Thursday, 2 August 2007

Mr. Bergman, even your ads were dark

If sad-vertising is about putting a focus on darker material, then it would be wrong not to mark the passing of Ingmar Bergman this week. I've spent summers on Bergman's home island of Gotland and I have many Swedish friends who feel this week they have lost their national grandad. I cannot think of a more influential Swedish artist than Bergman and today Gotland, and Sweden, must be in quite a strange mood.
Speaking of mood, it's what Bergman was great at. All his films have a mesmerising darkness about them, an honesty about the futility and mortality of human existence. They can be tough going at times, but a Bergman film won't leave you feeling empty.
And when I found out this week that Bergman had directed 9 soap ads in 1951 (9 of them! and some over a minute long! those were the days) I just had to see if bergman was into his sad-vertising. Well, I'm not fluent in Swedish and can't translate, but there does seem to be a little darkness to these ads... for example, check out the one below.

It's really quite impressive for 1951, lots of startlingly affecting archetypal images. You can see all the "Bris Soap" ads here.

RIP Ingmar Bergman (1918 - 2007)

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The First Sad-vertising War: Nike vs Adidas

My chum Fransje found this beauty.

Was a tad disappointed with "a little less hurt" as the resolution... but have come round to it. So I won't quibble.
It's brilliant... right up there with the David Beckham sob story by Adidas which the excellent Scamp covered a while back.
Hang on... do we have a sad-vertising war on our hands, between the two biggest sportswear brands on the planet?!? Not to mention Beckham vs. Ronaldo...from world-renowned smiles to grimaces... a real test for emerging acting talents.
Click on image below for the film.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Sadly blows the wind...

On PSFK yesterday I came across a great little film/viral. And Henry Lambert felt it was another powerful example of sad-vertising. Well he could be right, it is a little heart-rending in places, this great deformed oaf not realising how irritating he is to humanity. But it's also really quite funny, a nice blend of emotions. But if the emotion doesn't get you, the cleverness of the idea well. Congrats to whoever deserves it on a beautiful, subtle, sensitively-observed piece.

If only PSFK had got the link to my blog right and not sent countless miserables to the more slapstick unhyphenated version of sadvertising. Sorry, my namesake, I hope you can cheer them up.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Planning announces itself in Sweden

I absolutely love Sweden. I'm not entirely sure why... the brutal honesty of the people, the effortless style of everything they do, dark-haired girls who worry about their blonde roots showing ... whatever the reason, I am happiest when in Sweden.

And I've always thought how nice it would be to work there. But can the Swedish ad industry even sustain planners?

Well, yes, it can and it does. And they've organised themselves into APG Sweden... coffee mornings, blogging, the whole shabang. So if you've got the urge to indulge in a little Svenske planning, you could do worse than check out APG Sweden.

And if Scandinavia is too cold and perfect for you, but you still need some local insight, then Claes Foxérus is your man. Claes is a 100% pure Swedish planner who is super-happy to traipse across Scandinavia and satisfy your every planning or marketing whim. What is more he is one of the lovely chaps behing APG Sweden - so he'd be just as super-happy to have you pop by to one of their coffee mornings.

Monday, 9 April 2007

100 Greatest Tearjerkers... and not an ad amongst them

A while back, Channel 4 did a programme on the 100 Greatest Tearjerkers. It's no surprise that not one brand communication made it to the list. What was surprising was that not one book or piece of music made it either... but then I suppose they don't make for great telly.

Anyway, I haven't posted in over a month. And that must mean I've said almost everything there is to say about the opportunity for brands to be emotionally complex. However, I'm a verbose and opinionated soul, so it's not like I've nothing left to say in general. I think I'll follow the example of all other planners and broaden the scope of my blog. However, inspired by a recent debate as to whether blogging is killing planning, I won't compromise on substance. So no reviews of best door knobs, Wimpy's or places of silence in london... I promise.

