Game of Marketing: Appealing to emotions can be far more powerful than logic.

A study by Carnegie Mellon University found that when people put on their analytical hats, they tend to donate lesser to a charitable cause.

While logic helps us to make wiser choices, emotions drive bigger actions.

If you have a product that you feel is life-changing, it only makes sense that your customers should feel the same!

Think about how your product can appeal to your customer’s emotions, and you can begin to build true brand loyalty. And drive customers to talk about you with their friends.

According to Chip & Dan Heath’s made to Stick, one of the best ways ingrain a message is to make people feel strong emotions while engaging with it.

Consider the following ads by Nike which are focusing on an Individual.

This ad features an underdog, someone who isn’t special. Someone like us.

His similarity to us makes his story relatable, and we can feel his drive to succeed.

This is (part of) what makes a good narrative.

According to Made to Stick, eliciting emotions isn’t just about being a tear-jerker. It has to make people care about something.

When we feel and care for something, we’re much more willing to act.

This Nike ad challenges the mainstream understanding of “greatness”. Greatness isn’t a genetic trait, nor something possessed by a selected few.

An overweight boy then comes into focus, jogging slowly but never stopping. It tells us that achieving greatness is everyone’s game.

Focusing on the underdog, the common man, can be far more effective than the use of a celebrity. Celebrities are hard to relate to, while the underdog can be any one of us.

In particular, Chip and Dan highlight four ways to appeal to the emotional side of us:

  • Focus on an Individual – We feel more for a visceral picture of a starving kid than a “100 kids die from starvation daily” statistic.
  • Establish an Association – Allow people to associate something they do with something you want them to care about.
  • Appeal to one’s Self-interest – Tell customers what they stand to gain, not the features your product has.
  • Relate to one’s Identity – We buy things that appeal to our identity: who we are, and what we value.

One of the more effective ways of getting people to adopt your brand/message is to associate it with something they already care about.

This works well either for something that no longer has significant meaning, or something relatively new on the market.

Below is an interesting marketing campaign by Listerine – the self-made solution of bad breath:


Before Listerine was known as an antiseptic mouthwash, it was used for anything from cleaning floors to curing Gonorrhea.


But in the 1920s, Listerine started positioning themselves as a cure for chronic halitosis, aka bad breath.

Their ads dramatized how people were turned off by those with bad breath, then presenting Listerine as the solution.

Even though bad breath wasn’t a big deal then, Listerine became a multimillion dollar company in less than 10 years.

Listerine essentially made bad breath a problem, and then sold the problem-solver.

What is your motivation? What makes a message memorable? Which ads would be more effective; the ones in acted by the celebrities or by the common person?

Author: Akau Alier & Shitanshu Singh


42 thoughts on “Game of Marketing: Appealing to emotions can be far more powerful than logic.

  1. Everyone cares about their oral hygiene and listerine understands exactly how uncomfortable bad breath is to many people. i am not a lover of listerine brand but their ads clearly isolates bad breath as problematic and offer a solution. clearly, it makes sense because no one would want to cause discomfort to others as far as body odor is concerned.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the points that you make on how to appeal to the emotional side and I have to agree with those. If I think about the number of different charities, the ones that I tend to support are those that focus on supporting individuals, there is some sort of association and relates to my values. I don’t mind celebrities being part of the charity but I want them to do more than be on a TV ad. I need them to be involved with the charity as much as I am.

    Liked by 2 people

    • true; an ad that shows thousand kids or adults starving and appeal for financial help has different emotional response from me because i feel their problems are too big for individual meagre donation. conversely, if I see an ad specifically appealing and showing a needy kid and his/her living conditions well spelt, i would definitely support that because I would think my small help can help change that situation.


      • I have never thought about it this way but it definitely makes sense. I suppose that is why World Vision gets you to Sponsor a Child. Your donations are much more personable and help someone specifically.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What motivates me to buy a product when I see it being advertised is if it is something that appeals to me and I know that it will benefit me in some ways. I agree with what you say that using an ordinary person in an ad can sometimes be more effective than using a celebrity because seeing an ordinary person achieve something like in your two Nike ads makes that achievement more realistic than if it was a celebrity doing the ad.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I definitely prefer to receive these messages from a common man than a celebrity. By doing this I am drawn in emotionally and perhaps a bit more ‘vulnerable’ to giving to a charity. Also focusing on the underdog increases my interests.

    Over all the 4 points Chip and Dan brought up were great and tell you a lot about human nature. Great work with the article.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I found that article really interesting and well written. Particularly Chip and Dan’s Individual, Association, Self Interest and Identity. I find the ‘Workplace Safe’ ads appeal to my emotions and get their point across well. They are ordinary people who could be your family or your friends. It makes you realise that it is in everyones self interest to keep work places safe. In other cases celebrities may be better endorsements though. For example, a top Australian sports person endorsing a particular brand of sporting equipment.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. That was a very interesting blog. Especially the history on listerine, which i’d previously had no idea about.

