Think back on a moment that truly moved you. The colors of a perfect sunset. Time spent with friends and family. The song that was playing during a first date or on your wedding day. Our emotional reaction to moments is tied to our sensory experience of them—and can be brought back to us through film, song, and even ads. Brands are tapping into emotional intelligence by building bridges that connect consumers to their brand ethos. There’s a reason why emotion remains one of the principal marketing strategies that works—if these bridges are built correctly, they stick with us for the rest of our lives. 


What exactly is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the assessment of one’s ability to manage and control their emotions while influencing the emotions of others. If that wasn’t specific enough, according to psychologists, there are five characteristics of EI that can point your marketing solutions in the right direction: self-awareness, empathy, social skills, motivation, and self-regulation.  

Thanks to the digital revolution, this skillset is becoming more and more relevant. It’s equally valuable to leadership learning how to harness the power of communication or marketers trying to capture an audience’s attention.


Emotional loyalty dictates our emotional intelligence

Often, loyalty influences the emotional attachment to a person, idea, and even a brand. According to recent studies, nostalgia plays a massive role in consumers’ dedication to a brand from the very beginning. And this sentimentality can be an unconscious reaction from a consumer. It makes them feel something, whether they can pinpoint exactly what that is or not.

Think of the things people are attached to as children. Whether it’s a bear hug from their dad or their favorite, worn-out stuffed animal, attachment influences their behavior and their decisions. For example, as adults, we might buy our children similar toys to the ones we fondly remember. Vice versa, it just takes one bad experience to derail that positive connection. And the last thing a brand wants is to leave the wrong impression.

Emotions influence actions. And by focusing on the five characteristics of EI, we can produce a foundation of loyal brand followers. 


Each characteristic of EI is complex in its own way. According to famed blogger Mark Manson, there are three levels of self-awareness; paying attention to what you’re doing, recognizing how it all makes you feel, and admitting your weaknesses. Brands that admit their weaknesses in the face of controversy can renew or create brand loyalty by their self-awareness––and craft some remarkable apology ads.  


This characteristic of emotional intelligence is the ability to understand feelings from another perspective. When companies truly understand their audience, they can use empathy to show them. According to famed psychologist Bréne Brown, what people are looking for is connection. Or, in other words, empathy. An empathetic brand is self-aware and authentic. Consumers can easily determine when a brand is trying too hard, or if they really do understand them. 

Social Skills

When we’re children, we use three specific processes when learning how to socialize with the world: seeing, thinking, and doing. Showing clients the ins-and-outs of a brand, making them think, and giving them something to do about it allows them to socialize with a brand in innovative and impactful ways. Experiential brands do this well because they involve components beyond visual aids. They craft hands-on experiences that involve the thinking and doing part of this equation. But even if you market solely through Instagram, you can push the boundaries on your content to make consumers think. 

Social skills also means understanding social cues, and knowing when it’s appropriate to join the conversation. For example, following the tragic death of LA Lakers star, Kobe Bryant, Planters paused their Super Bowl-oriented ads depicting the death of their mascot, Mr. Peanut. The brand had the emotional intelligence to recognize that, in light of recent events, their marketing strategy could be tone deaf and hurtful. 


Motivation in branding can come in various shapes and sizes, but most often pulls on emotional heartstrings to spur an action. For example, a brand may want you to spread kindness so they showcase a ‘paying it forward’ ad that shows how little actions make big differences. Or, a brand may want to motivate their audience to create content in a viral social competition. Most often, brands are in some way motivating consumers to purchase their product or service. But the best brands––the ones with a lasting impact-–use emotional intelligence for motivations beyond profits. 


Knowing how to control emotions and decide when is and when isn’t the right time to express them is no easy feat. In other words, it’s being aware of impulses. Whether it’s empowering these impulses or restraining them, self-regulation is a powerful tool of emotional intelligence. Paying attention to current events and testing your ad for quality of content can go a long way here. It means maintaining your objectivity, even when you’ve worked closely with material throughout the creative process. We’ve all seen those brands that let ads get through the cracks and pay for it in backlash later.  


Brands that awaken our emotional intelligence

If we learn by seeing, thinking, and doing then it’s important to study those brands that are already harnessing emotional intelligence to create powerful ads. 

VW Beetle’s fare thee well

Unfortunately, this isn’t the final concert for the surviving members of The Grateful Dead or The Beatles. But it is a farewell to an icon of the auto industry. If there was one car that epitomized sentimentalism, Volkswagen’s Beetle is at the top of the list. The fan-favorite sits only second to the Toyota Carolla as the most popular passenger car ever. And with the German auto builder canceling Beetle production worldwide, they decided to tap into our emotional intelligence with a well-curated, “The Last Mile.”

This clever ad was not just Volkswagen’s way of paying homage, but it was also a way to connect car owners to the United States’ historic counterculture of the 1960s. As a result, Volkswagen boosted its cosmic-sized hold on the idea that true freedom is a life spent traveling on the open road. 


Apple’s “Chinese New Year” 

Apple finds ways to connect people’s emotions to their new product lines year after year. And with the iPhone 11 Pro equipped with a ground-breaking three-lens camera, Apple showed off the power of their phone by filming this cinematic commercial with nothing but the phone itself. 

The global tech brand tapped into its Chinese market by launching the ad at the cusp of the country’s New Year celebration, showing the world that there’s nothing quite like the bond between a mother and her daughter. As always, Apple makes little to no reference to the actual product. They are selling emotion. 


How the Spanish Lottery loves to warm our hearts

Year after year, the Spanish Lottery loves to make people shed happy tears. And 2015 wasn’t any different. 

Their themes constantly connect with people’s emotional intelligence, whether it’s emphasizing the power of community, family, or friends. And in their 2015 commercial, an old, charismatic night monitor at a local mannequin factory forgets to contribute to his office ticket pool. When his office gets the winning number, he believes he’s on the outside looking in. Just when things are looking bleak, this animated short reminds viewers to never forget about the little guy. The next time our night shift monitor arrives at the factory, there’s a party of his co-workers waiting there, celebrating their victory with his ticket in hand. The takeaway? Never give up hope. 


With Microsoft, we all win

Every year, the Super Bowl is a chance for advertising companies to show off their creative chops. And there’s still a large percentage of people who tune in to the big game just to watch the commercials. Recently, Microsoft set out to prove that their technology can empower us all. For young gamers with disabilities who want to play just like everyone else, the Xbox adaptive controller levels the playing field. It’s a kind reminder that people everywhere deserve a shot at being their best every day, no matter the circumstances. And if that doesn’t resonate with emotional intelligence, then we don’t know what will. 


In the end, personality embodies the brand

Tapping into every pillar of emotional intelligence is no easy feat. Inspiration for brands may happen overnight, but inspiring customers to feel the same way about a brand takes time. By harnessing self-awareness, empathy, motivation, social skills, and self-regulation, brands have a chance to create something truly special. As a result, companies will develop a sense of emotional loyalty with their customers that lasts long after the campaign finishes.