Gustaf Stenlund
Gustaf Stenlund
April 11, 2014

The best way to engage with your audience and potential customers is via content marketing. It’s handy when you want to improve your search rankings, increase brand loyalty, engagement, visibility, and driving social sharing and interaction.

Emotional engagement is a fundamental aspect in every successful content marketing strategy. Right now, one of the biggest trends in content marketing is visual storytelling; people share information, videos, pictures and other types of media with each other all the time.

As Martin Jones’s so vividly put it, “With content marketing, the message is the virus, the carriers are your audience and a strong emotional connection to the message is the catalyst.”

Every day, we believe that we feel hundreds of different emotions. However, according to a recent study we’re really only capable of feeling four different emotions: happy, sad, afraid/surprised, and angry/disgusted.

“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have,” an upset Hermione tells her friend Ron during a searing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix moment; seems like that teaspoon might closer than previously thought.

Here’s Robert Plutchik’s illustrious “Wheel of emotions”, which consists of eight basic emotions. It describes how emotions are thought to relate to one another, and just to exemplify; joy vs sadness; trust vs disgust; fear vs anger and anticipation vs surprise. The Intensity of emotion and indicator color increases toward the core and decreases outward: At the center, terror, for example, becomes fear and then apprehension; ecstasy becomes joy and then serenity. Secondary emotions are displayed as combinations of the primary ones: Acceptance and apprehension merge to create submission. It might clear things up a bit, as well as demonstrate what happens when you peel back some of those emotional layers.

This blog post is going to focus on these four basic emotions, and what makes them work so well in different marketing strategies. I’ll also throw in some tips and tricks on how you can best leverage the power of emotions into your content strategy. Let’s go!



Credit for this insanely cheerful dog goes to: Tina

Happiness is an emotion that is hard-wired in all of us since birth, but what does that mean in a marketing perspective?

Joy can work as a driver of action, and Winnicott’s discovery of a baby’s “social smile” informs us that joy is increased when it’s shared; so it doesn’t come as a big surprise that happiness is the main driver for social media sharing.

Fractl has actually come up with a list of the top ten emotions for content to go viral, and most of them are linked with happiness.


And here are Fractl’s top emotional drivers when they’re overlaid to the emotional wheel



Jonah Berger, studied close to 7,000 articles in The New York Times to establish the common denominator between the articles found on the most-emailed list. He found that the main driver in an article to become viral was down to the positive nature it projected, and the more positive, the more likely it was to become viral.

Here’s a good article on how positive emotions drive successful web marketing



The award for the world’s saddest Lego man goes to: Kristina Alexandersson

Sadness is a way for us to connect and emphasize with other people, now why is that?

When the brain feels sadness, it produces neurochemicals, and Paul Zak conducted an experiment that was based upon people watching a short, sad story about a father and son.

You’ll find the short story, along with an explanation by Paul Zak of his study here:

The short film that was showed to the participants produced the following two neurochemials:

  • Oxytocin –You feel a sense of care and connection, which promotes empathy
  • Cortisol – You feel distressed and pushes you to pay attention to the story

When the first test was completed, Paul Zak continued by looking at the dissimilarities between the people who produced oxytocin and those who didn’t. It was evident that people who produced this specific neurochemical became more generous and more likely to give money to others. Generosity isn’t oxytocin’s only effect though; it can also be harnessed for marketing purposes, as oxytocin makes people more receptive to advertising.

Here’s a video that shows when these neurochemicals are at work; a mother is singing of heartbreak to her 10-month old, and through a deep sense of shared feeling and kinship the baby cries poignantly in empathic accordance.

Stanford Business conducted a study called “Getting People to Give — And Give Generously” which is an interesting read with the same remarkable results.


4553277701_32fefab169_zDat’s one scared cat!

If you want brand loyalty, scare your customers.

When people get a sense of anxiety, fear and/or depression, they display a higher level of activity in the right prefrontal cortex. Fear is found and (by large part) controlled by a small part of the brain called the amygdala, which is the brains hot button, placed in the emotional part of the brain. The amygdala can cause a response that is especially interesting to marketers.

As we all (well, I know I do) feel when watching a film based on fear, is that we want to watch it with somebody else. A study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research which revealed that consumers that were frightened while watching a film felt a stronger bond with a present brand compared to other emotions, such as happiness, sadness or excitement.

The presumption is that when we’re frightened, we look to share the experience with other people, and if that’s not possible, a brand will have to fill that role; thus leading to a greater brand attachment.

“People cope with fear by bonding with other people. When watching a scary movie they look at each other and say ‘Oh my god!’ and their connection is enhanced,” says study author Lea Dunn. “But, in the absence of friends, our study shows consumers will create heightened emotional attachment with a brand that happens to be on hand.”

