Emotional Intelligence Can Save Us from Manipulative Advertising

Emotional Intelligence and Ad Manipulation

We live in the age of manipulation. Whether you realize it or not, you are being manipulated every single day—by advertisers, politicians, co-workers, parents, and even by your cat.

The worst thing about manipulation is that you end up doing things you’d rather avoid. It forces you to act against your will, putting someone else’s interests first. Long story short: manipulation is evil.

Manipulation is controlling someone or something to your own advantage, often unfairly or dishonestly. (Cambridge Dictionary)

The outcome of manipulation is always the same—you do something you didn’t want or plan to do, and it makes you feel like a fool.

Putting this all into a marketing context, manipulative advertising compels you buy stuff you don’t need and spend more money than you plan to. How does this happen? Relatively simply.

Advertising manipulators need to know how emotions work, which of them are associated with an increased desire to buy, and what techniques are best at triggering those particular emotions. It’s as simple as 1-2-3.

Thanks to advanced ad technologies, the magic of manipulation no longer requires a fairy wand. Cookies, browser tracking, and the personal information you so happily share online give advertisers plenty of data to work with.

Assuming they are familiar with basic consumer psychology (read: how emotions work and which of them are best for marketing purposes), it shouldn’t be hard for them to fool you into buying what they sell.

The good news is that when marketers fight, you can fight back.

In fact, there are many weapons you can use, from taking good care of your online privacy to installing a good-quality ad blocker.

However, one of the best long-term solutions for preventing manipulation is to improve your emotional intelligence. Why is this approach the best? Over time higher emotional intelligence will make you more resistant to manipulation of all kinds, not just marketing tricks.

Let’s dive into the topic and nail down what emotional intelligence is and what it has to do with ad manipulation.

What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

The concept of emotional intelligence was first developed and explained by Michael Beldoch—a Clinical Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry—back in 1964.

It wasn’t until 1995, however, when science journalist Daniel Goleman published his Emotional Intelligence book, that the concept of emotional intelligence became popular in the scientific community. Thanks to the book, the concept of EQ has spread to the far corners of our planet. Today, emotional intelligence is a term millions of people use but only some understand.

Emotional Intelligence, a.k.a. Emotional Quotient or EQ, is our ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions as well as the emotions of people around.

In practice, emotional intelligence means being aware of emotions (our own and those of other people), understanding the impact emotions have on our behavior, and being able to manage them when necessary.

What Role Does EQ Play in Our Life?

Let’s talk everyday life first. If you boast a high EQ, you are probably quite self-aware.

What does this mean? Likely, you are able to detect your emotions and reactions to all kinds of situations and manage them effectively.

Why does this matter? Well, it directly affects your quality of life.

To understand how EQ-level works, you need to first realize the following:

When something happens to us, we don’t automatically feel a certain emotion. We interpret the situation (thinking), react to the situation depending on what we thought about it (emotion), and act in accordance with our emotion (behavior). Thought is followed by emotion, emotion is followed by behavior. First comes a thought, emotions, and behaviors follow.

To learn to behave in an optimal way (no matter how crazy a particular situation is), you need to remember how your emotions are formed. This is one of the reasons why your emotional intelligence matters.

Additionally, emotional intelligence is what affects your communication with others. The higher EQ you develop, the easier it becomes for you to understand the feelings and emotions of others (empathy). Empathy, in its turn, is what helps you build better relationships with people (social skills). Those with high EQ are better at managing people, influencing them, resolving conflicts, and working as part of a team.

So What About Marketing and Ad Manipulation?

Here is the truth: emotions fuel sales.

The greatest marketing campaigns and ads are those appealing to your emotions (and doing it the right way). This means that each time you fall for an advertisement and buy something you probably don’t need, you are being manipulated by an emotion—fear of missing out (FOMO), jealousy, belonging to a certain community, delight, etc. The lower your EQ, the easier it is for marketers to make you buy what they sell, simply because you’re less mindful of your emotions.

Manipulative Advertising Example

Imagine the following situation.

