Charlotte Reilly
VP Client Experience
Sep 30

Because Feelings Change Minds

Campaigns need to recognize how emotions drive decisions

In what’s become the ‘Age of Purpose,’ we hear a lot about the power of purpose; why building purpose-driven companies matters and how brand purpose impacts everything from a company’s employee engagement to bottom line.

It’s widely asserted that socially conscious Millennials ignited this trend, reconfirmed by Deloitte’s 2019 Global Millennial Survey where 42% of Millennials polled said they have begun or deepened a business relationship because they perceive a company’s products or services to have a positive impact on society and/or the environment. Our in-house studies show they are also the generation most likely to engage in employee activism. But where does this mindset come from, and how does it actually shape policy and impact the issues they say they care about?

According to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of our purchase decision making takes place in the subconscious mind. In fact, neuroscientists have found that people whose brains are damaged in the area that generates emotions are incapable of making decisions.

To briefly summarize the psychology, this means that pure human emotion is the real driver of consumer beliefs; emotion implicates behavior change and spurs action.

Emotional consciousness — or the state of how emotions come about— is actually core to the concept of purpose. Humans are driven by feelings, hence purpose is fueled by emotion. One could argue that the emotional resonance of the messages that communicators share today is perhaps the most critical element for impacting consumer behavior.

Similarly, for politicians and issue advocates to inspire change, it is essential to understand the emotions driving public and consumer behavior to most effectively communicate informative truths behind complex social and policy issues.

Raw emotion is the catalyst of some of the most compelling advocacy campaigns we’ve seen in recent history. Some campaigns bring new light to the most hotly debated and politically charged issues that govern our society today, like gun rights or immigration.

Take the #NeverAgain movement and March for Our Lives, which was born out of teenagers’ deep feelings of pain, confusion and helplessness after the Parkland shooting. Others, however, use emotion to create thought-provoking moments around small things that govern our everyday decisions and impact how we think about and live our daily lives. These decisions could be as simple as what food we buy, whether we vaccinate our kids or if we choose to recycle.

A recent pro-GMO campaign by non-profit organization, A Fresh Look*, tapped into consumer emotion when they leveraged the key insight that ‘people today are more emotionally connected to food than ever before; what they eat represents who they are and what they value.’

In order to flip the script and move advocates from defense to offense in the GMO conversation, they created a line of value-based chocolate, which encouraged consumers to evaluate their ethos. Appropriately named Ethos Chocolate, these bars capitalized on a real consumer concern: that the cacao crop is threatened by climate change and on track to go extinct in the next few decades. Acknowledging consumers’ passion for chocolate and concern for its possible extinction, Ethos told pro-GMO crop stories on the back of each package, conveying how GMO technology has played — or is currently playing — a heroic role in solving real-world food challenges. GMO farming was positioned as the “Hero” for protecting Florida oranges from citrus greening disease and a “Survivor” for bringing Hawaiian papayas back from brink of extinction in the ’90s. The initiative received global attention, capturing media coverage and product inquiries from consumers, biotech companies and regulating bodies in 77 countries, spurring unprecedented positive conversation around a very controversial food issue.


There is ample opportunity for communicators to bring emotion back into the forefront. Whether it’s CPG brands like Dawn dish soap who have a long-standing campaign that tugs at consumer’s heart strings by showing the impact their product has on saving animals’ lives from oil slicks, or social service organizations like the Los Angeles LGBT Center* who launched a “F*ck Without Fear” campaign that helped promote the use of PrEP — a lifesaving drug used to prevent the spread of HIV — among young gay/bisexual men of color and transgender women, there are great examples of marketers using authentic emotional intelligence to spur change. But there’s still more we can do to develop initiatives that resonate with audiences in a meaningful way.

In the words of Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maybe it’s time to stop only asking the logical, purpose-driven questions like “what does your brand stand for?” and also consider “how do your messages make people feel?”

For more information on building purpose-driven brands, engaging advocates and demonstrating social impact, we recommend an additional Weber Shandwick medium publication by our global Social Impact team on Purpose Decoded.

*Indicates a Weber Shandwick client

For new business inquiries, please contact Ellen DeMunter:

Edited by: Delaney McMullen

To read this article on Weber Shandwick’s Issues Decoded blog, click here.

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