Why ads high on emotion work best

Fiona Field argues strongly in favour of advertisers that engage consumers’ hearts when trying to entice them to buy brands

There are moments when you know a campaign has hit the jackpot. One evening, I got a message on the family WhatsApp group and the picture that greeted me was of my father-in-law at the cinema, having stepped inside the life-size Barbie Box with the caption ‘Grandpa Ken!’

The activation in question was created to promote Barbie the movie where Warner Bros, through a combination of leveraging nostalgia and using media in a more creative way, captured the public’s imagination and delivered record-breaking figures for Ireland. It is a reminder of the impact that can be achieved when brands look to entertain and engage consumers emotionally.

Winning attention in the current climate is infinitely more challenging when brands are seeking to build lasting impressions, especially given the disparate way in which people consume media. In the ever-evolving marketing landscape brands that connect emotionally will benefit from being both memorable and shareable. Why then do more brands not tap into the power of emotion?

Renowned marketer Peter Field was in Dublin recently for a Radiocentre Ireland seminar. Field spoke passionately about the six rules of sustainable long-term effectiveness. Second on the list was the need to engage emotionally. The evidence is overwhelmingly clear in support of investing more budget in emotional advertising over rational rhetoric.

Or, in other words, make me like the brand as opposed to convincing me of all the many functional reasons why I should choose to purchase. However, despite all the research showcasing the value of emotional marketing on profitability, the average ad reel has a long way to go. “It’s really expensive to be dull,” Field insisted, “and if you are, you’re wasting your media money”.

Rational messaging has its place in the advertising eco-system, but brands should evaluate how much of their budget is directed at appealing to our emotions and examine how they can push out the boat further’ – Fiona Field

It has taken over a decade for his and Les Binet’s work to be heard. Most marketers understand the need to balance brand and tactical, but with boardroom pressures and an industry that focuses on short-term gains, the findings need to be re-enforced time and again.

The temptation to fall back and over-invest in tactical campaigns in preference to more emotive messaging lurks around the corner like a bad habit ready to pounce. One could liken it to a crash diet; it will work but only in the short term. Let’s be honest; which type of advertising is more memorable? The ad that made you laugh, or the one that listed three reasons to purchase?

On a wing and a prayer: How high can Lowe go? The Aer Lingus social team managed to achieve just under a million impressions with this post around its partnership as the IRFU’s official airline for the Ireland team at the Rugby World Cup in France. The post was shared across multiple media outlets to a combined total of 2.2 million followers.

One brand that has mastered the art of tapping into the power of emotion is Specsavers. The platform ‘Should have gone to Specsavers’ serves by giving the brand more personality to resonate with its target audience. The brand did it at Electric Picnic with a poster strategically placed welcoming the audience to ‘Longitude’, which later earned a raft of praise and sharing on social media.

Major events such as the Rugby World Cup in France brought out the best of emotional marketing. The ad breaks lit up and much of the work mirrored the hopes of a nation. It was a joy to watch as brands go shoulder to shoulder powering on the country (well almost!). Aer Lingus used images of the players’ names on the plane wings on social platforms, driving more earned media.


McDonald’s ably used the power of emotion with its ‘Raise your Arches’ campaign. With not a burger in sight, McDonald’s tapped into our emotions using the power of suggestion by showing a group of office workers raising their eyebrows at the chance of going for a sneaky Big Mac. The ad is set to the iconic music, ‘Oh Yeah’ by Yello, made famous in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

The latest take on McDonald’s famous golden arches was playful while demonstrating oodles of personality for the brand. System One’s research into right and left brain thinking shows the power of emotional over rational messaging in eliciting a better consumer response.

Campaigns that have strong insights at their foundation and those that can tap into our emotions – whether that be joy, anger, sadness, or hope – will dominate. It is worth quoting the line shared by the American poet Maya Angelou, who once famously remarked: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Fiona Field is managing director of OMD








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