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Beyond Positive Emotions: Selling with Joy and Pride

Relevant topics Archive, Advertising

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Every specific emotion used in advertising has its own effect on the willingness of your customer to buy your product.
  • Application:
    Discover when to use joy and when to use pride in marketing!
  • We all know them. The commercials around that time of the year, when the days are short and it’s cold outside. When we have dinner with all of our family, are overloaded with presents and we feel the love (except for your mother in law, maybe). I’m talking about Christmas.

    Companies spend loads and loads of money to sugar-coat their product in Christmas, implicitly screaming: ‘Buy me! Buy me!’ From the heartbreaking sad commercial of a charity asking for donations, to the joyful Santa Claus in the Coca Cola commercial. These commercials have one thing in common: they are filled with emotion, to are aimed to drive you to the point of no return. You’re choosing Coke over Fanta and hey, everyone needs a warm home, so you donate some extra money to charity too.

    Do all positive emotions seal the deal?

    Positive emotion being advertiser’s favourite weapon isn’t a new thing. Even the most rational person you know is influenced by emotion in his or her decisions. Approximately 95% of our purchase decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind, a place where emotion rules the world. Positive emotions drive choice, but does that mean that any positive emotions will make a product sell?

    Some very interesting new research is popping up, showing different shades of positive feelings help to sell different products. We are digging in two specific positive emotions that are found to drive consumer behaviour in surprisingly different directions: pride and joy.

    Pride vs. Joy

    While pride and joy both feel good, they flow from fundamentally different psychological sources.


    The kind of feeling when the sun is shining. Short-term or incidental, local, and easy to process. This emotion is concrete and demands specific representations.


    The kind of feeling when you graduate. This emotion is more long-term, abstract, and it strongly linked with personal values, your identity, hard work or broad mental representations.

    So, is it better to appeal to joy or pride when persuading someone to buy your product? Interestingly, it greatly depends on the type of purchase decision that’s being made.

    Different types of decisions

    We literally face millions of decisions each day, every day. Some invisibly small. Others life changing big. The choice madness starts when you wake up: are you going to snooze or jump up? Are you going to study today or hang on the couch? Each decision you make has its own characteristics.

    In the light of positive emotions, I want to point out two kinds of decisions, according to the construal-level theory.

    Easy decisions:

    Tangible decisions like what type of breakfast you’re taking today. It’s an imaginable, short-term, easy decision to make.

    Difficult decisions:

    These are life’s more abstract decisions, like: are you already starting with saving for your retirement or wait five years more? The outcome of this decision is more abstract and difficult to imagine.

    Match the right emotion with the decision

    The construal-level theory shows us the difference between ‘easy’ decisions and ‘difficult’ decisions, each processed in our brain on their own way. And here comes the interesting part: magic happens when the emotion matches the decision. A commercial’s persuasive power is stronger when the emotions which are used in the commercial, matches with the level of abstractness or concreteness of the decision itself.

      Joy Pride
    Easy decision


    Easy to process emotion and a concrete decision.

    No match
    Difficult decision No match


    Emotion that demands broad mental representations, matches decisions where it’s difficult to imagine the outcome.

    Practical examples

    We already saw which matches are the best. But how exactly can you apply these emotions on your marketing? Here are a few examples!


    Remember, joy is what fuels life’s easy decisions. Needless to say an ounce of joy works wonders to sell products in the fast moving consumer goods category, as these are often bought mindlessly. One of the most effective ways to elevate feelings of joy through an ad, is showing other people having fun. The magic of mirror neurons will let the viewer dive in the same experience.

    It’s for this reason Coca Cola consistently embraces joyous activities in its commercials. Just take a second to image a “Proud to drink a coke” campaign. Wouldn’t it stick out like a sore thumb in Coca Cola’s brand identity?


    The most game changing insight of this study can be found in pride. Advertisers and policy makers often struggle with persuading people to make a choice today that will benefit them tomorrow. It’s hard to worry about saving for retirement, buying a environmentally friendly car – or even getting travel insurance when your next summer holiday is still six months ahead. All these choices involve rather abstract long-term decisions, which our brain eagerly tries to push aside.

    Pride is a positive emotion that combats the brain’s unwillingness to take an abstract long-term perspective. This has been put to practice perfectly, when the State of Texas put a halt to littering with the ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ campaign. By activating feelings of pride among the Texan community, they shifted their mindset from the short-term convenience of littering a can of beer towards the long-term goal of preserving their beautiful country.

    Keep the bigger picture in mind

    While powerful, the principle of pride and joy isn’t going to skyrocket every brand’s ROI overnight. Always start by asking: is joy (or pride) even plausible with my brand? If people have to make a very sad decision, the whole perspective may be different. For Instance, would a charity organization such as Amnesty International collect more donations by showing happy or sad children? The answer is still out there.

    Also, always look at other competitive companies. If everyone is using pride in their marketing, you might want to skip it because you want to distinguish your brand from the others. A strong brand conquers its own emotional territory. And last but not least, brand choices depends upon a lot more than only the emotion joy, or pride. Repetition, consistency, and familiarity are at least as important for customer loyalty!

    The next time you stand up from the couch to grab a coke from the refrigerator, think for a second what caused your thirst for this well branded beverage. Merry Christmas!

    The next time you just stand up from the couch, open the refrigerator, already imagining popping open the cold can of coke. Remember this has everything to do with the Christmas commercial, although you think you make the most rational decision ever.

  • Beyond Positive Emotions: Selling with Joy and Pride
  • Reference:

    Karsh, N., & Eyal, T. (2015). How the Consideration of Positive Emotions Influences Persuasion: The Differential Effect of Pride Versus Joy. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 28(1), 27-35.

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