There I was, standing in Target on an average Saturday afternoon - when I saw him. From down the aisle I could see his big, brown eyes staring at me, the corners of his mouth turned up with a hint of hopefulness from under his soft whiskers. The instant I saw him, I knew what I had to do. I had to put back the "on sale" dishwashing soap and buy Dawn instead.

baby seal


As I stood in Target toiling over the purchase of a dish soap refill last weekend, it occurred to me that I have become unusually loyal to my liquid dish soap. In reality, this loyalty has very little to do with dishes, and much to do with Dawn's turn-my-heart-to-mush marketing. Marketing that has been so effective, in fact, that every time I purchase a dish soap refill, I view myself as singlehandedly responsible for the well-being and survival of the baby seal (or baby penguin or baby duck...) featured on their packaging. In my mind, purchase of a competitor's brand = "I hate baby seals," while purchase of Dawn = "I have just made an investment in this little creature which will ensure he continues to live out his days happily sliding down snowbanks, getting into shenanigans with his baby seal friends."


A quick glimpse at how Dawn is leveraging emotion to turn average dishwashers into animal-saving superheroes...(and consequently, inspiring people to get passionate about their dish soap.)

  • As featured in their commercials, Dawn is a preferred partner in helping clean cute little critters after an oil spill. While the spirit of the commercial is undeniably philanthropic, it also subtly reiterates the message that their product works. If Dawn is tough enough to clean up a wriggly, oily otter and gentle enough for a baby duck, just imagine what it will do for your dishes and your hands. Instead of jamming an obvious "WE ARE SO GREAT!" message down our throats, Dawn appeals to consumer emotion, letting the message speak for itself - through their actions.
  • As noted on the bottle, Dawn consumers can visit a website to enter the code found on the label. For each code entered, Dawn will donate $1 toward wildlife rescue. (And in fact they have - donating $500,000 in the past year.) By offering a way to actively participate in their philanthropic giving, Dawn positions consumers to become a hero before they've even opened the bottle. All they have to do is go home, log online and enter their code. Good karma at the click of a button, warm fuzzies between consumer and brand.
  • As an animal lover, this philanthropic partnership between the brand and consumer sends a message to my mind and heart: my passion is their passion. And that makes it our passion. Instead of a "them" and a "me," we become a WE - working in harmony for a cause near and dear to my heart. I feel good about myself, my purchase and the brand. The brand gains a loyal fan in spirit. What does that mean? It means I talk about their brand and their mission with the people I know. I feel compelled to Tweet about, and hold htem up as an exemplary case study in emotional marketing. It means I find myself standing in Target unable to bring myself to purchase another brand of dish soap. And I think we can all agree that's all worth so much more than a Facebook "like."


At the end of the day we're talking about a product intended to wash dishes - not save the world, right? So what is it about Dawn's marketing that compels me choose their product (and pay more for it) over another (equally effective) competitor?

In his article, "People Buy Based on Emotion and Justify with Logic," Brian Ahern explores the influence of emotion on action.

Feelings are incredibly powerful. No matter how much we’d like to believe we’re rational creatures who occasionally act emotionally, the truth is, we’re actually emotional beings who occasionally act rationally.

Why is this so often the case? Because of how we’re wired; how our brains work. When I say the word “elephant," you have a picture of an elephant in your mind. You may picture an African elephant with tusks, a smaller Asian elephant without dusks, the lovable Dumbo or perhaps an elephant toy you played with as a child. Whatever the case, you have a picture in your mind. That’s because we translate words into pictures.

Next in the process come feelings. The mental image of an elephant generates a certain set of feelings in you. Perhaps you have memories of an elephant you saw in a movie, maybe you thought of a trip to the zoo or you had feelings attached to memories of the toy you played with as a child. It’s those feelings that ultimately lead to action. It's a process; words create pictures, pictures lead to feelings and feelings culminate in actions. [1]

So let's take it back to the dish soap example. Logically, I realize that a competitor's brand will probably clean just as well as Dawn. At the end of the day, I will have sparkling, clean dishes whether I use Dawn or another brand. And the other brand will likely cost less. Logic says buy the soap on sale, save a dollar, clean the dishes and be merry. On the other hand, Dawn's marketing message has been deeply rooted in my soft, mushy, animal-loving heart. Emotion says: buy Dawn, support something you believe in, help them make the world a better place. Be part of something bigger than dishwashing.

And am I going to say no to THAT?


YOUR TURN TO CHIME IN: When was the last time emotional marketing won over your heart (and/or dollars)? Was it the delight of receiving free samples with a Sephora purchase? Or the emotional reward of knowing your Chipotle burrito helped support local, family farms?