KHWS Blog: Emotional Versus Rational Marketing

Emotional vs rational marketing – getting the balance right


As buying decisions and product selection are largely based on hard-wired mental shortcuts, we take a closer look at the role of brand emotion when talking to your audience.

Broadly speaking, marketing comms sits on a spectrum of two strategies: emotional appeal that targets the consumer’s heart (how we feel about something) and a rational appeal which engages the mind (logic and reasoning). In simpler terms, this can be the difference between selling a product versus an emotional connection.

But which approach is most effective? And which do you employ when? Well, the two aren’t mutually exclusive and either can be dialled up depending on audience, objectives and situation.

Whilst it can seem that product-led comms are crucial to driving sales, they don’t often convey the story that many brands are seeking. Of course, a product-led approach can drive hard and measurable sales, but with a more engaged consumer brands need to be smarter to drive loyalty and look beyond being purely informative.

We’ve taken a look back at brands that have had some of the most successful marketing campaigns leveraging this aspect of emotion over a focus on their product alone:

1. Cadbury ‘Drumming Gorilla’

Initially shot down by execs, this advert is one of the most successful in history and not a product in sight. The brief was ‘Eating Cadbury’s chocolate makes you feel good’ and that’s exactly how this advert made consumers feel.

2. Dove’s ‘Choose Beautiful’

Based on research that most women feel they are inadequate, Dove’s 2015 campaign shows women that beauty is a choice that they can be in control of.

3. John Lewis ‘Moz the Monster’

We really could use any of the John Lewis Christmas campaigns as an example here, but this shows how the brand uses Christmas as an opportunity to emotionally align with their audience, rather than explicitly promoting offers and products.

4. Bisto ‘Together Project’

By becoming advocates of a proper meal together as a family, Bisto positioned themselves not only as a gravy product but as a brand with values affiliated with their audience.

5. McCain ‘We are family’

McCain showed its audience that they understand the landscape is changing and that there is no longer a ‘one size fits all’ depiction of family.

We understand that there are a number of other variables at play – like the fact most people seek the opinion of others before making a purchase. However, getting the emotional/rational balance right is an important factor in the modern age of advertising, so to ensure you hit the brief, why not consider the following when creating your next marketing campaign:

  • What is the desired response?
  •  The persona of the target audience and their need-state
  •  Level of engagement with current audience
  • What channel the communication will be using – i.e. if it’s trade press, it will likely be more product (rational) focused, whereas consumer-facing channels will more likely be brand focused.