But so as to not stray too far at the outset, my first non-sadvertising post will be about emotion. And when I get round to it, I'd like to ask what we can do to optimise the emotional impact of the brand communications we make. What needs to change, what assumptions and practices are disabling us, and what if anything are we missing?

Hopefully I'll get round to it before the next bank holiday, but sunny evenings aren't conducive to pouring over the future of brand communications.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Lizard Love Story - sad or funny?

Ian MacDonald at JWT pointed me towards yet another "sad-vertisement" from Asia, as covered by FishnChimps. It's a lizard love story from Publicis, Thailand, and it's dripping with tragedy. FishnChimps describes it as "perverse and unusual with a twist of evil" but equally "fantastic" and "with some comically bad acting thrown in as a bonus".

I like the ad, but I'm a bit of a purist. And I wonder if the comic rendering of this sad tale makes the ad all the less brave and less impactful. Personally, I think it's a million miles away from being perverse (although it is a damn sight braver than anything I've seen in the UK recently).

What do you think? Is this sad-vertising? Could it be done without the comedy? Do we only feel a cartoon empathy for the lizards? Or is it the real deal?

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Two cries and a packet of crisps, please

I came across this wonderful article thanks to the ever-vigilant Dan Ng.

It seems Japan has literally been wept away (forgive me) by a boom in tear-jerking novels, TV and film. People are clammering to experience poignant, sad and deeply affecting material and a small industry has sprung up to service the boom. No one knows why the Japanese are finding it so enjoyable to be sad - perhaps it's a journey of emotional self-discovery or maybe it's basic stress-release. But whatever the reason, crying is now one of the country's most popular pass-times.

"Typically, the stressed businessman will travel to a café, in which they rent out an intimate room by the hour and watch a Tear Movie. After a sob, they feel refreshed and emotionally cleansed. Some prefer to watch with company so that they can share their feelings afterwards."

And it's not just for stressed grown-ups. A leading animated series aimed at teenagers follows "a beautiful young girl who is dying of an incurable disease and explores her relationships with family and awe-inspiring outlook on life".
Lovely. And all I had as a teen was Hollyoaks and Byker Grove...

Surely this Crying Boom can't simply be a foible of Japanese culture? I wonder if it will ever spread to the West? And I would love to know if Japanese ads have gotten more weepy since the boom began... let me know if you come across any.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

"Mom, my love for you will never be 'laid-of'".

Over on the excellent blog of Nigel Hollis (Millward Brown's Chief Global Analyst) the debate about sad-vertising continues. Praveen, a former MB colleague of Nigel draws our attention to this gorgeous Chinese 'sad' for detergent (hurrah for another FMCG example). He writes..

"Here’s an example of a successful ad for an FMCG brand using ‘a confusion of positive & negative emotions’ (as David calls it), though I’d say the dominant emotions are more negative.

Diaopai is a local Chinese detergent powder brand, and in the late 90s used (very bravely, I feel) the scenario where factory workers were being laid-off.

The underlying emotions in this ad are one of sadness, guilt and anger, which the laid-off mother faces as her child ‘grows up’ and does the washing, and then writes a note saying “mom, my love for you will never be ‘laid-off’”. Again, this is not a ‘purely’ negative ad as you can sense the feeling of pride and family bonding in the mother. And Diaopai acts as the catalyst for this bonding.

Quite beautifully, they also managed to weave in a ‘value proposition’ into the product window where they talk about & show ‘using only a little’."

Predominantly negative, "extremely effective"

Praveen sums up...

"The ad was extremely effective, and Diaopai captured nearly a third of the market, despite charging a slight premium over other brands."

True to form, Nigel suggests that the ad does have a "positive resolution" because "we feel the mother's love at the end". Yes, there is a degree of resolution - if it was a piece of music it would be the kind of incomplete cadence that ends one movement and welcomes the beginning of another. If it was a film or a book, it would denote the ending of a chapter. But it does not feel like a full resolution. And it does not feel entirely positive either. We see an expression of the mother's stress and worry for her child's future. We see how close they are. At best we see catharsis. But their circumstances haven't changed - they were probably as close before and we have no reason to believe the mother won't remain unemployed.

