Fact is, In the world of advertising, evoking high-arousal emotions is a powerful strategy for engaging your audience. The ability to make your prospects FEEL things, rather than just THINK about them, can transform your ad into a viral sensation. Check out these three tremendously compelling examples that have captivated audiences worldwide.

Example 1: “The Silent Scream” (Anti-Smoking Campaign)

According to the World Health Organization, tobacco use kills more than 8 million people each year. Leveraging shock and disgust, “The Silent Scream” anti-smoking ad confronts viewers with the harsh reality of smoking-related health consequences. (Like, uh, death.) By portraying a close-up of a person’s mouth filled with cigarette butts followed by the chilling image of smoke billowing out silently, it taps into their emotions, leaving a profound impact. This ad’s shocking approach not only raises awareness but also prompts viewers to reconsider their smoking habits.

Example 2: “Eyes Wide Open” (Distracted Driving Campaign)

Distracted driving—especially due to texting!–has become a major concern, contributing to countless accidents and fatalities. The “Eyes Wide Open” campaign aims to change behaviors and promote safer driving practices. By delivering a jolting message through a shocking collision scene caused by a driver texting on their phone, this ad evokes fear and urgency. Its emotional impact encourages viewers to realize the life-altering consequences of distracted driving, motivating them to put their damned phones down and prioritize responsible behavior behind the wheel. It’s one thing if they choose to kill themselves… quite another to take others’ lives.

Example 3: “Ocean of Trash” (Environmental Awareness Campaign)

Plastic is everywhere. We can’t live without it. But, in the ocean? Yuk. The “Plastic Ocean” ad serves as a wake-up call by highlighting the stark reality of plastic pollution. By presenting a seemingly picturesque beach scene that gradually reveals itself to be composed of countless pieces of plastic trash, this ad evokes emotions of sadness, shock, and concern. Its powerful imagery prompts viewers to take action and make environmentally conscious choices before dumping their Dr. Pepper bottles into the sea.

According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, emotionally charged ads are twice as likely to be shared than those with low emotional content. Of course. Humans justify decisions by logic (well, many of us do)… but we’re most moved by emotion.

Jennifer Aaker, Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, emphasizes the power of storytelling in advertising: “We are 22 times more likely to remember a piece of information when it is wrapped in a story.” Why? Stories paint pictures in our heads… and stories evoke emotions.

Emotional ads have the power to captivate audiences, leaving a lasting impact on their minds and hearts. By packing your ads with strong emotions, can create campaigns that not only grab attention but also prompt viewers to take action.

Bonus: the ads that most often go viral are those packed with emotion. The ability to evoke high-arousal emotions in ads is a valuable tool in driving awareness, changing behaviors, and moving prospects from being just a reader to a happy, money-spending, customer!

P.S. If this post featured a photo of a nice ocean… a pack of cigarettes… or simply someone texting in their car, would it have attracted you as effectively as the horrifying image of the rotting skeleton, peering at you from its deathbed (after, presumably, smoking too many unfiltered cigarettes?) Think about it.

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