Marketing without Words – the Power of Emotional Attachment Branding

by Graeme Newell



-Smart marketers will build a brand on the best parts of the product experience, not the product itself.
-Emotional marketing is one of the best ways for a brand to cross demographic and cultural boundaries.
-Too many marketers are so transfixed by love of their own product that they overestimate its influence on the customer experience.

Most brands are easy to describe.  Lexus is about opulence.  Harley is about rebellion.  Krispy Kreme is about indulgence. But take a look at the list of the most powerful brands and you will find that many of these brands are very hard  to actually quantify.  For example, try describing the specific components of the brand for Nissan, Mastercard, or Samsung.  It’s just not easy to do.  Is our inability to clearly describe these brands a weakness?

Not at all, because these brands are built on an emotional foundation. These transcendent brands move beyond the marketing confines of their product category. They have changed their brand from a product attribute into a consumer feeling.  McDonald’s knows that most cheap burgers are all the same, so this ad sells an attitude, not just a burger.  That bag of food is a catalyst for the tempestuous relationship that young men have with each other.  This Louis Vuitton ad celebrates a travel lifestyle, not just a bag.  This is emotional marketing that turns a product into ego-feeding aspiration and an attitude for living.

These brands have built such an amazingly passionate connection that the product has taken on an almost human-like identity; just like people, that makes them hard to describe but easy to experience.  For example, if I were to ask you to describe your feelings about your mother, you might have a hard time summing it up in a few words.  “She is a wonderful person” just can’t adequately convey the depth of your experience.  That’s because the brand of “mom” is a feeling, not a list of maternal attributes.  There is so much emotional passion there that the intricacies of “mom” cannot be adequately conveyed in words.

The Coke Branding Formula
Coke has built this same kind of brand.  This brand is so powerful that millions of people buy Coke clothing just so they can display a little of this brand mojo right in the middle of their chests.  Try to describe Coke’s brand and you will find yourself stumbling with adjectives like refreshing, good times, sharing, relaxing, or tasty, but these words fall woefully short of conveying the experience of Coke.  Coke fans see this simple beverage as an old friend who has been there for the best moments of their lives. It is a catalyst to friendship and relaxing times.

Coke has built this type of brand by ignoring product attributes and building a carefully crafted image that showcases the special moments shared around a CokeThis Coke ad attaches the warm feelings of family to the Coke brand.  In this ad, Coke becomes a catalyst for overcoming differences and making new friends.

In essence, the drink has stopped being a beverage, and has become a Pavlovian emotional trigger for the deepest human affections associated with family and friends.  And if you watch a lot of Coke ads , you will notice this is the central theme of all the advertising.  Coke = special times with family and friends.

A Brand Message for Everyone
Just like a race car, Coke is drafting on the good feelings we have for loved ones.  The amazing wisdom of this emotional attachment branding strategy is that it will work for almost every culture and every demo on the planet.  This brand is custom designed for international success. No matter where we live in the world, all of us have amazingly strong feelings for our family and friends. Look at how Coke seamlessly makes this unified brand position work for wildly different cultures and demographics:

50+ Demos

This Coke ad takes a stroll down memory lane, attaching the brand to a mother’s love.

In this ad grumpy old political rivals put aside their differences and find common ground in a Coke.


Young Demos

In this ad young love blossoms around a Coke.

This ad is a music video about friends enjoying Coke and good times at the beach.


Urban Demos

In this ad an entire village bonds when a magical Coke truck brings them together.

In this ad a young man enjoys his friends as he cruises his neighborhood.


Family Demos
In this ad a woman reminisces with a family photo album that shows good times around a Coke.

Because Coke’s brand is grounded on emotional marketing, almost any demo and any creative approach now becomes a viable option.  The ad creation process doesn’t wander off brand as long as family and friends somehow bond around a Coke.  This ad allows Coke to mix its brand with the Simpson’s brand and still stay true to the marketing message.  This visually playful ad stays right on brand when insects come together and bond around a Coke.

Don’t Brand the Product, Brand the Experience
So what is the big takeaway here?  Don’t let love of your own product feature set distract you from the customer’s experience of that product. There are a zillion fizzy drinks on the market and Coke is smart enough to realize that their product is a commodity.

Coke studies where and how customers use their product, and they attach their brand to that powerful experience.  Cola isn’t fueling the attachment; it’s the feelings of the people who consume that cola.  The beverage is just along for the ride. The smart marketers at Coke don’t let the cola distract them from their real work – building friendships and bonding with family.

Next week: how companies use archetype marketing to build brands that appeal to widely varying demographic groups and cultures.  If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy this article on luxury branding, and check out more than 100 other marketing articles at Graeme’s blog.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for this great article! Very insightful and good take-aways.

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