The 4 Emotions that Make the Best Emotional Ads [DATA]


After surveying a number of Paid Search Analysts here at WordStream, I was able to conclude the following: PPC can be really boring! I asked my peers to describe paid search in a few words. Their answers included: mundane, bland, dry, a numbers game, tedious, and mind-numbing.

Emotional Ads

It doesn’t have to be, though! Lots of experts love this field because actions drive results. It’s quantitative. As PPC specialists, we are often focused on the numbers – impressions, bids, conversions, bounce rates. We forget to tap into the right side of our brains – our intuition, emotion, and subjectivity. We find ourselves trapped in the left side of the brain with our logic, analytics, and objection. But the surprising truth is, our PPC campaigns can be wildly improved through the use of emotional ads.

What happens if we take an entirely different approach to PPC and find out how emotions trigger the searcher to react? Are we more likely to click on an ad that is comical or one that instills shock? How about one that is emotionally driven with anger?

We dug into the data inside hundreds of client accounts to determine the four key emotions that are especially successful in leading to clicks and conversions. Over the past few months, I’ve tested ad copy that instilled each of these four emotional drivers across various sectors and industries – really running the gamut from medical practices to online clothing retailers to personal disability lawyers. My findings have been intriguing, and I was able to draw some very obvious trends from the testing.

In this blog post, I’ll show you why these four emotions – anger, disgust, affirmation, and fear – work so well to drive PPC results, as well as how to put them to work in ads that get crazy-high engagement, with lots of real-life examples.

Before we get into the fun stuff, let me tell you exactly why you need emotional ads.

Quality Score and the Power of High Click-Through Rates

Google has this crazy algorithm called Quality Score. As you’ve heard, Quality Score is a secret concoction of past performance, ad copy relevance, overall account quality, landing page relevancy, keyword relevancy, and click-through rate. But here’s the hack – click-through rate is the single most powerful thing you can focus on when trying to improve your Quality Score.

Emotional ads Quality Score

Impression share goes up or down 9% for every 1 point increase or decrease in Quality Score. So basically if you don’t have a good QS, your ads won’t show up on the SERP much. What’s the point in creating ads no one is going to see?

Emotional ads Impression Share 

You also need a good Quality Score so you can get your clicks for as cheap as possible. Having a score of 10 discounts your cost per click by 50% on average. By having a lower Quality Score, you’re going to be majorly overpaying for your clicks – sometimes even 400% higher than face value.

Emotional ads Quality Score impact on CPC 

Lots of people think that dynamic keyword insertion produces the best ads. This is an incorrect assumption. Dynamic keyword insertion does work…

Emotional ads dynamic keyword insertion 

But dynamic keyword insertion doesn’t put your ad into the top 1% – the ads that really grab people’s attention and earn super high CTRs. Emotions do that!

Emotional ads relative dynamic keyword insertion 

So to recap why we need good emotional ads…. Good ads lead to a higher click-through rates which earn you a higher Quality Score and thus… cheaper clicks.

Why Emotional Ads Perform So Well

Now let’s talk science for a hot second. There’s two main parts of the brain that drive our actions – the frontal lobe and the limbic system. The frontal lobe is pictured below in pink. This is the “logical brain,” and it is associated with our reasoning, planning, parts of speech, movement, and problem solving. The limbic system is the “emotional brain.” This is where our intuition, subjectivity, and emotions take the reins.

 Emotional ads logic vs emotion

Think about any commercial that you deem entertaining. I have an obsession with pretty much any Budweiser Clydesdale or puppy commercial. Why? Because I love animals and they pull at my heart strings. They run viewers through the whole gamut of emotions from sadness to fear to happiness. Now I don’t even like Budweiser (we all know Bud makes less than subpar beer), but we feel a strong affiliation with the brand because they make these awesome, emotionally charged commercials. Budweiser isn’t selling the beer. They’re selling what connotations you have with the beer.