You spend time in a mall, waiting for your friend to come. You have no plans to buy anything. You notice a crowd in front of the Nike store. Everyone looks so excited! You decide to find out what’s going on; you come closer. After all, if there are so many people, there must be something worth it. You need to make sure what’s going on or you’ll regret it later (say hello to FOMO). You come closer and notice your ex’s girlfriend trying some white Nike sneakers on. The shoes are wonderful and you think: If she buys them, I’ll buy them, too (Hi jealousy! Long time no see). You turn around and notice Justin Bieber. Obviously, you’re not his fan but you feel that seeing him is kind of a big deal. “I designed hoodies in collaboration with Nike. It’s a limited collection of only 1000 pieces. There are only 22 pieces left. We sell them to raise funds to support people in South Africa! Take your chance to make a difference!,” Bieber says. You’ve got enough, you can’t resist.

The feeling of belonging-to-a-community plus the feeling of scarcity plus a celebrity endorsement, who could resist? People with high EQ can.

If you wonder how easy it is for marketers to manipulate you, take this short quiz. Chances are good you’ll be surprised with the results.

The greatest marketers are those with high EQ; they know how to affect your emotions and, hence, your behavior.

The one and only way to protect yourself from ad manipulation is to work on your emotional intelligence. Once your EQ is high enough, you will be able to recognize manipulation in a few seconds and decide, consciously, whether the proposition is right for you.

What’s the result? With more rational decisions in your life, you’ll waste less time and money on advertising click-holes.

How to Improve Your EQ (And Learn to Resist Ad Manipulation)?

By now you know what emotional intelligence is and why it matters. It’s time to find out what you can do to improve your EQ.

Make it your second nature to listen to your emotions. By “listening,” I mean try not to edit or judge emotions as soon as they arise. Naturally, emotions rise and fall on their own. Learn to observe the process, watch how emotions rise, peak, and fade away. Watch with interest instead of trying to suppress an emotion you don’t like. For a beautiful explanation of how to deal with emotions and feelings the right way, watch the video below:

Learn to listen to what your body is trying to say. Every emotion has two components: mental and physical. This is why you often feel excitement as butterflies in your stomach, and why fear is usually felt as a pinching in your chest. Some emotions might be hard to understand on a mental level, and this is where the more physical body-level comes into play. Listen to the sensations you have in your body and learn to connect them with how you feel.  

Every now and then, ask yourself “How do I feel?” This exercise might feel strange at first, but soon you’ll get used to it and realize how important it is. Sometimes all you need to begin to relax is to realize that you are anxious! When you are aware of your current emotional state, it becomes a lot easier to correct this state if there’s a need. Do yourself a favor: ask yourself how you feel right now without judgement or trying to change it.  

Learn to shift focus from yourself to others. Seeing things from other people’s perspective is not easy. For most of us, it is a skill to be trained but the payoffs are huge. Start by asking people to share their opinion and thoughts. Ask them how certain decisions/events/circumstances make them feel. Aim to replace self-focus with other-people-focus, at least every once in a while—especially in a group setting.

Notice when your emotions are destructive and learn to manage them. Understanding your emotions is one thing, but managing them so they don’t negatively affect your life is another. Each time you find yourself overreacting, remember you hold the power to manage your emotions. Take a few deep breaths to cool down, then ask yourself what kind of emotional reaction you would love to have instead. Think of behavior associated with this emotional state and try to act as if you were in that particular state. The good old “fake it until you make it” approach works wonders.

All this is easier said than done, of course.

At the start, you might find it hard to correct your emotions before reacting. Give yourself space and time. At first, it will be enough to spot the destructive emotions. If you do this when it’s already too late (the wave of emotion has already raised—you already shouted at someone or left an angry comment to a colleague—don’t think of the situation as wasted. Get back and correct it. Apologize, accept that you overreacted, explain that you did not mean to hurt one’s feelings, and move on.

The Final Word About Emotional Intelligence

Gone are the times when IQ was considered the only major determinant of success. A growing body of research suggests it is our EQ not IQ that plays the primary role in reaching our goals. It is believed that our IQ merely accounts for up to 25% of our life outcomes, while the remaining 75% are associated with emotional competency.

Strong emotional intelligence can come in handy for a wide range of tasks, including your ability to resist ad manipulation. Work on your EQ every day, and you’ll be rewarded with a meaningful life filled with strong relationships, career achievements, and greater inner peace.