Building a Brand Based on Emotions: Guilt

Guilt is a powerful emotion that can come in many forms. Whether you feel guilty that you work too much and don’t spend enough time with your family or you feel guilty that you ate that extra helping at dinner, it’s an emotion that can affect your purchase decisions. Therefore, it’s not surprising that guilt is also an extremely powerful emotion to tap into for advertisers and marketers trying to sell products and services.


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building a brand based on emotionAs explained by Martin Lindstrom on Branding Strategy Insider, “Guilt strategies appeal to consumers on two levels. The first is emotional, where consumers feel that by buying the shirt, coat, trousers or iPod, they’ll gain self-confidence, whether in the form of a perfect appearance or a cutting-edge style (which is hard to justify when a consumer has maxed out her credit card). The second is rational, and is linked to a product’s practical dimensions, which not only come as a pleasant surprise, but also promise to justify the purchase to others once the consumer gets home.”

Building a Brand by Creating Emotions of Guilt

Marketing messages that successfully make consumers feel guilty can be very effective. Nonprofit organizations use this tactic in their ad campaigns frequently. Would you really choose to spend your money on a cup of coffee each day rather than use it to save a starving child? Are you really not willing to pick up the phone and donate to save abused animals? Are you really going to throw that plastic bottle in the regular garbage can rather than the recyclable can?

All of these are examples of guilt used in nonprofit advertising, but brands in other industries can appeal to feelings of guilt in their ads, too. Even the juice you purchase for your children can be marketed using messages that are intended to stir up feelings of guilt as you can see in the Juicy Juice ad below.

juicy juice ad

Building a Brand by Solving Problems of Guilt

Selling based on messages of guilt doesn’t have to be a negative thing. In other words, the message doesn’t have to make consumers feel guilty about something. Instead, those messages could position the brand as the solution to a consumer’s existing guilt as demonstrated in the Sears Craftsman ad below.

craftsman clear conscience ad

Appealing to emotions related to guilt is particularly popular in brands that can fulfill consumers’ desires for more free time to spend with their families. The Sears Craftsman ad below is a great example of that method of building a brand based on the emotion of guilt.

craftsman save time ad

It’s important to tread carefully when you create messages intended to evoke feelings of guilt in order to sell your brand. Guilt is a powerful emotion, and consumers can react strongly to ads that tap into their personal guilt. However, when implemented effectively, building a brand based on the emotion of guilt can work extremely well.

Think of it this way. How many exercise products or healthy products have you purchased based on marketing messages that made you feel guilty that you weren’t exercising enough, eating healthy enough foods, or taking care of yourself as well as you should? Yes, those brands are also likely to focus on emotions related to self-confidence and vanity in their marketing messages, but for many consumers, the guilt messages work even better.

If you missed other parts of the ongoing Building a Brand Based on Emotions series, follow the links below to read them now:


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Images: Abdulaziz Almansour, Juicy Juice, Sears

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Gunelius
Susan Gunelius, MBA is a 25-year marketing and branding expert and President and CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She is the author of 10 books about marketing, branding and social media, and her marketing-related articles appear on top media websites such as Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com. She is also the Founder and Editor in Chief of WomenOnBusiness.com, an award-winning blog for business women.