    I think that what makes an ad most effective is having something that the audience can relate to. Although it might capture the audience a bit more having a relative celebrity involved. I find that i’ll retain and be more impacted on ads that involve the common person, as it’s someone i can relate to as oppose to a celebrity.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Strongly agree, I think people are becoming more motivated than common man in advertisements than celebrities one of the reason is that celebrities are known to act for money so they are seen selling anything from an underwear to supercars, feels like they are just some mannequin in a clothing store only used for better display but has no knowledge about the product, whereas even though regular people can also be paid but they are still looked upon as trustworthy people because they are regular people like you and me. Even experts in their field are also looked upon as a more authentic source such as a dentist recommending a toothpaste rather than a celebrity.

    Liked by 2 people

    • oh! your comment here relate to me especially experts being seen authentic in recommending products. I take any ad where a doctor/pharmacist show and say good things about products medicinal. i relate to them a lot and could prompt product’s purchase if what they advertised is what I agree to solve my conditions.


      • I agree. This has a lot to do with the credibility factor. A dentist is going to be much more credible selling you toothpaste than any actor will.

        Interestingly enough though, there are lots of rules and regulations related to Dentists/doctors or any health professional endorsing themselves or their products.


  8. I think this is a great article, and I believe that there is a place for both common folk to advertise and for celebrates to advertise. even though the celebrates are doing it for the money, there is a psychological part of us that want to buy that product because we like the celebrity and want to look as good as them. However I also agree with my fellow colleges that using common folk in ads does make things a bit more real. One ad that always gets me and evidence showed that it really worked was the smoking ad. I dont know if any of remembers the ad where the mother leaves her child for a minute at a train station. And basically the ad was saying that that’s how kids feel when you die of a smoking related illness. People were in uproar about whether the producers of the ads actually performed the ad for recall as they felt it was not right. However evidence showed that after the ad was aired there was a large percentage of people who stopped smoking. I am not a smoker but I couldn’t believe that any parent would do that to their child.


    • My mum tells a story about when we were young, my father and her didn’t give up smoking until my siblings and I hung ‘No Smoking’ signs on the front door! So many of those messages don’t hit home until they are made more personal. I think the same applies to the traffic authority advertisements – the most memorable of those (and the ones that hit home the most) were the ones making the people easier to relate to. I recall an episode of the Gruen Transfer where they discussed road safety and one of the key messages was how important it is to get past the scale of statistics and make the message more personal.


  9. Those ads showed good example how to motivate people’s emotion to make the purchase, everyone want to be successful and famous, these ads give them a “easier way” to accomplish it. Make people less logic thinking but more emotional thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • you are absolutely right! Regular people: give credibility because they are like us and may not be getting paid to appear in the ads. while celebrities endorsements are subject to one’s reputation and may not relate to many ordinary people. companies spend hell lots of money to make them appear in the ads. emotional ads translate easily to actions especially purchasing decisions.


  10. I really enjoyed reading your blog. Nike have had many effective ad campaigns over the years – I especially like “there’s a beginning, a middle and another beginning”. However nothing in the Nike marketing campaigns actually compels me to select a Nike product over any other brand name. I essentially purchase a product on price / quality instead of the label.


    • haha!! you and I share the same reasons and motivations to why we purchase products. i simply buy because I really need the product, follow by quality and purchase price. Adverts help only if I were struggling to find the location/store of that particular product that I really need.


  11. Very interesting article. I prefer the advertisement by normal people than celebrities because it looks like it is achievable. That kid in the Nike ads can do it, why can’t we? I like the comments made by @rachelmulengar. Ordinary people in the ads make it more realistic.
    The memorable ads for me is the one that touch my heart. I still can’t forget with one of the ads by Coca Cola (mentioned in previous blog) – “Hello Happiness”. Coca cola wants to increase their sales but also give happiness to the consumers at the same time.

    This ads fits into one of Chip and Dan’s four way which is “self-interest”. Coca cola does not show their product features but it gives what customers can get from buying their product. I think even if Coke drink does not have good taste, Dubai’s workers will still buy the products so they can get cheap phone call to their family back home.


  12. Very interesting post! Well done!
    I think the common man is based on feedback from real consumers. Whether using celebrities or a common man relates to how the message is delivered. A trained actor will be able to deliver the message with less effort and with more believability. However actors limit the length of time a campaign can run, star power rarely lasts as long as a product’s does. Therefore, in order to touch the target consumers, the character or personality must resonate with the target. Celebrities are not loved by all, and sometimes they can’t fit consumers’ direction. It is important to remember that campaigns are meant to run for a long period of time. As a result, with a common man, consumers will not have judgments initially as to some celebrities they dislike. More important, emotional and touching images and ads are loved by most people, but not always the case for celebrities.


