Head or Heart?

We often find ourselves reacting to ads that evoke our emotions. For example, the yearly Petronas advertisements which Malaysians applaud for speaking to our feel-good senses every time. Yet, there is still this continued debate on which type of ads work better – the ones that are emotionally appealing or ads selling pure on benefits? Read on to find out.

Historical Modes of Persuasion

Back in the day, Greek philosopher Aristotle identified three modes of persuasion – ethos, pathos, logos. Aristotle’s theory is that by using these three elements, one can pitch a convincing argument. Ethos is persuasion by using the credibility and trust of the speaker and/or writer, whereas pathos refers to appealing by emotions and logos, the logic.

Successful ads balance these three elements and have broad appeals to both our emotions and critical mind, while banking in on a strong brand equity and credibility, which can only be built over the years. When it comes to forming arguments, not one mode is better than the other. Rather, these elements are intertwined to create a compelling communication strategy.

Logical action based on emotion

In one insight, Douglas Van Praet, author of ‘Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing’ argues that we align our reasoning to support our emotional desires toward a prospective brand, product or service. According to him, our critical mind is always looking for evidence to support our beliefs. The stronger the emotion, the stronger the belief, and the greater the tendency is to seek out supporting evidence. We are not rational. We are rationalizers.

This gives us reason to believe that a good advertisement makes us feel before our mind logically concludes on an action thus demonstrating the interplay of both elements. In short, a good advertisement has to hook us on our emotional sleeve, and then presents us with possible reasons for us to rationalize our purchase.

Vision to act

In neuroscience, it’s believed that decision-making ultimately isn’t logical but rather emotional. Emotions are considered very important in the act of choosing. What Jim Camp, a negotiator and founder of the Camp Negotiation Institute, says is negotiators should “create a vision for the other side to bring about discovery and decisions on their part.”

This key fact is something marketers can use into tapping consumer desires and attention. Marketers, at the end of the day, are negotiators. It’s in a marketer’s duty to create a vision to help consumers (‘the other side’) make a decision on a product, brand or service. It’s in this way that consumers can make a decision that is solely theirs alone with just a wee bit of influence from marketers. We help consumers discover what feels right, their unmet problems or goals and etc.

What are you selling?

Consider emotional appeal and logical appeal as ingredients for an ad. We have to use different ingredients for different kind of ads. For some products, we have to use emotional appeal in huge quantities. These are products like perfumes, where emotional benefits far outweigh the logical benefits. Or generic products such as Oreos, rely heavily on emotions in their ads, because there are too few points of differentiation between them and their competitors.

However, a product with new technology, such as Tesla Motors, stand to gain much from a logical perspective of things, because the logical benefits are immense and unique. Too few competitors can match in terms of the USPs Tesla provides.

 Target Audience

Another factor to consider is the state of your target audience. Consumers are getting smarter and better-informed. A simple emotional depiction on mother’s love for kid’s cereals is no longer sufficient when mothers today read labels, and compare nutritional value. They can also compare prices with just a click of a button. Good ads can’t save a bad product, and it is more so in today’s context.

One such example is an ad from JOVEN ( It’s an emotionally appealing ad, exploring the theme of family. In a one-minute spot, we’re captivated and connected by the story of this man and his son. The advertisers then punctuated the message with their brand credibility (“20 years with JOVEN”) with a scene of the same man as a child when his father brought home the same product. Because they’ve established the fact that they are trustworthy, we would give considerable attention to their brand of products.

While this KFC ad ( doesn’t start with a strong emotional hook, we’re intrigued by their new recipe for fried chicken. The scene of a family enjoying a KFC meal gives us reason enough to consider for ourselves a KFC meal with our family.

This Volkswagen ad ( follows the same vein – it’s heart-warming and humorous, with a headline that has nothing to do with the actual content of the commercial (“Coming Soon. Start around $20,000”). Yet, the commercial had us hooked enough that we’re paying attention to the real message – that Volkswagen cars are reasonably priced.

The examples above are all emotionally appealing yet satisfies our critical minds just enough. Most importantly, they are visions of what could be. Negotiating by logic alone does not work, and it really takes an emotional edge to persuade customers and audience alike.

There are no hard and fast rules to how much emotions you can inject in an ad, but you can, after considerations of type of products, target audience analysis and product USPs, determine and find the perfect balance for your ad.


The end of rational vs. emotional: How both logic and feeling play key roles in marketing and decision making – Douglas Van Praet, May 16, 2013.

Thinking vs. Feeling: The Psychology of Advertising -Derek Thompson, Oct 27, 2011.

A General Summary of Aristotle’s Appeals  – Durhamtech

Decisions Are Emotional, not Logical: The Neuroscience behind Decision Making – Jim Camp



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