Marketing insights that spark conversions

July 12, 2017 // 4:19 PM

Sadvertising: The Art Of Advertising With Emotion

Written by Matt Allegretti


Has a commercial ever made you cry? For most of us (whether we want to admit it or not), the answer is yes.


There’s been a rise of weepy ads over the last few years - the kind that make you reach for a tissue. These heartfelt ads usually tell an emotional story like the “Dear Sophie” Google ad, which shows the joys of being a parent. No longer are emotional ads reserved for PSA’s like the famous environmental ad with a tearful Indian, Chief Cody.



Sad ads are everywhere from billboards to car commercials. Marketers know that these ads are very effective at making an impression because sadness is a powerful emotion that stays with people and motivates them to take action. It's also effective at increasing brand association.


What is Sadvertising?

Sadvertising is a recent marketing trend that aims to tug at your heartstrings by evoking sadness instead of nostalgia or laughter. Marketers are realizing that the best way to grab audience attention in an overstimulated world is to create strong emotional content that tells stories. William Gelner, CCO at 180LA told Fast Company says, “As human beings, we’re looking for true human connection, and I think that emotional storytelling can help bridge the gap. Brands and agencies have come to realize that this is the way to fill the void.”


Emotional ads might make us cry, but they also get people talking about the brand.


According to Peter Moore Smith, ECD at Saatchi and Saatchi, another reason for the rise in "heartfelt" advertising is “ because advertising that evokes a strong emotional response is very shareable. The spot that makes you smile or even laugh can be a welcome interruption if it’s done well, but the spot that makes you feel something deeper, as long as it isn’t cloying or manipulative, is something you want to share….As agencies and clients watch those likes and shares rise, naturally they’re going to want more.”


The ad below, “Friends Forever” by Google Android, made viewers four times happier than other ads from the same year. This ad, which shows unlikely animal companions together, is the most shared ad of all time with over seven million shares and thirty million views. This ad was so successful because it is touching, tells a moving story, and its themes (love and friendship) are universal. Even though the ad doesn’t make people sad, it still tugs at the heartstrings, making it extremely effective.





The video above is a great example of the strong correlation between sharing and emotions. According to Karen Nelson-Feld in Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing, videos with strong emotions are twice as likely to be shared than videos that are not very emotional.


But advertisers need to be careful when attempting to connect with viewers’ emotions. Audiences can easily detect if an ad is overdoing it, which can often leave viewers feeling like they’re being manipulated by the brand. For example, many viewers felt this McDonald’s ad was exploiting the loss of the boy’s father in order to promote the brand. The ad suggests the boy feels he doesn’t have anything in common with his late father other than the fact they both enjoy McDonald’s Filet O-Fish. A major misfire for the king of fast food.



Here are 4 tips for creating effective emotional ads:


1. Know your audience
Brands need to make sure they are not creating emotional ads just for the sake of being emotional. You don’t want to come across as manipulative like the McDonald’s ad, or as egregious like Nationwide’s “Dead Boy” ad , which was viewed as far too depressing for the Superbowl. You have to know your audience and tell a moving story that is both genuine and memorable.


2. Tell Engaging Stories

Tell stories that people can relate to, like this heartfelt Superbowl ad that shows an elderly man suffering from Dementia driving an Audi and associating it with his earlier days as an esteemed astronaut. There are many themes in the commercial that people can relate to: Among them is caring for an elderly family member or someone with a disease, aging, and mortality. Stories with deep, real-life context can be very engaging, if conveyed in an appropriate way, like this Audi commercial:




3. Stay true to your values and beliefs

It’s important to stay true to your brand and core values when crafting video ads. Brands often try too hard in attempting to make an emotional connection with their audience, and in doing so the intended message is lost. Keep the core values of your brand in mind as you create your ads, and build the emotional content based off that foundation.


The ad below does an excellent job of evoking sadness and pulling at your heartstrings while also staying true to the Gillette brand. The three-minute ad tells the story of Rex, an aging man who has suffered a stroke and can no longer shave or wash himself. The touching ad, which recently took home Cannes Gold, shows the man’s son shaving his father with the new Treo “the first ever razor for assisted shaving.” It’s a moving tribute to fatherhood.





4. Test your video ads

Before launching an ad campaign, test your videos to see if they are evoking the emotional response you are targeting from your audience. A video testing platform, like Dumbstruck, is a quick and easy way to measure how effective your videos are by tracking how viewers react to your videos in real-time, using facial recognition technology and machine learning. You’ll be able to optimize your videos by identifying exactly what’s working, and what’s not.



Sadvertising is an effective marketing strategy that emphasizes emotional storytelling above everything else. Here are 6 things to keep in mind when crafting emotional ads:

  • Sadness motivates people to take action. It is also effective at brand association.
  • Good emotional ads might make us cry, but they also get people talking about your brand.
  • Videos that evoke strong emotions are twice as likely to be shared than videos that are not emotionally engaging.
  • Marketers need to be careful not to manipulate the viewer when creating emotional ads.
  • The most effective ads create strong emotional content that tells stories.
  • Make sure the ad reflects your brand’s core values and beliefs.


Topics: emotional advertising, sadvertising