  13. I think the Running Man ad by Nike is a very different strategy for them. To be honest, I cannot recall any Nike ads that have made an emotional connection with me and off the top of my head I can’t say I recall any Nike ads at all. In saying this, i do buy Nike products. I think its more the branding and quality of the product that draws me in.

    The Running Man ad didn’t particularly inspire me. It made me a bit sad for the runner but still hopeful for him.


    • You’re right that it is a different focus for Nike, but for me, the running man ad is quite inspiring. Reminds me of a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote – ‘What lies before us and what lies behind us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us’. Yes, it is probably a different tact strategically for Nike, but to my mind it does serve to make the brand more accessible and open up a potentially new market for them. The question is whether this would alienate their existing, performance focused client base. A little incongruent with the high profile sponsorships, endorsements and celebrity advertising they have traditionally utilised.


      • I don’t believe this ad would alienate their existing performance based client base as I believe it appeals to a wide audience.

        The strategy differs from their usual campaigns as there is nothing to aspire to. Yes, the young man is brave and having a go but he hasn’t yet succeeded. Aspirational content is a huge brand driver for Nike and this campaign slightly veers of course.


  14. I really like your blog, it is very interesting. In my opinion, to judge whether an advertising is successful or not, the key is does it catch audience emotion? Most of audience loves advertising before they loves product. How makes audience loves advertising. As your mentioned on your blog “logic helps us to make wiser choices, emotions drive bigger actions”, I am strongly agree with you.
    The audiences should be specific, people who might become future customer should be as target. When an advertising achieve this target, I think it will make impress for audience, and easy to let people accept product. But I think it is hard to say a Celebrities or the common man will make ads efficiency, because this is decided by the background of the product. Like a small company’s product, people have not know their company yet. Their product is not very convincing. In this situation, a celebrities maybe more effective than a common man.


  15. really liked your blog! the ads by Nike are amazing they touch a person’s heart. and they induce them to buy Nike shoes as people can relate to them very closely i agree to the point u made that having a celebrity in an ad is not important its how closely u can relate to a person watching the ad. i think the emotional ads are the best way to create your reputation and induce your product to be bought and this can further take shape of loyalty, if people keep on associating themselves closely to the brand.


  16. Great blog! You did try to catch the common nerve there. I feel we like what we see if at certain level we can identify with it. n yes the emotional connect comes more easily if the ad features common people then celebrities.
    But for luxury things like cars, sports brands, watches, fragrances I guess celebrity association helps more than the ad featuring common people. Why so?


  17. what motivates me depends on my current needs and wants. An ad that re-enforces my needs actually push much me towards buying the product. I ignore most ads but not the ones that coincidently talk about the product which I was really in need of. Price on the other hand may only delay my purchase decision.


  18. Interesting and well structured blog. I think the Nike ads are great. As a consumer’s these ads move me to think of that brand if I was looking for running equipment or sports equipment. Yes, they would probabley move me to go and exercise as well. They also appeal to my sense equity that I can make a difference and I don’t have to be a sports champion to make a difference.


  19. Interesting read, especially about the history of Listerine. I liked the seeming simplicity of the four ways to appeal to the emotional side of viewers. I don’t watch much in the way of ads now much remember with clarity an ad I watched as a small child which depicted a small child from the African continent curled up and crying from hunger – it horrified me at the time – I certainly hope someone reached out to that child after filming them. Emotions can certainly make for a long lasting memory and if associated with a brand makes for great marketing. If I had seen the Nike ad of the running man – I certainly would have had empathy for them – and held out hope for them too.


  20. Consumer psychology has a large part to play in getting marketing right. The question for me is not what motivates me as a consumer but as marketers, what is the best way to understand the psychology of your target market?

    Theory talks about customer surveys and data analysis (Iacobucci, 2013) , but how to really understand your customer and what motivates them to purchase your product or service is more than that. It is about the data and feedback but also making assumptions based on experiences.

    Advertising obviously works but customer experience also plays a huge part for me. I used to buy Nike, i still love their videos but found the experience shopping of lululemon far superior than walking into Rebel Sports. They ask my name, they are attentive so i am prepared to pay more.

    I never see them advertise and found out about them by word of mouth and have not looked back.

    Not a simple question nor a simple answer.


  21. Many thanks for your article, which I found it an interesting read. Surely creating emotional attachments between individuals and brands is a necessity for generating loyal customers. Having said that, the Carnegie Mellon University’s research that you’ve mentioned, addresses the effect of reason and emotion in participation in charitable cause. Purely relying on what you have included from the research and due to the lack of referencing in your blog, I would say the proposed research is primarily concerned about charitable causes, therefore their findings should not be fully extended to marketing brands.

