The opening shot of the video Trilix produced below establishes that it’s not typical for this group of Des Moines, Iowa, high schoolers to be gathered in a conference room with school administrators and local and international officials from Special Olympics. The students fidget and pivot in their chairs, glancing at each other, until an official from Special Olympics International asks, “What other experiences do you think could help shape people to be more inclusive?”

In an interview, the Special Olympics official details the organization’s commitment to “the Inclusion Revolution.”

“The most important issue in the world today is how we learn to get along, how we learn to bridge our fear of differences, how we learn to choose to include,” he said.

The students share their experiences. One teen explains that her sister was born with Down syndrome, and she feels the need to foster an inclusive environment for her sister and others who have felt what it’s like to be “on the outside.”

Another student recalls a time when he was welcomed by other students. “I was like, ‘I’m going to keep that same energy and bring it up to other people,’” he recalls. “All this world needs is happiness.”

The piece concludes with an energetic assembly where high school students vow to encourage an inclusive environment during sports, in the classroom and throughout the school. Viewers learn the facts of Special Olympics’ Inclusion Revolution initiative, but, perhaps more importantly, they are left with a sense of empathy, compassion and inspiration about the organization and its participants.

Marketers are well-versed in identifying their target audiences’ demographics, but few invest similar resources into understanding the emotions that drive customers. Using emotion in marketing can ensure your message resonates with an audience by telling a relatable story or creating a memorable experience. However, emotion must be incorporated carefully and with context so that your message is authentic and not tone deaf.

The power of emotion

Consumers are accustomed to a barrage of sentimental advertisements during the holiday season. But a quick scan of the last few months' national TV spots shows that brands in 2020 aim to connect with audiences through emotionally driven messaging. Even B2B audiences want emotion reflected in the content that reaches them.

Messages that fail to align with audiences’ emotions can fall flat — or worse, make a brand seem completely insensitive. People overwhelmed with life during a global pandemic may reject humorous messaging that tries to make light of their tribulations. Messages with a somber perspective may not resonate with an audience who is used to an energetic and motivational tone in advertisements about reaching a new personal goal or trying a new product or service.

Emotion can help your message reach a target audience because feeling emotions while receiving a message makes it even more memorable, according to a study published in Advances in Consumer Research. Similar research asserts that an emotional response is the key to branding because consumers usually rely on an element of emotion when deciding which brands to interact with.

That doesn’t mean every marketer’s message needs to bring a tear to someone’s eye. Your audience may feel exploited if every brand communication attempts to tug the heartstrings. Don’t abandon engaging, explanatory content and timely information. Consider the full emotional spectrum and which combinations of feelings best match the experience your brand delivers for your customers right now.

How to incorporate emotion

When outlining your audiences’ demographics and understanding their buying habits, take time to understand the emotions that drive their personas and how those responses fit within their current social context. Then consider how each portion of your message — imagery, sound, copy, colors, graphics, typography and more — might convey feelings you’re hoping to evoke.

Our Video Department has cultivated emotional expertise in visual brand storytelling.

“We begin considering the emotional elements of a video at the beginning of the visioning process,” said Nathan McNurlen, Trilix’s post-production director. “The right video must have an emotional backbone. It transforms the message into a human story instead of a rote message about a product. But you have to have context and depth to the story to show respect to your audience, or the message becomes shallow.”

That storytelling flair is evident in a video produced before the 2020 NCAA Wrestling Championship featuring wrestlers training, Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable, venue b-roll and past footage of wrestlers competing.

“Typically with sports, you want to portray a sense of excitement and anticipation. With this video, we also built a sense of anxiety that then turned into raw energy,” Nathan said. “Though it might feel uncomfortable at first, the viewers sense the emotions the competitor goes through before the competition. We usually want to share positive reactions, but to have the opportunity to take what is perceived as a negative emotion and spin on its head, leaving the audience feeling energized and motivated, was a huge win.”

Each element of the video contributes emotional undertones. The audio features a droning hum that builds into an energetic swell and as voiceovers explain the athletes’ devotion. Stark images with dim lighting show athletes running through the snow and training in the gym before cutting to shots of the same athletes emerging victorious as the piece concludes.

Our Creative Department also considers the emotion they want to depict in each piece they design for a brand.

“As humans, we crave emotional connection,” Art Director Kerstin Ohnysty said. “Having words or images that resonate with others can be a powerful tool.”

As humans, we crave emotional connection. Having words or images that resonate with others can be a powerful tool.

Colors trigger subconscious emotions. Cooler colors can have a more soothing and calming effect, whereas warmer colors can be intense but also uplifting, Kerstin said. Emotional undercurrents in graphic design aren’t limited to color.

“Typography doesn’t seem like it would be a highly emotional tool, but it can really help set a mood,” Kerstin explained. “Drawings and photography are more emotional art forms because you can see the power in strokes or the actual content in photography.”

Whether we’re working on a new brand identity for a client, an individual campaign or daily marketing tasks, our departments collaborate to ensure a consistent and cohesive emotional tone is conveyed through visuals, audio and text. Our goal is to use emotional appeals thoughtfully in concert with factual and value-based rhetoric to create a relevant, memorable experience for consumers.  

“It’s all about how you apply these art forms that really makes the emotional aspect successful or not,” Kerstin said. “When you bring these unrelated elements together to tell a story that makes your audience feel something, that’s a mark of success.”

Now that’s something to feel good about.