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Emotions and brands: at the crossroads


Luis Gabriel Mendez

Director of Neuroscience for Latin America


The world of brands is as fascinating as it is complex, and it is therefore logical to approach it from different perspectives if we want to lessen the uncertainty surrounding such a multifactorial and dynamic ecosystem. One source that strengthens our understanding of this field is science, and particularly neuroscience.

From this discipline, we have learned that any stimulus we expose ourselves to is perceived by the brain’s rational resources only after it is processed by our emotional filters. This explains why a sudden clap of thunder can make us jump, though immediately afterwards, we see that we are not in any danger and relax.

Even though the gap between emotional impact and conscious recognition is minimal, and can be expressed in fractions of a second, this order implies that rational thought is conditioned by the emotional response provoked by the stimulus in the first place.

This understanding breaks our culture’s prevailing paradigm, under which we understood emotion as being opposed to reason, as if they were mutually exclusive mental states, when really they are successive ones. We now understand that these factors actually work in a flow: emotion followed by reason.

And what applies for natural stimuli, such as a clap of thunder, also applies to those stimuli deliberately generated to communicate something, including those developed by brands. By this logic, if a brand for which I feel a positive emotional predisposition offers me a message, I will process it favorably at a rational level, conditioned because of that predisposition. I will process the same message differently if it comes from a brand towards which I feel indifferent or negatively, and surely in a manner less beneficial to that brand.

It is widely understood that brands live in consumers’ minds, but now we can determine that they occupy specific territories within the brain, and that we can classify them into the following three dimensions:

-        Awareness - What we know about a brand

-        Experience - What we have experienced or imagine experiencing with a brand

-        Emotions - What we feel about a brand

Awareness and experience lend themselves to being evaluated with conventional research techniques, while the third one (emotions) responds better to the indirect techniques offered to us by neuroscience.

Our research has shown us that the brands with most equity reside solidly in all three areas of the consumer’s mind. That means that if, besides transmitting its key information clearly and suggesting its desired experiences when using it, a brand is able to convey positive emotions, it will make its market performance more powerful.

This graph show us the degree to which this is reflected in metrics such as brand strength and its possibilities for growth, with brands solid in the three dimensions (they are “balanced”), significantly surpassing those in only one or two of them (“unbalanced”).


By linking the apparent intangibility of what is emotional to directly quantifiable metrics, we can then assess the emotions a brand triggers in consumers as a vehicle that favors their disposition. This state of mind affects their purchase decisions, helping them overcome barriers and reinforcing facilitators to making a purchase.

In practice, a positive emotional predisposition becomes a shield in times of adversity and an accelerator in favorable moments. Naturally, attaining that status implies a process that is far from immediate, but it offers benefits that are also long-lasting, and which result in the building of a valuable asset over time. There are few better investments for brands than building emotional strength. Realizing this process with clear and measurable objectives can only make this route become more effective and productive.