Building brand emotion

by | 2 Feb, 2018 | General

Brands rest in our hearts and minds. Familiar products are instantly recognisable and understood, triggered in our brains by heuristics (signals or shortcuts) that summon up past experiences and knowledge to guide our choices and purchasing. The favoured ones earn our trust and loyalty, often through their rational qualities such as distinct and consistent product performance. Some evoke strong emotions too which influence our behaviour and which competitors will struggle to replicate.

At a 2017 seminar at the Museum of Brands in London, David Golding, co-founder and chief strategy officer of communications agency adam&eveDDB, producer of iconic campaigns for the likes of John Lewis, Volkswagen and Lloyds Bank, explained how his agency works to build and deepen emotional connections and responses.

“What we try to do is to build emotion for these brands,” says Golding.  “Not every brand needs a great big tearjerker, because that’s not right for that brand.  We have to work out what is the best emotion for each brand and try and create some emotional connection in almost everything that we do.”

In linking a brand to a particular emotion, he explained, it is important to understand what preoccupies people.   For example, many people are feeling a little uncertain at present and they want to hear how a brand can provide some certainty and reassurance. This therefore is a good time for that particular message.

A company’s employees can be a good resource in figuring out what a brand stands for. “If you’re unsure, do a focus group with these people and they will give you a very quick response” on whether a piece of work fits with the brand, says Golding.

Golding described and gave examples of 11 elements that his firm has learned in building brand emotion for clients in its campaigns:

1.Tell stories – narratives are better than vignettes. The idea of having a lot of different vignettes in an advert in order to talk to a lot of different people in one’s target audience does not work, says Golding.  “The truth is, they won’t feel anything.  Vignettes are just a way of cutting up a story that then no one will have feelings about.”  Golding’s personal favourite ‘story’ campaign was John Lewis’s ‘The Long Wait’

2. Think small – the more real and intimate the insight, the more emotional the response. “What you have to do is find a very small, very real, tiny insight, and turn that into a big campaign,” says Golding.  Volkwagen pioneered a ‘think small’ advert in the late 1950s and 1960s, and has continued to pursue similar ‘small insight’ brand campaigns

3. Change the emotional direction. “Try to find an emotion that isn’t the typical one,” says Golding, “and you might unlock a different way of doing it.”  Golding pointed to the Harvey Nichols 2013 Christmas campaign Sorry, I Spent It on Myself, which played to the emotion of receiving rather than simply giving at Christmas.

4. Use laughter. “Laughter is still the best and strongest emotion, and the industry could do with more funny ads,” says Golding.  He mentioned the Fosters Beer ‘Brad and Dan’ campaign as a good example.

5. Not all brands can carry emotion. Emotional campaigns simply do not work for some brands, such as many financial services firms.  “They’ve got no justification for playing with my emotions,” says Golding.  “You’ve got to know if your brand has permission to do that.  If not, people will end up hating your brand rather than simply being ambivalent towards it.”

6. Even the dullest categories can sometimes carry emotion. Brands that already have an emotional resonance may have permission to use emotion in ways others cannot.  For example, John Lewis’s first such campaign was for its home insurance business.

7. Music really matters, and plays an often overlooked role. “We are obsessed with the music,” says Golding.  “Music is an absolutely key part to the emotion of an ad.”  Research done by the IPA dataBANK on ads between 2008 and 2012 showed that 93% of the ads containing music were reported as having ‘very large business effects’, as opposed to 73% of ads without music.  Golding pointed to another John Lewis home insurance campaign, which used the Elton John song Tiny Dancer, as a prime example.

8. Can you be too emotional? Perhaps, says Golding, referring to a German Christmas advert in which an older man sent out a fake death notice in order to get his family home for Christmas.

9. Is there something emotional in your brand already? Golding emphasised that it is worthwhile figuring out whether there is a hidden history or icon in one’s branding that already evokes a visceral emotional connection.  For example, with Lloyds Bank branding, “everyone just loves the horse”.  The Volkswagen Beetle gets a similar reaction, for example in the recent ‘Barry’s Beetle’ campaign.

10. TV/AV is still the best media to drive emotion, but not the only one. Radio and print media, if done well, can also carry emotional messages, as the recent Lloyds Bank ‘For Your Next Step’ print ads have done.  Golding says that online media is currently used mainly to amplify campaigns or niche target messages from campaigns, as opposed to building the core emotional premise of a campaign, but this will evolve. “There will be someone who unlocks it.”

11.Sometimes people just want to feel good. The recent H&M advertisement featuring the ‘Wham Rap’ (which Andrew Ridgeley gave permission to use) and Naomi Campbell demonstrates that sometimes the best approach to branding is simply to make people feel good.


  • To watch a video of David’s presentation, look here.
  • For more on the John Lewis Christmas advertisement, the lessons it holds for marketers and the effectiveness of the campaign, watch this.
  • For more on how brands work and add value, see the British Brands Group’s ‘Brands from A to Z’ here.  Further information on adam&eveDDB can be found here.
  • The British Brands Group is most grateful to David Golding of adam&eveDDB, the IPA, Thinkbox and the Museum of Brands for their help with this event.
  • If you wish to attend future British Brands Group’s events on brands, please email us.

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