How do you know your customers feel the same way?

July 30, 2020

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So how do you know that the people beholding your ads find them beautiful? Engaging, intriguing or empowering?

Engaging with audiences on an emotional level is far more effective than using pure logic. Sure, logic has its place but, to grab attention and create an impression in the first instance, always appeal to emotion.

Imagery is one of the best ways to create an immediate emotional impression. In this case, the old cliche holds true – a picture really does say more than a thousand words. But how can you be sure that the image you’ve selected is affecting your audience the same way that it affects you? Perhaps you associate (for example) bold colours and dynamic poses with strength – but do your customers?

Everyone’s experience of imagery is informed by their own context, and everyone’s context is different – so how can you tell if you’re striking the right notes?

And what emotions should you even be aiming for in the first place?

Let’s take a look.

Core human emotions (and how to use them in marketing)

Humans have a set of core emotions, each of which provoke different responses. Engaging these emotions in the right way can lead to conversions.

Part of the trick for marketers is knowing which emotional response to evoke. Here are a few examples:


Happiness (sometimes referred to as ‘joy’ in psychology circles), is a very desirable emotion. People want to be happy.

If your product makes people happy (and this isn’t always the case – for example, charities which aim to alleviate suffering could hit some very insensitive notes by making their advertising too upbeat), using branding and imagery which associates your product with happiness is a great way to get people to buy.

McDonalds are experts at this kind of thing. Their “I’m lovin’ it” slogan, the bright colours of their branding, and the sunny, smiley, happy imagery they juxtapose their products with all scream “McDonalds is a happy place!” Even when their content is as simple as colours and signs, it still aims for happy associations

For example, have you ever, in any McDonalds promotional material, seen those iconic McDonalds colours against a sky that’s not a lovely hot blue? You almost never see the golden arches against a grey, drizzly background – they’re always soaring into a glorious, cloud-free summer’s sky.

It’s also worth noting that, although it may not seem like it at times, positive news, stories, and imagery actually get shared at a far greater rate on social media than any other kind of content. When we’re happy, we like to share our happiness. So, using happiness in the right way can seriously increase your organic reach.


Sadness is often thought of as a ‘negative’ emotion, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sadness causes us to empathise, which can bring us together in deeper and more profound ways than happiness ever could. 

Studies show that empathy causes us to behave in altruistic ways. So, ‘sad’ stories and/or imagery which evoke our empathy can engage one of the purest and most powerful human drives – the drive to help others. This is crucial for brands who are seeking to right wrongs and alleviate suffering. 

Take this example from the Samaritans. As a suicide hotline, the Samaritans are certainly not going to get results with happy, sunny imagery. Not only would this be insensitive, it would also give the wrong impression. Anyone signing up from such a campaign would be doing so for the wrong reasons. 

By using imagery and wording designed to evoke empathy, this advert appeals to the kind of people the Samaritans know will make the best volunteers (i.e. people who are naturally empathetic, caring, and altruistic). What’s more, people who volunteer after seeing this campaign will have realistic expectations of what they’re signing up for.


Surprise unsettles us. Depending on the source of the emotion, surprise can make us afraid, or it can make us intrigued.

Using fear in things like public safety campaigns is a well established (and highly effective!) tactic. The ‘It could happen to you’ implication in this pro-helmet campaign is clear and powerful.

However, using surprise and fear in commercial advertising can feel risky. As the McDonalds examples above demonstrate, a lot of the emotion evoked by marketing happens on an instinctive level. See a ‘happy’ colour like yellow and you’ll associate the brand with happy things. See something scary, on the other hand, and you might associate that brand with being afraid. You don’t want your customers to be scared of you!

The trick when using fear in marketing is to make the desired customer action the counterpoint to that fear. Take this example by Heinz:

This advert works by surprising and intriguing followers with a break from the traditional branding. The ‘limited edition’ ketchup bottle looks different, and customers will want to know what else is different about it. 

It also evokes a very modern fear – the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). Only ‘true Heinz Ketchup lovers’ can get their hands on this limited edition bottle. Loyal Heinz customers will be afraid of never finding out what all the fuss is about. To avoid this fear, they’ll do what Heinz wants them to do – they’ll Like the page.