It’s not just TV commercials that make use of emotions. Emotionally driven ads are prominent in all other forms of advertising – from billboards to radio and even digital marketing – like content marketing and social media. But somehow PPC missed the boat!

Emotional ads auto insurance SERP 

I recently Googled “auto insurance” and came up with the above ads. These ads were AWFUL. They all said the same thing. Bad credit accepted. No money down. Call today. Google gives advertisers all the same old tips and best practices for ad copy creation: Include prices, offer a promotion, use a call to action… If we all do the same thing then our ads are all going to mirror one another. No one’s ad stands out!

So forget the generic ads – let’s create some emotionally charged ads that will get your users clicking!

Helen’s Foolproof Process for Creating Emotional Ads

Here are the steps I follow to write high-performing emotional ads for my clients:

Step 1 – Who is your customer? Is she a working mother? A hippie yoga kale eater? A high society trust fund baby?

Step 2 – What persona do you want to take on in relation to your target market? Bearer of bad news? Hero/Villain dynamic? The comedian? The feel good friend?

Step 3 – Write emotionally charged ads from the standpoint of the chosen persona.

So without further ado – let’s dig into the top 4 emotions that make people click and convert like BONKERS!

Top Emotions for Ad Copy Domination #4 – ANGER

Emotional ads anger 

Let’s write an ad from a divorce lawyer’s standpoint using my coveted process. Who’s the customer? A pissed off woman. What persona do we want to play on? The hero/villain dynamic. Here’s an ad that capitalizes on the searcher’s feelings:

Emotional ads divorce lawyer ad 

Here’s a real-life example. We’ve all heard the commercials on daytime TV in between Jerry Springer and Judge Judy. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the JG Wentworth ad: IT’S MY MONEY AND I WANT IT NOW! 877-CASH NOW!

Emotional ads Veruca Salt meme 

I wanted to try out that same sort of language in a search ad for my disability claims lawyer client. Using my process (Who does the searcher love? Their family. Who do they hate? The government) for an ad on appeal disability denial, here’s the ad we created:

Emotional ads disability appeal ad 

This ad had a killer CTR of 28%!

Top Emotions for Ad Copy Domination #3 – DISGUST

Check out this emotional ad my coworker uses on the display network for a weight loss management client of hers. She wanted to convey the emotion of disgust, so she took on the persona of the comedian.

Emotional ads disgust ad 

This ad was definitely funny, but also somewhat controversial. This ad was served only to men, and it performed very well.

Here’s another ad that she tests for that same client alongside the prior ad:

Emotional ads disgust ad

Click-through rate for the ad that provoked disgust was 47% higher than the CTR for the above ad, which is boring and generic – not eye-catching. The first ad commands attention.

Top Emotions for Ad Copy Domination #2 – AFFIRMATION

Going back to my process again. The client I wrote this next set of ads for is a plus-size fashion retailer, so the target market is plus-size women. The persona I wanted to take on here was the feel-good friend.

Here was the ad that was originally running in the account, prior to testing. It was pretty generic. This ad always had a pretty good click-through rate, so we never really played around with it too much.

Emotional ads affirmation 

I decided to throw in two ads to run simultaneously with the original ad. One was an ad that focused on flattering the user.

Emotional ad affirmation  

I was biased towards this ad, and wanted it to do well, but it actually didn’t do so great, because it was a bit off-topic from the core product – clothing. Here was the other ad I put into the rotation:

Emotional ad affirmation 

This ad was the clear winner of the three. Hitting users with the 1-2 punch of flattery and promotional details is key. We can still make the user feel good about themselves, while letting them know there’s a sale happening.

