Just Try Not to Cry: Subconscious Branding and the Emotional Subtext of Holiday Ads

By Sentient Decision Science, Inc.
December 15, 2015
What’s the best way to cut through the clutter and differentiate your brand this holiday season? Make ’em cry.
We mean it. The ability for an ad to tap directly into consumer emotions is never more important than the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas; when consumerism is at its peak, yet so are motivational emotions like anxiety, guilt, elevation, and relief.
This perfect storm is rife with marketing opportunities, if you know how to construct the emotional subtext of your ads to subconsciously reinforce your brand values.

Subconscious Branding and Emotional Subtext

Sentient has identified 26 emotions that directly impact consumer behavior. Each of the holiday ads below taps into at least one of the motivational emotions and mindsets we identify as essential predictors of behavior.

EDEKA Evokes Shame, Guilt, Fear, and Relief

Feel like calling your mom yet? German supermarket EDEKA successfully manages to tug at the heartstrings by evoking high-arousal, negative-valence emotions like: shame, guilt, and fear.
The branding moment happens at the end, at the very moment the audience experiences relief from these emotions. That’s not a coincidence.
Shots of food and dining are peppered throughout, subtly alluding to EDEKA’s product (groceries) as one that brings families together, especially during the holidays.
Brand value: EDEKA = Family

Toys “R” Us Evokes Sadness, Wonderment, and Elevation

Like EDEKA’s ad, Toys “R” Us relies heavily on evoking distinct emotions (rather than showcasing products) to leave the audience feeling decidedly warm and fuzzy.
Once again, the essential branding moment appears at the ad’s emotional peak, while the only product shot (the remote controlled car) serves as a catalyst to drive the storyline forward.
Following the product on Christmas morning brings our protagonist to his ultimate holiday wish.
Brand value: Toys “R” Us = Love

Wells Fargo Evokes Pride, Satisfaction, Wonderment, and Gratitude

Last year’s Wells Fargo ad taps into a different holiday theme: generosity, sacrifice, and the gift of giving. By sharing their carrot noses with the horses, the proud snowmen help the townsmen complete their holiday deliveries—spreading good cheer to all.
Wells Fargo branding appears on the carriage on the tail-end of the emotional climax, as deliverymen pass out their gifts.
Brand value: Wells Fargo = Possibilities.
Each of these examples illustrates the importance of understanding how evoking the right emotions in your audience can profoundly affect the way they’ll view your brand.
Now if you’ll excuse us, we have some dust in our eyes.
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