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In Today’s Emotion Economy, Feelings Trump Facts

Updated: Apr 8

Today we are in what we call an emotion economy. Facts take a backseat to feelings, serving merely as supporting actors in the grand theater of human experience. It's a reality where the currency of connection, adhesion, and identification is not only measured in data points or statistics, but in the raw, unfiltered feelings that drive us to action. From joy and elation to outrage and disgust, these emotions serve as the guiding force behind our decisions, preferences, and loyalties.

The brands that win are those that tap into the intense feelings about categories and issues. Consider the case of Purple, the innovative mattress company brilliantly taps into the feeling of “discomfort “associated with traditional mattress shopping and the reason for mattress replacement with quirky marketing campaigns and unapologetically irreverent brand persona driven. Similarly, always' "Like a Girl" campaign skipped the biology lesson and product demos we have all become accustomed to and went straight for the feelings.

Girls are weak one time a month? Hell no. Like a Girl shifted the being “on one’s period” on its head. Powerful not Weak. 

Nike's controversial campaign "Dream Crazy" featuring Colin Kaepernick ignited intense feelings of patriotism and solidarity, capturing the zeitgeist of a divided nation grappling with issues of racial injustice and free speech. By taking a bold stand on a divisive social issue, Nike not only reaffirmed its commitment to its core values but also galvanized a new generation of consumers who crave authenticity and purpose in the brands they support. What did Kapernick have to do with shoes? Not much. He plays football and no one wears football cleats to the mall.  But he had a lot to do with how people feel about themselves, their political views, and the brand.  He has a lot to do with patriotism too. By taking a knee, he ignited a maelstrom of feelings about  patriotism.

Even Zazoo condom’s infamous “Screaming Kid” ad that aired first in 2004 has over 1mm likes on Instagram today could have been anything from a PSA for healthy eating or for candy. Its brilliance is that it taps into the most visceral, extreme unspoken feeling of a parent at the end of his rope: “what a mistake” and ends simply with “Use Condoms.”

A relevant case study is the Marines recruitment campaign. They isolated the exact feeling that resonates with kids in need and in search of a career. Kids without a lot of options who usually haven't gone to college and are facing the prospect of jobs in hard labor, construction, or other unglamorous blue-collar employment, with little prospects for advancement. The long-running Marines campaign: The few. The proud. The marines. is telling these kids that they can be special. They can be elite. The promise of feeling special and apart motivates action.  

The Marines toyed with the idea of altering the theme to “The first. The finest," but wisely went back to the original. The big problem with "The First. The Finest." is replacing the stimulus with the desired response. Telling people that should feel great -- feel like the finest, doesn't mean that they will feel this way. We used to refer to this mistake as 'pardon me, your strategy is showing.'  It doesn't elicit much emotion.  On the other hand, when you tell people that they are part of 'the few', that translates directly into feeling special and 'elite.' Get the distinction?   It's why we don't particularly 'love' the Subaru 'love' campaign. Sure, people in focus groups said they love the car and that became “let's just say that in our tagline.” Logical. But feelings aren't logical, they are visceral!  Telling someone that they should love something doesn't make them love it.  What does? The answer should be the campaign they SHOULD be running. 

These examples underscore a fundamental truth of the emotion economy: brands cannot live in vacuums. They have to take a stand. Own who they are and who their consumers are. They have to own a visceral feeling. We are not about hard core ‘selling ‘ or a “unique selling proposition” with rational proof points. This talking at people gets immediately screened out by our conscious minds. We are talking about a unique feeling proposition which parachutes behind enemy lines - into the unprotected area and connects with the unconscious.

Brands that express and own feelings will win just like people. That is how they will connect with audiences. We need research and insights that gets to the “viscerality” and raw feelings. And today, there is a lot of that to mine. We are in an era defined by increasing polarization and societal upheaval, brands have a responsibility to take stands on issues that matter. It is not “cause marketing” as a side effort –it is about brands having a place in society. Brands heading to where the most intense feelings live. Starbucks is right to have a “barrista union” –they are at the cornerstone of our culture and as fundamental in a way to our well-being as mass transit workers they keep America going. Brands should not waver in the face of boycotts but acknowledge the frustration on both sides —we must acknowledge the feelings.  

Considering this is an election year, we will undoubtedly be subject to pitches aimed at our hearts and head.  Lessons from the past will be considered.  The cost Hilary paid for focusing on facts over feelings.  The brilliantly successful TV spot Reagan ran “ Morning in America” with all feelings and no facts. Hope is a powerful feeling. So is anger, as Mr. Trump has proven.  “I like Ike.”   Return to normalcy. Don’t swap horses when crossing a stream.  “Happy days are here again”. “Make America great again.” “Yes, we can.” All winners, and not a shred of factual language here. Let’s see if these lessons are noted in the upcoming campaigns. 

Speaking of politics, our work on the Israeli/Hamas conflict has reinforced that the emotion economy represents a seismic shift in the way brands engage with consumers. Yes, Hamas, Palestine and Israel are brands and subject to all of the pressures that impact brand image and strength. It's a world where feelings, not facts, reign supreme, where authenticity and empathy are the currency of connection, and where dialogue and connection are paramount. The future belongs to those who dare to make their feelings public and own them.

Robin Lemberg


Jon Bond


About The Heart Monitors

The Heart Monitors is a new type of strategy consultancy that exposes the feelings behind the facts™ that offer deep insights and drive behavior change. Made up of passionate leaders from the worlds of marketing, finance, non-profits, research and social science, The Heart Monitors bring a proprietary research tech stack, custom communities, daring questions, quick and timely reads and with products and services such as the “F Factor” and the “Gen Z Heart Tracker.” We empower non-profits, brands and their partners with powerful audience insights around messages, campaigns, topical and polarizing issues in order to craft a story that resonates, drives behavior and influences change. For more information, visit


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