7 ways to use emotion to generate creative ideas


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou 

The IPA recently ran an effectiveness study looking at ad campaigns that used rational and emotional messaging and found that emotional campaigns trumped rational every time in terms of commercial success. We’re so bombarded with information that to cut through it helps to tap into an emotional response.

Many creativity techniques use substitution of one thing for another to get a new perspective. One of my favourite ways to generate different ideas is this technique that substitutes different emotions to stimulate new lines of thought. Trying to establish the origin of techniques is not always easy – I first came across this idea using the Godfather of creativity Michal Michalko’s SCAMPER deck. The idea is fully explored and developed in Sally Hogshead’s brilliant book ‘Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation’ where she talks about the different emotional levers:









Fascination comes from Latin Fascinare: to draw irresistibly the attention and interest of (someone) or to bewitch. Hogshead argues that all brands (and individuals) can attract more customers and influence purchase by leveraging these different emotional triggers. She argues that a billion-dollar “Just Say No” program actually increased drug use among teens, by activating the same “forbidden fruit” syndrome as a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. It is a really powerful and interesting way to think about your service, product or message not least because it encourages you to think about it from the customer’s point of view and what might trigger them to act.

Think about it for a minute in relation to a current challenge you might be working on.  Isolate the challenge or subject you want to think about ‘In what ways might I speed up customer service?…. 

Think about the trigger that you could use to generate ideas for the audience.

I find the more the extreme and different the emotion from what is the ‘norm’ for your category the better. It certainly takes you into different direction.

Example trigger: alarm

  • What could you do to make the target audience alarmed/fearful even?
  • How could we channel alarm into solving the problem?
  • How would alarm inform your stunts? PR? Messaging? Packaging? Marketing? Customer service? Media relations?

The purpose is not necessarily to use the ideas you generate directly (although this may be the case) but to provoke and stimulate new ways into the problem. Once you start exploring the triggers you can see them at play around us in different campaigns. Almost all insurance companies and their marketing plays on generating alarm, if not downright fear, as does a lot of government health campaign messaging.

Here’s an example from a recent brainstorm session where we worked through some different triggers:

Challenge: How do we engage people with a conference that’s business critical but low interest to people who can’t attend it directly?

Ideas based on making the target audience – curious – using mystique

  • Drip-feed the information to them
  • Hide bits of information somewhere like in a game, a secret door / hidden level
  • Create a real or virtual maze
  • Don’t give them what they’re expecting
  • Make them work for it – puzzles, clues, teasing
  • Give them glimpses of information
  • Start a rumour
  • Leak information
  • Make them guess what’s coming

We worked through several different triggers to give us alternative perspectives. You can work on these as a group or work in pairs / threes to generate different ideas and then share these back with the group to discuss and develop. 

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