27 Strong Emotions to Better Your Message

We’re played by our emotional responses everyday. From the joy we feel when seeing a person we love, the way an old film brings us back to our childhood, to the fear when a spider pops out of a sink drain, we are beholden to our initial response. This is just as true and vital to marketing. Commercials and ads can play to our emotions, our snap responses and drive us to respond. The fear of spiders can drive us to hire exterminators for example.

Paul Ekman identified six basic emotions of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. Robert Plutchik expanded upon this to eight and created opposing pairs which were joy-sadness, anger-fear, trust-distrust, and surprise-anticipation. Plutchik’s eight basic emotions also had gradations of severity.

However in a 2017 UC Berkeley study, scientists identified 27 different emotional states. These states revealed interplay and connection between each other. Some states less connected to others. For example, feelings of craving were less likely to be tied to any of the other emotional states, while romance and sexual desire had obvious strong interplay. The full list of emotional states are as follows:

  • Admiration

  • Adoration

  • Aesthetic appreciation

  • Amusement

  • Anger 

  • Anxiety

  • Awe

  • Awkwardness

  • Boredom

  • Calmness

  • Confusion

  • Craving

  • Disgust

  • Empathic pain

  • Entrancement

  • Excitement

  • Fear

  • Horror

  • Interest

  • Joy

  • Nostalgia

  • Relief

  • Romance

  • Sadness

  • Satisfaction

  • Sexual desire

  • Surprise

The Berkeley study was able to elicit these emotional states by showing their subjects a series of videos and having them report their feelings. Through the same medium, advertising can also elicit the same responses in viewers and achieve a desired action. This can mean a product buy, a vote, a donation or even the boycott of a product.

Taking a look at just a few examples, we can see the interplay of emotions as well as how these emotions work toward achieving a specific goal.

It’s a common trope that sex sells, and often companies playing on the emotion of sexual desire alone find themselves scrutinized by critics of the practice. In this Carl’s Jr. ad, they attempt to make it more playful with drawing amusement through innuendo and sight gags. There may even be some feelings of admiration and adoration from employing Charlotte McKinney who had a known fan base on Instagram. This is common and even more amplified when using larger celebrities in advertising. This all leads to the invocation of feelings of craving for the actual burger itself and the “all-natural” nature for those concerned with steroids and antibiotics. There is another emotion being played upon many may not feel and most won’t notice, but the soundtrack is operating on the emotion of nostalgia. The song is “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent and can serve as a trigger and feedback loop into the sexual desire emotion due to the sexual nature of the song.

Anti-smoking ads are a common example of ads employing negative emotional states to gain their desired goal. In this campaign by the CDC, we can see fear, horror, surprise, disgust, and empathic pain being played up. Surprise with the initial smash cut transferring from the image of a beautiful woman to what she has become. Horror and disgust quickly follow as they’re tied to the initial shock. These feelings can give way to fear for oneself and empathic pain for what Terrie deals with. All of these emotions are aimed toward the goal of not buying cigarettes or other tobacco progu

Travel ads can be a bit of a scatter gun approach playing on a massive amount of emotions in a short amount of time. The most obvious in this ad are the awe and aesthetic appreciation for the architecture and nature wonders of Japan. This goes even further with admiration for the people of Japan and their skill as chefs, artisans, archers, et al. If you’re a sushi fan, you may find yourself craving their cuisine. The ad even creates a point of calmness with nature and relaxation, but it does so by surrounding the this segment with high-speed, frenetic excitement. All of this is built under an umbrella of trying to generate interest, and discovering something new. Plus, there’s always the possibility the viewer has been to Japan in the past, and this ad has just generate a great feeling of nostalgia.

Some ads, though, can miss the mark. When they do, they wind up generating unintended emotions and driving people away from the product, service or message. An infamous example being this ad for a new line of Mountain Dew products. The ad’s intention was for amusement and sell the idea of three awesome things together. However, the ad was met with feelings of confusion, awkwardness, and in some cases people felt disgust toward the odd mascot.

Emotional triggers are key to pulling in the audience, but without guidance the message can be lost. The 12 Master Formats of Marketing are the templates for implementing these emotional triggers. Pairing the right mix of emotional triggers with a well defined vision and format will increase the success of any marketing campaign.