Emotional ads CTR by ad type

Top Emotions for Ad Copy Domination #1 – FEAR

I have a client who specializes in breast cancer screening services. I wanted this client to succeed, not only for the sake of my bonus, but because it’s something I really care about. This is the ad they were running when they came onboard as a client:

Emotional ads fear 

 This ad isn’t compelling because we’ve all heard this saying (“early detection saves lives”) so many times. This saying doesn’t get a woman to take action anymore, because it’s become too much of a cliché. I paused this ad and replaced it with 2 new ones, shown below.


Emotional ads positivity ad 


Emotional ads negativity ad 

This first new ad had a positive twist in the language. It was stronger than the old ad, with more conviction, but still weak. For the next version of the ad, I thought about who my target customer was – likely a frightened woman, with kids, a husband, and responsibilities. She was searching something along the lines of “breast cancer symptoms,” so more likely than not she was thinking she might have breast cancer. This is where I knew we had to catch her.

The persona we took on was the “bearer of bad news.” This second ad is by no means a feel-good ad. It’s definitely not conventional, but it is memorable and got women in to get screened. In telling a woman this fact, we purposefully meant to scare her – and the negative ad produced 125% more appointments booked, compared to the positive ad.

Emotional ads impact of negative vs positive

Even more striking was that the negative ad produced 170% more phone calls, compared to the positive ad. This makes a lot of sense. The woman is having an emergency – so she’s more likely to take immediate action and to call and book an appointment – rather than filling out a more passive call back form.

 Emotional ads impact of positive vs negative

So for the love of paid search – go write some creative new ads, and I guarantee you that in a couple of months you’ll see a dramatic change in your ad performance. Remember – small changes equate to small results and big changes equate to big results. Making a small change, like using dynamic keyword insertion, will give you a small increase in click through rate. Writing completely new emotional ads that make your searchers feel something will lead to big changes! Be the mad scientist and prey upon people’s emotions. Don’t be afraid to test big, crazy things. When you find something that works, it’s like finding gold!

Larry Kim always uses this silly analogy – “Be the unicorn in a sea of donkeys.”

Emotional ads unicorns 

I created a far better analogy – “Be the Tom Brady in a sea of quarterbacks!”

 Emotional ads Patriots meme

Sorry… I had to…


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Nov 10, 2015

Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful article. Thanks for supplying this info.

Nov 12, 2015

This is indeed interesting and the ads given as examples are catchy, I'll admit to that.

But what do you do with 'ad relevancy' which is a component of QS. From my experience a lot of times it has happen that although the ad was relevant from a human point of view, Google did not see it so, mainly because the keyword was not in the ad text.

Elisa Gabbert
Nov 12, 2015

You can write emotional ads that still include the keyword! Also, keep in mind that CTR is the main component of Quality Score -- that's the main way that Google judges relevance.

Nov 12, 2015

I want to be the Tom Brady Unicorn in the Sea of Donkey Quarterbacks!

Aug 10, 2016

Don't look now, but there's a "jackass" sign on your back.

Abby Frost
Nov 13, 2015

Excellent piece and some valuable info there for ppc managers. Does ad positioning skew the results? e.g. positions 1 to 3 tend to be more click-happy so psychology goes out the window?

Nov 16, 2015

Hi Abby,

Thank you! When testing these ads - we kept our ad positioning the same, so click-happy users wouldn't have been a variable! :)


Nov 13, 2015

Great info and very useful to all of us who dedicated to do AdWords campaigns. Thank you!

Corey Zeimen
Nov 13, 2015

In summary, the edgier, fear based, or flattering, the better!

Nov 19, 2015

This article was great because it taught me things I didn't know in a manner I could understand. And it's making me think about who my client is, so I can be conscious about what they need and what appeals to them. I'm an author and I think your information will help me reach my audience when I'm making content choices and considering promotional materials.
Thank you.

Nov 19, 2015

Great article with very good insights.

Jan 15, 2016

I've read a lot of articles on Wordstream and this is definitely amongst the best!! Thanks for good laugh, great insights, and PPC motivational boost.

May 28, 2016

Great article! Thanks for sharing!

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