In marketing, we talk a lot about convincing the target audience to click or convert or follow, but we don’t like to discuss how. There are half a dozen blogs and infographics out there that claim to give you “The Top 50 Most Clicked Headlines,” or the color of the highest-converting CTA. Though those are all useful bits of knowledge, they ignore the how and the why. So I’m going to tell you the secret that everyone knows, but no one likes to emphasize: the key to a successful advertising campaign is emotional bonding. Create a story that your personas can relate to empathetically, and you’ve halfway convinced them that you are worth their time. Simple right? And yet, marketers hide behind data and statistics like the emotions are merely an afterthought.

Maybe because an overt emphasis on emotion makes marketing seem manipulative or lacking in strategic thought. In actuality, it takes a great deal of both emotional and tactical intelligence to blend both seamlessly into a campaign. As a marketer, I know I’ve hit the nail on the head when I convey the right message to the right people in the right way. There’s pride in knowing that you’ve told a story well; manipulation is the furthest thing from my mind. Let’s take a look at some examples of how companies have used an emotional connection to enhance the storytelling in their advertising.

The Story of Sarah & Juan

I’m not going to lie, when I first saw The Story of Sarah & Juan, I cried. This commercial spot has a story so well-crafted, that I sometimes find myself getting whimsically sentimental when I see a silver gum wrapper (and if you ask anyone in this office, "sentimental" will not be a word that comes up when describing me). Though the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company airs the ad in a shortened version, the full slot is posted onto YouTube. This video has nearly 19 million views, 70 thousand shares, and has driven over 1000 subscribers. Let’s take a minute to absorb that: over 1000 people subscribed to a YouTube channel on CHEWING GUM. 


Now, let’s take a look at Extra’s personas: who chews gum? Children opt for cloying tastes or fun packaging, like Wrigley’s Hubba Bubba bubble gum. Some will chew out of habit—smokers trying to break the oral fixation, for example—or to relieve stress. But the vast majority of people chew gum for hygiene. There are gums out there that promise to remineralize enamel or whiten teeth. Extra does neither of these things; instead, this product focuses on freshness. Why would you want fresher breath? Maybe it's to bring someone closer. In this framework, using the romance of these fictional characters to further brand identity makes perfect sense.

The Takeaway: Appeal to why your customers come to you.

Stories of Hope, Stories of Fear

While the saccharine tale of The Story of Sarah and Juan pulls at the heartstrings, it’s not for everyone. Harley-Davidson, for example, has built their brand around stereotypical masculinity and toughness. Can you imagine Harley rolling out a sentimental ad campaign? They would alienate half their customers! That’s why their series of print ads on Nazi-Era Czechoslovakia are widely touted as some of the best in the industry.


Image Source

The series consists of stark, black and white photos that emulate the images we’ve seen in history books, but the combination of high resolution and point of view in the image bring the scenarios to life. The ads beg the viewer to associate hidden motorcycle parts with refugees. On the print ad is a short, digestible blurb in a typeface that is reminiscent of the time period. In this series, the image comes first and the text second, but the story remains strong throughout. This works in three ways:

    • It relies on a thematic trope to create striking images that evoke strong feelings of fear
    • It provides a narrative to place the image within context.
    • The narrative supports the brand.

Alone, the image isn’t enough; though it is by far the most arresting element of this ad, it merely sets the scene for the overall storyline. In this narrative, Harley speaks to the indomitable spirit of the motorcycle lover. Notice the appeal here is broad; they have chosen a time period and event that is familiar and yet far enough removed from personal experience that it avoids the risk of appearing too emotional. It treads the fine line of emotion and intelligence that most advertisers can only hope for.

The Takeaway: Sometimes the best way to connect is through a negative emotion (as long as you’re careful).

… So Get Emotional Already!

Marketing begins with attraction. I like to think of it as dating: you’re attracted; you go on a date. Sometimes the initial attraction wears off and you part ways; sometimes you genuinely connect and set off together into your Happily Ever After. The goal of so many marketers these days is to get to that first date when the goal should really be Happily Ever After. If your customers connect with you, they’re more likely to stay loyal to your brand throughout their lifetime. What better way to prove that you understand them and their needs than to appeal to their emotions?

How do you connect emotionally with your target audience? Are you sure that you're properly aligned? To properly connect with your target audience start by developing your buyer personas with this handy free workbook

Get Persona Workbook


Originally published March 9, 2016, updated February 6, 2020
Tags: marketing campaign personas Advertising video