We've talked about how emotion can move an audience towards something.

Now let's look at how emotions can move an audience away from something.

How does this image make you feel about smoking?

Teeth and cigarettes

How does this ad persuade the audience emotionally?

This ad taps into disgust. The contrast between perfect white enamel and cursed ash makes the audience recoil.

(Smoking is notoriously addictive so the emotional effect of the ad might not be enough to make someone quit smoking, but it might be enough to prevent non-smokers from trying a cigarette in the first place.)

Negative emotions are super common in public service advertising, where speakers are often trying to get audiences to prevent or stop doing something.

How does this ad make you feel about intensive animal farming?

Human Society change animal confinement ad

How does this ad persuade the audience emotionally?

This ad is like the "Be kind to animals" ad we saw with the woman carrying the dog, but this time our empathy for the chicken is mixed with pain, fear and disgust. This ad tries to make the audience wince and squirm.

So rather than move the audience towards "being kind to animals" this ad moves the audience away from "intensive confinement of animals".

The two goals are related but distinct.

Often, moving away from one thing is a way to move towards something else.

For example, how does this ad work emotionally? How does it move the audience away from one thing and towards another?

Your Hands Can be Dangerous ad

How does this ad work emotionally? How does it move the audience away from one thing and towards another?

The ad uses fear to drive the audience away from dirty, dangerous hands... and towards clean hands washed with soap.

Why lead with fear?

Probably because the speaker, the Brazilian Secretary of Health, knows that people often don't bother washing their hands as much as they should, especially in high-risk environments.

So the "hot" emotion of fear grabs the audience's attention and makes them run to closer to the place where they might start washing their hands more.

But negative emotions aren't the only way to move people away from something. 

How does the Dumb Ways to Die ad try to move its audience away from, well... dumb ways to die?

How does this ad persuade the audience emotionally?

This is an example of emotional reversal: using otherwise positive emotions like curiosity, surprise, and joy to move an audience away from the idea of taking stupid risks (especially around trains).

Why not use fear? Because the kind of people who take stupid risks don't feel fear anyway! So the strategy is to create something playful and catchy that sticks in your brain until you encounter a moment of risk, and then at that moment, the audience should remember that the risk they are taking would be a dumb way to die, and stop.

This road safety ad shares the same safety goal as Dumb Ways to Die, but it goes in the opposite direction emotionally.

How does it affect you, as the audience?

How does this ad persuade the audience emotionally?

Many road safety ads are visceral and shocking, and this ad has some of that, but it's unusual in that it doesn't focus on the physical horror of the accident but on the feelings of grief, loss, and guilt that come with a terrible car accident.

The goal is to traumatise the audience as if they had been in an accident like this, on the assumption that if you experienced this once you wouldn't go through it again.

And speaking of scare tactics, one of the great masters of political persuasion, Marcus Tullius Cicero, used the power of his words to navigate the bloody and brutal world of Roman politics.

In this snippet, he attempts to persuade the Roman senate not to show mercy to several senators who have been accused of conspiracy to assassinate some leaders and burn the city:

There are here — here in our body, O conscript fathers, in this the most holy and dignified assembly of the whole world — men who meditate my death, and the death of all of us, and the destruction of this city, and of the whole world. I, the consul, see them; I ask them their opinion about the Republic, and I do not yet attack, even by words, those who ought to be put to death by the sword.

You are summoning to destruction and devastation the temples of the immortal gods, the houses of the city, the lives of all the citizens; in short, all Italy.

How does this speech persuade the audience emotionally? What does it move them away from?

The context is that Cicero actually wants the conspirators to be executed, but the Senate is inclined to show mercy.

So this part of Cicero's speech is full of dire threats of death and destruction in order to frighten the senators away from mercy and get them closer to where Cicero can persuade them to go for execution.

If you look closely, you'll notice he uses repetition in a similar way we've seen with other speakers ("my death, the death of all of us, the destruction of this city, and of the whole world").

If Cicero, 2,000 years ago in Rome, was trying to turn one group of people against another, 300 years ago, in Puritan New England, the Calvinist preacher, Jonathan Edwards, was trying to turn people against themselves, frightening them with extraordinarily vivid descriptions of fire and damnation:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear you in his sight; you are ten thousand times as abominable in his eyes as the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince, and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.

How does this speech persuade the audience emotionally?

This is startlingly full-on, not least of all because Edwards' "you" applies to everyone in his audience.

The emotional impact of this snippet comes from the imagery, especially the very intense image of being a spider dangled over the fires of hell by an angry god with blazing eyes—it's intense!

What's the point of it? To terrify the audience so thoroughly that they look for a way out of the situation (which he will give them at the end of his speech).

You have a try. Using this image as inspiration, imagine a speaker is trying to use an emotion like fear, anger or disgust to move an audience away from something.

What could they say or do? How do they make sure their warning is taken seriously? And how do they stop it from getting out of control?

a college student in his early 20s, enthusiastically leading a group of school kids to the monkey enclosure

Using this image as inspiration, imagine a speaker is trying to use an emotion like fear, anger or disgust to move an audience away from something.

Perhaps the biggest problem with negative emotions, such as fear, anger, and disgust, is they can feed back in unexpected ways, especially if the object of the fear is not clear-cut and if the speaker doesn't provide a positive alternative.

It's a bit like starting a fire; you need to know how you're going to control it.

For example, being afraid of germs in general can lead to a crippling fear of touching anything at all, so channelling the fear towards certain circumstances (such as in a hospital or during a viral outbreak) and directing the audience towards alternatives (such as hand-washing) can be more reasonable.