At the same time Dunn explains that marketers are afraid (how ironic) of fear. “Their worries about negative associations outweigh their desire to tap into the massive market commanded by fear-based entertainment such as horror films or video games”.

Many brands are missing out on one prime genre when they’re product placing in movies, that genre is horror movies. Lea Dunn states that she thinks that Coke would do much better and that customers would cling to the brand if they chose to product place in horror movies.

The fear factor concept is often used by salespeople in both the insurance and the pharmaceutical industry.

Fear isn’t only used to create loyal customers, it can also be applied to drive an action with the consumer going through the following steps:

  1. You are likely to be affected
  2. When it affects you, it will be painful
  3. You have the ability to avoid this pain

Here’s an article with really good examples of how fear can be utilized in a marketing campaign!

Is it time for you to scare your customers?



Many thanks for this “Angry Bird” Nixerkg

This emotion is located in the hypothalamus, it’s being kept company with other base level needs such as hunger, thirst, response to pain and sexual satisfaction.

A study held at the University of Wisconsin brought fourth information where they found that anger could lead to other emotions, such as aggression. It could also create a fascinating kind of stubbornness online.

The participants were asked to read a specific blog post that consisted of a discussion of the hazards (like water contamination) and benefits (like antibacterial properties) of a certain product made with nanotechnology, called ”nanosilver”.

They formed two groups and the blog post was identical for both groups but with one exception, the comments below the article. One group got civil comments while the other received rude comments, with name-calling, and with an angry tone throughout the conversation. This created what one might call “the nasty effect”.

The partakers who considered the nanotechnology risks to be low became more of themselves while in the midst of rude comments, and those who believed otherwise moved further in that direction.

The people who previously didn’t have a standpoint had no change of opinion, while the participants exposed to the rude comments ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks linked with the technology.  Just by adding that rude factor, it was enough to sway the participants into thinking that the negative aspect of the reported nanotechnology was greater than they’d previously thought.

This goes to show that negativity has a long-lasting effect and it’s unmistakably so, that anger is also associated with virality, according to the New York Times viral content study.
Content that inspires high-energy emotions like awe, anger, and anxiety is likely to be shared.

This graph might clear things up for you:


What Emotion gives to Content Marketing

Now that we’ve gone through the four basic emotions, it’s clear that eliciting an emotional response is fundamental for every successful viral content marketing campaign, maybe even more so than previously thought.

It’s human nature that people have an urge to share their experiences that stir their emotions by letting others in on what they’ve come across, social sharing becomes impulsive.

Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman of the Wharton Business School in 2010, conducted a report in which they stated, “Social Transmission, Emotion, and the Virality of Online Content”, there is a strong relationship between emotion and virality regardless of whether it is positive or negative”.

Social media Today laid out the following key takeaways based on the study:

  • Negative content tends to be less viral than positive content
  • Awe-inspiring content and content that surprises or is humorous is more likely to be shared
  • Content that causes sadness can become viral but is generally less likely to
  • Content that evokes anger is likely to be shared more. In fact, the study demonstrated that the strongest forecaster of virality is how much anger does the message evoke.

The IPA databank contains of 1400 case studies of successful advertising campaigns, their analysis showed that campaigns with purely emotional content performed about twice as well (31% vs. 16%) compared to those with solely rational content. Campaigns with mixed emotional and rational content also did better.

Thanks to Neurosciencemarketing you can get a good overview of the numbers below:


Based on the research that’s been made known about the brain, these numbers makes sense as our emotional response comes much quicker than our rational. We have a gut reaction in three seconds or less, and the emotional brain processes sensory information in one fifth of the time our conscious, cognitive brain takes to digest the same input.

Emotions are and will always be tied to base evolutionary processes. What this means is that it will always be utterly important to appeal to your consumers through an emotional approach.

Here are some key takeaways from the different emotions, seen through the eyes of a content marketer:


  • Driver of action – we want to share our joy
  • Most of the top ten emotions for content to go viral, are linked with happiness
  • The more positive, the more likely it is to go viral


  • Creates neurochemicals which creates empathy and makes you pay attention
  • People tend to give more to others, like a charity
  • People become more receptive to advertising


  •  If you want brand loyalty, scare your customers.
  • Brands are missing out on a prime movie genre for product placement – horror films
  • When scared, it can create a stronger bond between consumer and brand
  • Fear can be used to drive an action


  • Can create a stubbornness online
  • Rude comments online can easily sway people into believing something else
  • Negativity has a long-lasting effect
  • Content that inspires high-energy emotions is likely to be shared.

I will leave you with the sensible words of Abigail Posner, head of strategic planning at Google, when she confirms this by stating:

Understand the emotional appeal and key drivers behind the discovery, viewing, sharing and creation of online video, photography and visual content….In the language of the visual web, when we share a video or an image, we’re not just sharing the object, but we’re sharing in the emotional response it creates.”

Thank you so much for reading,