” means. As an eMarketer report discovered, 41% of consumers define brand loyalty as feeling a deep emotional connection to a brand. It’s now not enough just to show how your product solves a problem in a customer’s lives: you need to show how your brand fits into their lives

Why Do Emotional Connections Work?

Here’s the thing about emotions: they’ve always been a central player in how we make decisions, whether that’s what to get for dinner or if buying a 50” tall skeleton from Spirit Halloween was a smart investment. According to Psychology Today,

“Emotion is a necessary ingredient to almost all decisions. When we are confronted with a decision, emotions from previous, related experiences affix values to the options we are considering. These emotions create preferences, which lead to our decision.”

Antonio Damasio, Neuroscientist

This is proof that some form of emotional resonance must be present in your ads to drive the most action. It doesn’t necessarily matter what kind of emotion you are leveraging–though certain emotions do perform better than others. What’s important is that you are making some impact on your audience through an emotion, whether it’s joy, fear, sorrow, or contempt. 

As mentioned in Psychology Today, “Advertising research reveals that the consumer’s emotional response to an ad has a far greater influence on their reported intent to buy a product than does the ad’s content—by a factor of 3-to-1 for television commercials and 2-to-1 for print ads.” Similarly, a 2013 report of shopping behavior in the United Kingdom found that 81.6% of respondents that felt an emotional connection to a brand or retailer made them “A Lot More Likely” to “A Bit More Likely” to make a purchase.

In response to this deeply divided moment in history, consumers want brands to share common emotional values on social and political issues. As Psychology Today noted, “Research reveals that consumers perceive the same type of personality characteristics in brands as they do in other people. And just like with people, they are attracted more to some personality types than others—attractions which are emotion-based, not rational.”

Often this kind of emotional connection in advertising is called “Purpose Marketing.” Marketing and advertising is typically produced to build a brand’s identity by communicating certain values and aspirations among consumers that will encourage them to buy the product or service of the brand. Purpose marketing is essentially based on the same objectives, however, the communication includes a clear positioning on certain issues in society that the brand wants to change. 

One purpose-driven marketing campaign for #ThisGirlCan surfaced emotions in the viewer that led directly to the positive outcomes the campaign was striving for–from a 98% positive social sentiment and 1.5 million social interactions that were able to drive 1.6 million women to start exercising. These are the kinds of results you’ll get when you prioritize establishing an emotional connection in your advertising.

Emotional Connections in Action

“After a major bank introduced a credit card for Millennials that was designed to inspire emotional connection, use among the segment increased by 70% and new account growth rose by 40%.”

Harvard Business Review

“Campaigns with purely emotional content performed about twice as well (31% vs. 16%) as those with only rational content (and did a little better than those that mixed emotional and rational content).”

Fast Company

“Within a year of launching products and messaging to maximize emotional connection, a leading household cleaner turned market share losses into double-digit growth.

Harvard Business Review


It doesn’t take long for a viewer to decide whether or not they like your ad. As Tom Welbourne, founder and director at The Good Marketer, described it to The Drum, “It can take less than three seconds for us to have a gut reaction to something, which leaves us with lasting impressions and a predisposition to taking a similar course of action in future.” 

This sense of action is the most important emotion to instigate in your ads. As Hubspot described,

“Perhaps the most important characteristic of emotions is that they push us toward action. In response to emotion, humans are compelled to do something. In a physical confrontation, fear forces us to choose between fight or flight to ensure our self-preservation. In our daily social confrontations, insecurity may cause us to buy the latest iPhone to support our positive self-identity.”

After experiencing an event that caused the world to see the true value in emotional connections, it’s no wonder that advertisers have begun to see the value of leveraging emotions to effectively and authentically develop loyalty for your brand.

And hey, how many marketing tactics do you know that are backed by clinical psychology?

Yeah, that’s what we thought.

Subscribe to the MNTN Research Weekly

Sign up to receive a weekly feed of curated research, sent straight to your inbox.