Resolution may have value. But this highly effective ad reminds us that resolution doesn't have to be complete. And nor does it have to be completely positive.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

The sad life of a great pretender - new VW ad from DDB London

It's lovely to be able to talk about sad-vertising from the UK... let alone from my own agency. So I proudly invite you to view the latest VW Golf ad. And I challenge you not to feel a confusing mixture of eye-rolling hatred and humanising empathy for the main character.

Lovely idea too... "the power of understatement". Congrats to all involved.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Home Depot make Sads in the USA

Dan Ng recently tipped me off that The New York Times had covered a new campaign by Home Depot in the USA which "taps into the weepy side of reality TV". The article, by Stuart Elliott, describes the campaign as a cross between a reality TV series 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' and "commercials for Hallmark Cards"

Elliott says "the intense emotions generated by reality TV, as well as talk shows like Oprah Winfrey’s, are largely because of their focus on so-called real people, prompting marketers like Frito-Lay, Geico, Home Depot and Sears to climb aboard the reality bandwagon".

The lead ad is especially weepy and involves a single mother:

“My name is Amy. Eleven years ago, I was a shy, new single mom, trying to just kind of make it on my own. When I bought the house, and I’ll try not to cry on this one, 15 days after I bought the house, my dad died.”
“He remodeled every house we lived in,” she adds, crying.

Another ad involves an occupational therapist who's been helping her patient (who had suffered a brain anneurism) to remodel her home.

“It takes a lot of courage for someone to get back into their life again,” Tammy says of Phyllis, choking up. “Because of that, Phyllis will always be a hero to me.”

You can see all the stories here.

Some of my English colleagues have found the ads a little over the top, perhaps even manipulative, breaking the implicit contract between consumer and seller (i.e. "I will watch your ad if you are straight with me and just tell me why I should buy the product"). But the Director of the ads, Jeff Bednarz, would defend against accussations of manipulation...

“I think people right now are looking for honesty,” Mr. Bednarz said of consumers, adding: “We are so educated now in watching TV that you know when someone’s being honest, when it’s coming from the heart. As long as you’re pure about it, and not trying to stage it, the honesty will come through.”

I think this campaign is interesting. Although a British audience might need something more subtle, akin in tone to the BT ads that have aired in the last couple of years with the "modern" family. I could only find this example which is cheery, crammed with product message and lacking in tension compared to the others.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

If you feel anything, vote...

If you agree with anything on this blog.... or even if you hate the notion of sad-vertising but have enjoyed the debate (a lovely emotion hate) ... then you could do worse than go to the blog of Russell Davies and vote for Faris's post on "The Dark Side of Brands" as post of the month for January. Faris is kind enough to mention my musings on sad-vertising, pairing it with some antipodean thinking on the matter and coming to his own interesting conclusions.

As Faris points out, this has been a lovely experiment in blogging, collaboration, etc. So thank you Faris for the exposure... and here's to a little more :)
Also worth reminding everyone that Scamp and Nigel Hollis also did superb posts on sad-vertising this month. And if four people post on the same thing in the same month... then surely collectively we've done a "post of the month"?

Sunday, 11 February 2007

"Emo"... the kids need an emotional fix

Youth is wasted on the young. Free from decrepitude and regret, with a thousand possible lives ahead of them, you'd expect the young to be elated, hopeful, ambitious and dripping with anticipation.

But they're not. The young are choosing to be sad. Reflective. Brooding. Emotional.

And they're not doing it alone. This is not the passive, bedroom-bound emotion of solitude that has forever been a feature of adolescence. Instead this is a shared experience with it's own genre of music, code of behaviours and dress sense. "Emo" is both personal experience and badge of allegiance... performing the same function that Mod, Punk, Goth, Grungehead and Candy Raver have in previous editions of adolecence.