    In regards to the argument of common man vs celebrities, Nike has employed both strategies. Most famously they have used celebrity endorsements by Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Rafael Nadal, etc. In my opinion, the decision to chose either strategy has a lot to do with the target market (eg. teenagers mostly look-up to their role models and celebrity idols), cultural and geographical contexts (eg. in some countries and cultures people love their celebrities, in others they are more indifferent) and the time of the campaigns (eg. I assume it would be a wiser choice for NIKE to showcase Cristiano Ronaldo in their campaigns during the World Cup season).


  22. Great blog! Like others have already commented, I think both the common person and the celebrity can have an impact depending on what is being advertised. I agree that making people feel strong emotions helps them to engage. The memorable ads to me are those that are either scary or sad, I can always remember them years later because of the way they made me feel. I don’t think I would go out and buy Nike products from seeing their ads regardless of whether they use a celebrity or a common person, but I would be more inclined to donate money when seeing the starving children and the water they are forced to drink because it creates a sense of sadness and appeals to my emotions.


  23. Great blog, very interesting. I’m definitely motivated by Word of Mouth (WOM) and will often scan the internet for reviews and feedback from everyday consumers e.g. Whirlpool and Product Review web sites. Like lots of people I’m automatically sceptical when I know money has exchanged hands. A celebrity is just a paid actor and many will say or do anything, if the price is right. Given my tendency to review feedback on the web, I’m now beginning to wonder whether organisations are planting people (or moles) on the net in order to give positive feedback in exchange for payment.

    In regards to what makes a message memorable, I seem to gravitate towards the use of humour or clever cinematography as I’m always looking for a fun or cleaver distraction from what is often a very busy and serious day.

    Great ad:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well i absolutely agree with the fact that celebrities are just paid actors and they will do anything for the right price. And, in most of the cases they don’t even know what they are promoting.

      I liked your point about the cinematography thing. If the ads are interesting, full of life and humor they will lighten your mood and distract your mind from other horrible thoughts.


  24. I do agree that one of the most effective ways to get people involved to accept your brand message is to associate it with something that they really care,which directly has positive impact on the products or service promotion in the market.Specifically, individuals select meaningful information by themselves and they pay more attention about what they care rather than what they do not care, thus how to combine integrated communication with people’s needs is very critical for their memories and it creates new customers as well.


  25. Thanks for your blog. Very interesting. The Nike ads is really good, and opposite to the normal Nike ads. Nike does use different ad campaigns to catch multiple people’s eyes. I am certainly one of Nike’s loyal customer.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Great article! I can see there are already a lot of interesting comments above. I especially liked the sentence “While logic helps us to make wiser choices, emotions drive bigger actions.” For me this is totally true! Because when we’re honest we mostly do not make wise but emotional choices, right? A good example for that is impulse buyin. Those are usually not very wise 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely right. Things are changing around the world. People have started thinking logically before buying any product, doesn’t matter how you are portraying the advertisement. But, when it comes to something which is close to a consumer’s heart or something which will bring change to the society they react emotionally rather than logically.


  27. Well I have to agree with one of the comments before – celebrities are a good way to promote a product or a service but moreover they make everything for money and a good price 😉 The subject of emotion in advertising tends to bring certain types of commercials to mind: those featuring touching or heart-rending vignettes, cooing babies, or romping puppies. Too often an emotional response to advertising is thought to be one that elicits tears or smiles. But in fact, every ad generates an emotional response, because everything we encounter in life generates an instinctive emotional response. And so in this way, emotion is more important than most advertisers realize. The generation of emotion is crucial for successful marketing. Many brands benefit from an association with positive emotions. However, the fact that the most successful brands tend to have a balanced set of associations and rational strengths, should not be ignored 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  28. good post! I would say companies should be advertising using a common man rather than a celeb. Rightly mentioned in your blog, a viewer will get induced into buying if the product is related to a common man as they will be on the same grounds as them.
    everyone has emotions and preparing ads with emotions is a good way to reach out to the audience.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I can’t think of many media campaigns that don’t use emotive triggers in advertising these days? Whether it’s in the form of colour, music, topic and/or humour these triggers are extremely important to the conveyance of messages to consumers. I guess the types of emotions and perception they want their product/service identified with really dictate the type of advert i.e. Coke want consumer to associate their product with happiness, so all colours, music and the rest work to that overall theme.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well yes i agree with the fact that most of the media houses are using emotional tactis to lure customers. It’s just they have realized that today people want to see things which are close to their heart or something which is good for society.
      Every Marketing strategist of a brand is doing the same stuff, like Coke associating with Happiness. Similarly, Nike and other sports brand are associating their Ads with either motivation, hard work or with some underdogs and common people. Thats how the market is working these days.


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