Passionate emotions like anger can evoke passionate responses. Nike are fantastic at weaving passion into their marketing materials. Take their use of Colin Kaepernik as a figurehead, for example:

American footballer Kaepernik famously refused to stand for the US national anthem in a protest against racism in the USA. Passionate opinions quickly formed around him. 

By choosing Kaepernik as their figurehead, Nike positioned themselves on the right side of history and channeled that passion in ways that both benefited Kaepernik’s causes and helped Nike as a brand.

This ad from sanitary brand Always is another example of using passion in marketing. Here, Always take the pejorative “Like a girl” and turn it on its head. The combination of hashtag and imagery imply that to do something “Like a girl” is not a negative thing at all. 

The further implication is that there’s nothing inherently shameful about ‘girly’ things like feminine hygiene products. It uses both passion and anger to create an empowering message.

How do you know you’re evoking the right emotion?

Choosing a motivational emotion that’s appropriate for your brand and centring a campaign around it is a great start to your creative process.

But, when it comes to choosing the colours, imagery, text and so on to evoke that emotion, things become a little trickier.

A lot of modern marketing relies upon data. But emotion isn’t something you can quantify through traditional means.

For a very basic example, an image of beautiful, fit young people running on a beach may seem happy. Maybe even empowering.

However, for people who feel excluded from activities or groups like this, the message may not land in the way you expect it to.

Take the infamous “Beach body ready” which Protein World placed in the London Underground. 

Depending on who you listen to, the aim of the advert was to either shame or inspire women into losing weight in time for ‘bikini season’. And it certainly gained a lot of engagement – but not the kind of engagement Protein World wanted.

By and large, the advert’s target audience (young professional women with enough disposable income to buy a large supply of weight loss supplements) took the message poorly. Instead of feeling inspired to lose weight, women described their feelings after seeing this advert as ‘Sad’, ‘Angry’, and even ‘Bad for my daughter’. 

Protein World were accused of using outdated ‘Body Shaming’ tactics in a way that is simply not acceptable any more. Ultimately, the advert was banned in the UK, with the ASA citing concerns that it could have negative health impacts on people with body image disorders.

How could this have turned out differently? How could Protein World have chosen imagery and wording which resonated with rather than angered and repulsed their target audience?

Well, testing the advert in focus groups which mirrored the target audience, or even employing people from that demographic to do the creative work in the first place would have helped – but those options aren’t available to everyone.

However, using an AI with access to the behaviour, engagement data, and likely responses of thousands of target audiences could have made a huge difference.

How datasine can help you to predict the unpredictable

Emotional responses, on the face of it, are inherently unpredictable. However, if you parse enough data for long enough, everything has patterns to it.

Sometimes, these patterns are obvious even to humans. For example, a strongly emotive image like that of a hungry child or an injured puppy are always going to evoke emotions like sadness, anger, compassion, and so on. That pattern is obvious to most of us.

Other times, however, the way imagery and emotion interact is less obvious – particularly as it may differ from audience to audience. To find predictable, actionable patterns in these cases would take a human years and years of intense study.

An AI, however, can work its way through all that data in next to no time, and quickly extract the relevant patterns which predict how audiences will react to any given image.

This is what we at Datasine do. Our smart platform takes the elements of any piece of creative content and turns it into data (for example, splitting it down into facets like colour, figures, positioning, text placement, mood etc). It then runs those elements against your past campaign engagement data, and comes up with accurate predictions of the ways in which either your own audience or a model audience drawn from our databanks will respond to these elements. 

This enables you to choose the right image from the get go, or to improve your campaign imagery by swapping out lower performing elements for higher performing ones (for example, you might discover that your audience is ‘happier’ when they see a blue background to a yellow one, and swap your graphic backgrounds round accordingly).

While we can’t read your customers’ minds for you, we can predict how your creative content will make them feel. And that’s a huge portion of the marketing battle already won.

Find out how we can predict the success of your creative content