The Power of Words: Tactics Advertisers Use To Convince You To Spend (Emotion)

Advertising: love it or hate it, it’s persuasive in convincing us to choose one product or service over another or dissuade us from buying another’s. When you have allowed yourself to be persuaded to make one choice rather than an alternative, the choice you make is either on an appeal to your emotional state, or to stimulate you into thinking it is the logical choice.

When it comes to advertising, this interesting report on how advertisers manipulate our emotions  states that we are far more often led by emotion than by logic, and not by a small margin. Even when we think we’ve been persuaded by a rational argument and scientific terminology, it is still an emotional decision but that we have simply rationalised it to ourselves afterwards. Advertisers know this, that’s why they carefully choose the strike a balance with each advert and type of advert.

These are the most common form of persuasion in advertising using an emotional appeal. I will write a separate article for appeals to our rational selves in advertising.

Appeal to Emotion in Advertising

How do advertisers appeal to emotion? What sort of techniques and tactics do they use?

fear of missing out as an advertising strategy time limited offers

“FOMO”: The Fear of Missing Out

The fear of missing out is a powerful appeal to emotion. After all, who wants to be the one who was offered a bargain and passed it up only to decide they wanted the product later and had to pay a lot more for it? Who would dare to be the person who passed over a once in a lifetime opportunity, and let it slip away, never to return? The advertiser will use loaded words and terms, and concepts such as “if you don’t buy this soon, you’re going to miss out. All your friends will have one and you won’t” which also makes us not want to be part of the “out” crowd at the same time. Keeping up with the Joneses is part of aspiration and may have a biological basis as humans are social animals.

One common FOMO phrase you might hear a lot, especially around the January sales include “Hurry while stocks last”. This places a time limit on the thing they are offering you for virtually nothing. “Hurry and make a decision or it’ll be gone in no time”. The encouragement of a fast decision is one of the oldest and most effective forms of advertising.

On a similar note but perhaps not quite as aggressive is “Clearance sale” all stimulate the part of our brain that doesn’t want to be left out of the crowd by suggesting there is a limited number or a limited time to grab the bargain.

“Because You Deserve It”

Another form of emotional advertising appeals to our narcissistic selves. We all have that sense of self that thinks we deserve this, that or the other. We tell ourselves that yes, we do deserve this thing after the week we’ve had. This form of advertising is like the devil on the shoulder that encourages a little selfishness. Being selfish is not always a bad thing, sometimes we all need to have that “me” time.

advertising appeals to narcissism by encouraging indulgence
Ooh, go on, treat yourself to a cake you gorgeous, wonderful person you

But as an advertising strategy, it massages the ego and gives us the personal validation we crave to justify the expense of the luxury. It puts us at the centre of the universe, pats us on the back with a wink and says “ooh go on, you’ve worked really hard this year haven’t you? Nobody deserves a treat more than you do, you awesome, amazing fantastic person you.” Advertising is not our friend, but it pretends to be here. It may sound insidious, but while it works, advertisers are going to use it and while humans are largely narcissistic, even those who do regularly think of others, it will continue to be successful as an advertising method. Typically used for luxuries where they focus on creating a brand image of quality or indulgence.

David & Goliath

We do love an underdog, don’t we? Well, I know I do. President Snow from The Hunger Games doesn’t because it gives people hope. In the USA, you may find yourself drawn to the “Great American Dream” argument that anybody with an idea and drive can become rich doing it in the free market economy and in the market of ideas. it doesn’t matter who you are, if you put in the graft you too can become a millionaire because the country doesn’t have a class system. The American Dream is just that – emotion in advertising.

In the UK, we do things slightly differently with the sentiment but with the same outcome. We’ve nearly always cheered on the underdog. If the Faroe Islands played Brazil at football, we’d cheer on the Faroe Islands. Not because we have any particular dislike for Brazil, but because we don’t expect Faroe Islands to win. It’s the Rocky Balboa effect, I suppose.

Businesses who advertise in this way show you how big and successful they are by being small and sticking with their principles. They use terms like “traditional” and “family run” and usually state the year of their foundation. TV advertising might show a craftsman making the product the traditional way overlain with a sepia filter which then lifts – creating the idea that they’ve been around so long by sticking to rigid, core principles of a family run business. The organic produce industry has built its entire advertising strategy on a form of advertising like this – the smallholder, the entrepreneur with a dream going it alone.

You’re Over-Privileged, Now The Right Thing

Usually used by the charity sector, there is rarely any benefit to you to spend money on starving children in Africa – at least, nothing you can quantify and nothing your can personally gain from doing so.

That’s why they have to appeal to your altruism, doing the right thing. You’re more fortunate than these people (or these animals) suffering because of this situation. They also add in a dose of narcissism by using terms like “you can make a difference” and “will you help us?” It feels like a personal message when it is not, but in a way it puts you at the centre of the universe to think that you – and only you – can make this happen. All you need to do is give a small amount of money every month and you can turn this crying baby into a happy, smiley baby going to university to earn a degree in environmental engineering who will then turn around the fortunes of their people.

Mmm, Baby, Let’s Get in On…

Like it or not, sex sells. Sexiness sells. Seeing attractive celebrities and models, or just beautiful people not wearing many clothes and hinting at getting frisky will help sell that aftershave you will buy for your boyfriend/husband, this soap, shower gel, and the car. Soft drinks tell you that people will find you attractive and that’s arguably the most notable type of appealing to desirability.

But it’s not the only one. Do you want to be the envy of your friends? Do you want people (your boss, your colleagues, strangers) to notice you? Want to make that other girl in the office jealous? Want to go to that interview looking the part? Want to smell like David Beckham? Similar yet different from using sex as a selling point, there is also desirability (which does not necessarily have to be about sex).

  • If you wear this suit, you will dazzle the interviewers and get that job
  • If you wear this dress, you can be as fabulous as Carrie Bradshaw
  • If you do XYZ, people will look more favourably upon you

Can you think of any more examples of emotion-driven advertising? Or maybe some of your favourite ads. Please add them in the comments below.

Published by MG Mason Creative

I'm Matt, a freelance writer, writing mostly about education, early career recruitment, tech, B2B and professional services. Dabbling with landscape and nature photography too. For this content , please look at my main site linked below. I'm also a self-published author, creator of the quirky crime comedy book series Salmonweird. If that's what you're looking for, then good news! The village has its own website listed below.

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