There’s power in emotion, even when we don’t seem to care

by Guest Contributor Myles George | April 22, 2020

Author: Myles George

Myles George
NeedScope International

It seems frivolous to talk about branding issues with everything going on. But if there’s one thing many of us have more of these days it’s some extra thinking time. And when the current circumstances change, we'll benefit from taking time to pause and reflect. So, let’s take a few moments to think about emotion and the role it plays in branding.

For some categories this seems an obvious point to make. And here I’m thinking of categories like alcohol, cars or chocolate. No one would dispute the important role emotion plays in these. Less obvious are what we often call commodities. Like household utilities or perhaps insurance. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to get excited about choosing electricity suppliers. Likewise weighing up insurance options.

Habitual buying seems to define these categories. As consumers we’re reluctant to engage with them. We tend to tick our choices over and keep buying the same old brand. In Marketing and Insights, we seem to endorse this thinking too. We refer to these as ‘low involvement’ categories. From there it’s not too big a stretch to think that these categories lack emotion.


And therein lies the trap. By entertaining this thought we miss the emotive opportunity for powerful brand positioning and experiences. Don’t be fooled when consumers seem unengaged with your category. Consumer indifference often conceals rich emotions.

In truth we’d be hard pressed to find any category devoid of emotion. As humans we’re naturally emotional. Neuroscience shows the key role emotion plays in decision-making processes. But often we’re not aware of this emotion and its influence – it's subconscious. In research we use neuroscience and projective tools to uncover it.

Take bottled water for instance. There’s nothing that exciting about the product. It’s water. But water brands imbue themselves with emotion. Pump brings a vital, active kind of feeling. Contrast that with Volvic who convey a rarity and purity in their brand through their source story. Suddenly something that seemingly lacks emotion comes to life.

One of my favourite examples is for Glade, an air freshener brand. If like me you’re not particularly thrilled by air fresheners, check this out. A few years back Glade created an installation called the ‘museum of feelings’. Here people experienced a range of emotions based on Glade's fragrance range. Fragrance offers a rich transformational experience – that’s probably not apparent when you think of air fresheners…Glade Museum of Feelings.

Similarly, Surf managed to turn their performance around a few years back by tapping into the sensorial experience of fragrance.  The brand had lost value and meaning.  Through their ‘Gorgeous laundry for less’ campaign Surf managed to become the UK’s fastest growing FMCG brand.  In addition, through BrandZ we saw big increases in difference and meaning for Surf relative to other detergent brands. See the full case (subscription required).

Let’s come back to insurance.  Whilst it may not seem that exciting, peace of mind is at its heart.  And take GEICO the insurance brand.  They’re famous for using humour in their Ads to engage and attract customers.

So, what can we learn from this?

  1. Any category has emotion if you know how to find it
  2. Even the dullest product category can be more engaging through emotion

A surface of indifference often conceals powerful emotions beneath. But let’s not let that limit us. There’s always a rich vein of emotion we can tap. What low involvement categories can you think of?  What emotions might lie beneath? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Myles George, April 28, 2020
    @Ed C.  Yes - those are great examples.  Animation is so powerful when used like this.  I'm reminded too of Dulux and their use of the Old English Sheepdog as a brand mascot.  It's a similar idea.  You get instant emotion by association.
  2. Myles George, April 28, 2020
    @Didarul Hasan.  Thank you.  I didn't have that kind of comparison to hand for the article.  Great to hear of your own examples.  Often with food 'commodities' like these we have found it useful to focus on cooking aspirations as a way to help tell a compelling brand story - what kind of Chef do you aspire to be - Adventurous? Impressive? or Traditional?  That way an ingredient brand can align with different types of cook through their comms.  A great point of difference can then emerge in a category where the products are so similar.  
  3. Myles, April 28, 2020
    @philip Herr. Indeed! A classic recent example.  
  4. philip Herr, April 22, 2020
    Toilet (loo) Paper. No more need be said
  5. Didarul Hasan, April 22, 2020

    If you could share a few numeric about effective emotions versus not using emotions as triggers then we would have convinced further. This seems theoretical discussion a bit.

    However, we found in low involvement category products like salt, tea and oil also use emotions as triggers in communication and brand positioning. We have gained positive results as well in Bangladesh.

  6. Ed C, April 22, 2020
    Well said! I've worked with Life Insurance (a category people hope never to use) and MetLife's usage of Peanuts characters so many years was great. Musinex (for coughs) had weird/funny animated characters in their ads. Tires (leveraging the staple commodity of rubber) has seen the entertaining Michelin Man (aka Bib to insiders) represent their brand for over a century. Are MetLife / Musinex / Michelin better than their competitors? I won't answer that (just in case any of them are my clients) but their communication has given me a positive notion and good feeling they might be.

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