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How to Spot Emotional Conditioning in Marketing: 5 Step Guide

How do you feel when you think of trash?


You probably don’t feel strongly, it’s gross but it’s just trash.


Now let’s change the scenario.


How do you feel when you think of hurt animals?


For certain people, they will feel sorrow on a deep level.


This Forbes campaign to ban plastic straws presented facts about the amount of trash and it was pretty ineffective, but when they showed pictures of injured marine animals, views went up 10x and donations went up 100x.





In marketing emotional conditioning is a sneaky but powerful way to connect with your audience on a deeper level. By tapping into emotions marketers can create strong associations between a product and a feeling and influence behaviour and decision making.


Emotional conditioning in advertising can be a powerful tool but we must use it responsibly.


Negative emotional conditioning occurs when ads exploit people’s fears, insecurities or other negative emotions to manipulate behaviour.


Here are some examples of how emotional conditioning has been used negatively:



  1. Fear Appeal: Ads that use fear to sell products or services, e.g. those that suggest dire consequences if you don’t buy a certain product or follow a certain action. For instance, some insurance ads use fear of accidents or health issues to get you to buy their policies.

  2. Exploiting Insecurities: Ads that play on insecurities about appearance, success or social status can lead to negative self perception and unhealthy behaviour. This is often seen in beauty and fashion ads that promote unrealistic standards.

  3. Manipulating Urgency: Ads that create a false sense of urgency or scarcity to get you to make a quick decision without thinking it through. This can lead to impulse buying and buyer’s remorse.

  4. Misleading Information: Using emotional appeals based on misleading or false information can manipulate your emotions and get you to make decisions that aren’t in your best interest.


Advertisers must think about the ethics of their ads and be honest and transparent in their messaging. Emotional appeals should be used to connect with people positively not exploit them.


Here’s a 5 step guide to help you spot emotional conditioning in marketing campaigns:


  1. Find the Emotion - Start by finding the emotion the marketing campaign is trying to make you feel. Is it happiness, security, fear or nostalgia? Brands use emotional triggers to create a memorable experience that links their product to a feeling.

  2. Look at the Visuals and Language - Check out the imagery and language used in the ad. Bright colours, warm scenes and family imagery might be used to make you feel happy or comfortable, while stark bold text could be used to create a sense of urgency or importance.

  3. Notice Repetition - Repetition is a key part of emotional conditioning. Look for repeated messages, slogans, jingles or visuals that are designed to make the emotional association stick in your head.

  4. Look at the Context - Context matters. Emotional conditioning often relies on the context in which the message is delivered. A car commercial showing a car navigating rough terrain might make you feel safe when you’re watching it during a weather report.

  5. Feel Yourself - Finally, take a moment to feel your own response to the marketing message. If you find yourself feeling a strong emotional pull or connection, it’s working.


Now you know these 5 steps, you can be more aware of how emotions are used in marketing to shape your perceptions and behaviour. This awareness will lead to more informed decisions and a better understanding of the power of emotions in the market.


Remember, emotional conditioning isn’t bad; it’s a tool that can be used well to enhance brand messaging and consumer experience. But being able to spot it means you’re in control of your choices, not being controlled by marketing.


For more marketing tips follow me on Instagram @lauramaimarketing


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