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Content Marketing

Honest, Vulnerable and Sentimental: Emotional Marketing That Works

Newspapers, magazines, websites, cinema, radio, television — it doesn’t matter the type of media consumed, there will always be ads to pay the bills. Because the market is so saturated with ads coming from every angle, consumers are becoming desensitized, and even annoyed, when they want to buy something.

Advertising used to be simple — a catchy jingle with a nice, memorable tagline was all that was needed. Watch any episode of “Mad Men” to see an example of the golden age of advertising. But it was as good as it was then because consumers weren’t so overwhelmed with ads. That frontier is now completely explored.

Today, agencies are getting creative by targeting consumers where it counts — their hearts. Touching ads using honesty, vulnerability and sentiment are reaching audiences in new ways.


The creators of the ever-popular iPhone are always rolling out new features with each generation of iPhone. The iPhone 4 was the first smartphone from Apple to feature a front camera and thus, Facetime was born. It’s easy to show consumers how a front camera works, but it’s another challenge to show why they need it. Apple is a master of pulling the heart strings with its ads, and its first Facetime commercial is a classic example of those “aww” moments that can sell a product better than stats and features.


A commercial really shows its genius when it doesn’t even have to show the product it’s selling, yet the product still flies off the shelves. This spot from the 2013 Super Bowl tells the 60-second story of a Clydesdale farmer who raises a horse and has a touching reunion years later at a parade in Chicago. Combine a great story with the tunes of Fleetwood Mac, and a commercial that will put tears in eyes and Budweisers in the fridge is born.

Dodge Ram

In another Super Bowl classic, Chrysler steered off the path of the usual macho-driven, testosterone-fueled truck commercials with a piece of Americana. This two-minute spot is simplicity at its best — a recording of an ode to American farmers with fading pictures of Midwestern farmland with the iconic Dodge Ram parked right in the middle. The ad is pure nostalgia and does a great job at connecting the Ram to American tradition.


When Optus Australia announced it was bringing Netflix to the land down under, they decided to break the news with a different tone than a grand opus. Netflix had already been in the United States for years, and countries like Australia were waiting around for access to the popular video-streaming service. So Optus cast comedian Ricky Gervais to deliver the underwhelming news to Australians. This is the sort of honest approach that makes customers feel good about otherwise unexciting news. Gervais’ deadpan delivery is both funny and honest.

Text and Drive PSA

There’s another type of honest advertising that hits home for viewers, and that is the power of fear. For-profit companies that have something to sell usually stay away from this type of marketing, but non-profit organizations producing public service announcements are no stranger to the tactic. Take this texting and driving spot, which shows the dangers of distracted driving and humanizes the growing epidemic. Anyone who sees a spot like this will surely think twice about looking at a cellphone from behind the wheel.

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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