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Gemma Holloway

Why Emotion Drives Conversions

4th Feb 2013 Analytics, Conversion Rate Optimisation 5 minutes to read

EmotionAs marketers, we often focus on supplying prospects with in-depth information about our products and services to allow them to make an informed decision.  Of course this usually contains a slight sales spin highlighting the benefits of our offerings so that an informed decision leads them to the right choice of picking our product.  But is this the right approach?

The Science

Neuroscientists have discovered that our brains are designed to follow our emotions as opposed to intellect, meaning it is in fact the emotional part of our brain which governs our decision making process.  The problem with this is that the limbic system, which creates emotion, has no capacity for language.  Therefore, as marketers, we should be focusing on generating the required response through means other than large amount of informative text – it’s not what the prospect reads, its the way it makes the prospect feel!

In this blog post, I’m going to look at some examples of websites which already draw upon this and why it works for them when generating a wide variety of emotions.


Psychology Today describes empathy as ‘understanding another person’s condition from their perspective’.  Empathy has been proven to increase prosocial behaviour such as helping others, making it the perfect emotion to play upon when marketing for a charity.

One charity that executes this particularly well is the RSPCA Bristol Clinic.  Upon arriving at the homepage, the user is drawn to a young puppy looking sad.  By empathising with this puppy, the user immediately wants to help it – and how do they do this? By Following the calls to action of either providing donations or homing animals.  After redesigning the website to contain this image, this RSPCA branch managed to home a record number of dogs within the week it went live.

RSPCA Bristol Website


Happiness is the most common emotion marketers attempt to provoke.  By attaching a positive emotion such as happiness with their products, the user will wish to purchase the product to prolong this feeling of joy.

The most common way of doing this is to present images of people enjoying the products and services they have to offer.  Research shows that when presented with an image of someone else smiling, that smile is then reflected upon the user’s face.  When smiling people feel happier, resulting in the user feeling happier whilst viewing the site.  This is a common technique used within the travel industry as below.

First Choice Website

John Lewis have also implemented this technique by launching an online campaign called ‘guess the gift’, where young children describe a variety of gifts.  This campaign focuses on generating happy emotions by reflecting the joy on the children’s faces.  This campaign has a slightly different objective of getting the users to visit the website, which proved very successful.

It doesn’t have to be all butterflies and cupcakes..

The majority of marketers think that you need to evoke positive emotions in your prospects in order to make them perform the call to action you require, but this isn’t always the case.  Whilst it is important to ensure prospects associate positive emotions with your brand, calls to action can, in fact, be motivated most strongly from negative emotions.


Jealousy is often called an ugly emotion, but you are never more motivated to do something than when you are experiencing jealously; therefore, if used in the correct way it can be very effective at persuading prospects to purchase your goods.  You’re unlikely to create an entire website that’s designed to provoke jealousy, simply because this emotion is not on we generally like to experience; therefore people are less likely to spend long periods of time on a site if it prolongs this feeling.  However, due to the impulsive actions which jealously provokes, many marketers use it to boost conversions.

The National Lottery perform this well with their video of Hector Riva.  This shows a wealthy young man living the dream life.  When viewing the video the user experiences jealousy for wanting his lifestyle too.  This results in the viewer executing the desired action of playing the lottery in an attempt to satisfy this jealous by becoming rich too.

National Lottery Website


The charity WATERisLife released a short video on YouTube titled ‘First World Problems Anthem’.  This presents people from one of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti, reading a series of tweets under #FirstWorldProblems.  This reminds viewers that the problems of Haitians are life threatening and highlights that the viewers aren’t.  Consequently, the user feels guilty for making such a big deal over something so trivial and is likely to donate as a result.

WATERisLife Website

When things get complex

There is no need to say that only one emotion needs to be evoked at any one time.  For example, guilt coupled with sadness may lead to a prospect making a donation as a way of relieving their guilt and curing their sadness.  Equally, happiness and guilt can come hand in hand.  This is often used in child and animal charities, where images of the better life they receive as a result of donations making the viewer feel happiness, but also guilt for not knowing that this type of abuse was happening.

Different emotions motivate users in different ways.  Oxfam take this in to account and successfully generate varying emotions in users by having different marketing teams to focus on generating audiences from a wide spectrum of society.  For example, one team will focus on the happiness it can give you by generating media such as videos of donors visiting Zimbabwe and other will focus on evoking guilt such as videos on starving families and children.

Emotion and Search

Evoking emotion doesn’t only take place once you have managed to get the user to view your desired material, it can also be used as a way of driving the traffic to your website (in this case the call to action would be a click on your site in Google).  Sometimes the generation of a specific emotion can be the difference between whether or not a user visits your site in the first place.  For example, take a search for ‘vintage clothes’.

Vintage Clothing Search

The top result uses its well-known brand ‘ASOS’ to try and influence the trust of the user and entice them to visit their site.  Whereas, result number 2 has chosen words such as ‘premium’ and refers to the user directly in an attempt to make them feel comfortable and happy.  Depending on which emotion the individual is more driven buy is going to influence which result they choose to click.  Therefore, it is important to use language within your Meta data which will evoke the emotion most likely to motivate your target audience.

The above examples highlight the power of emotions and provide suggestions of ways to use methods other than pure information to motivate your users.

I would be interested to know whether any of you have come across any websites which execute emotional stimulation well? Have you completed any calls to action because of the emotions you have experienced?

Image Credit

Set of nine smilies with different expressions from BigStock

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