Sadvertising: Adverts Designed to Make You Cry

sad person

While waiting through the commercial breaks of our favourite television programmes, most of us would expect to sit through happy, smiling and, sometimes, singing characters in adverts. In recent years, however, we may notice a handful of deviations that are tugging at our heartstrings and tear ducts. This trend has been dubbed “sadvertising”, but how exactly did it begin and how does it work?

The viral Thai advertisement

In 2014, the Thai advert entitled “Unsung Hero” by Thai Life Insurance became viral on the Internet. It follows a man who regularly helps people (and a plant and a dog, as well) around him without getting anything tangible in return, but is portrayed to receive happiness and gratification from seeing how those he helped are flourishing. In just one week, the clip has garnered 22,000 Tweets, 800,000 Facebook shares, and over 6 million YouTube views.

Since then, even more emotional adverts have been shared over social media until Thailand has basically carved out an online niche in “sadvertising”. Of course, other countries were quick to pick up on the virality of these adverts, turning it into the trend that it is now.

Authentic stories


Perhaps, a part of what makes these “sadverts” effective is their closeness to real life. By being emotional, it can provide a certain level of authenticity, which mere facts and figures may not be able to capture. Information told through a story is usually easier to remember and stands out, compared to listed information. The story’s emotional content engages and entertains consumers, instead of coming off as a blatant advertisement.

Telling emotionally-compelling stories also allows people to relate to an advertisement. The virality of the Thai adverts can be attributed to its humble perspective, to which many people from different parts of the world might be able to relate. The Internet is pretty much obsessed with relatability and it fuels likes, shares, views and comments that could elevate any content to viral status.

Shaping brand associations

Marketers can use emotional adverts to shape brand associations. By weaving emotions into a brand’s story, a marketer could build in specific emotional characteristics that may increase the consumers’ positive attitudes towards the product.

Take note that “sadvertising” does not only make the audience feel sad and leave them with this negative emotion. A well-crafted promotional video should also include uplifting and heartwarming messages in its story. And while it makes the advert memorable, the message must also tie up with the brand itself. The ‘Unsung Hero’ advert, for one, encourages the audience to believe in the power of doing good and reflect on what they really want most in life, which still ties up to the identity that Thai Life Insurance may want to enforce as a good and trustworthy insurance provider.

Advertising used to be simply about telling consumers to buy a product because it does so and so, and it only requires a dint of humour, style or catchiness to spur them into shopping. But that approach has been such an age-old practice that it might have desensitised their audience. “Sadverts” subvert this by communicating that the brand is not only about the profit, but also knows how you feel and considers your emotions.

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