Now the term "Emo" has been hanging round music for a while, but in the last few years it has been given a clear new meaning... the display of strong emotion. And this makes it quite unique as a muscial genre... because "emo" is not defined by a structure or style of music, but simply by the effect it has on the listener. If it evokes strong emotion, it's "emo"... so potentially this is a very large genre. For starters, check out My Chemical Romance, Death Cab for Cutie, Thursday, Jimmy Eat World and Funeral for a Friend. You might also want to explore "screamo" a new sub-genre of "emo".

If you're not sure how you feel about the music, you can take this test to find out whether you're "emo" or not. But if "emo" gets your amygdala popping, then I highly recommend you drag your self-loathing down to Feeling Gloomy... "the UK's only club night that brings you the saddest, most melancholy music known to man". I've been. It's great.

So if the kids are inviting gloom and sadness upon themselves, then surely brands that want to get close need to shroud themselves in melancholy? Yet I can't think of a single brand that makes "emo ads". Can it really be so hard to get a little brand loyalty out of a glum adolescent?

Monday, 5 February 2007

It's easy to do sad-vertising for insurance and telecommunications...

My colleague found these Asian ads on Youtube... lots of crying reported by all who've seen them.

Life assurance... Thai style.

Orange mobile in Thailand.

And a mobile network in the Philippines.

So I'm left thinking, is it genuinely harder to do sad-vertising for FMCG? Or are we just so unused to it that it seems impossible?
I've seen it done really well... and I'll upload some mpegs if I can figure out how.

The nobility of melancholy... or... it's ok to be sad in Russia

I watched a great documentary on Tchaikovsky the other night (clever old BBC4). Of particular interest was a brilliant concert pianist named Natascha. She spoke of Tchaikovsky's music being wonderful for its nobility, its tragedy and its melancholy. And with great pride she went on to say... "there are no happy bits in Russian music... ever". All that noble melancholy was apparently "in our genes".

Now I have only limited knowledge of Russian culture, but what she says rings true… I can’t think of one book, one symphony, one pop song that is Russian and anything other than sad.

I was reminded of a chat I had in the summer with Anton, the Head of Planning at McCann Moscow. He was very at home with the idea of sad-vertising and described a recent Coke ad that involved a bear and a sad story of some description. I forget the details, but a sad bear story is very different to what you might expect from Coke… and certainly not something you’d expect to find in American ads.

You can see where I'm going... perhaps the appetite for emotionally complex ads is culture-bound? Consider the infinite rumours of different countries having different film endings. Napoleon Dynamite in the USA ends with a happy wedding... in Europe it ends with a non-descript and rather pathetic table-tennis match.

I know emotion is universally experienced and expressed the same way, but the cultural filters that influence when and to what degree it’s permissible to express emotion, doubtless vary.

So, I wonder which country is most fond of sprinkling negative emotions in with their positive?And which country makes the most sad ads?

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Wagner says negative emotion without positive resolution can work

Last night I shared a few ales and a marvellous wide-ranging conversation with my friend Paul (not the photo above) and it really got me thinking afresh about the whole sad-vertising thing. As a result, I was writing blog entries in my sleep - so there should be plenty of new material posted here in the coming weeks!

One question in particular continues to gnaw at me - can an ad which portrays / evokes only negative emotions, and which supplies no positive resolution, be effective?
Nigel Hollis of Millward Brown thinks not - and it appears a quite reasonable argument - considering consumers who saw the Smirnoff ad, but not its positive resolution, he worries that they "may be left bewildered and upset?" And asks "can that be good for the brand?"

But as you will know from previous posts I am not convinced that all negative is all bad. I've already listed a number of reasons for leaving the jury out on this question.... but until the matter is properly
addressed with further research, perhaps you will permit me a muscial analogy that helps me feel optimistic about the "all-negative" route...

[I beg foregiveness from all those without a notion about music, and double forgiveness from all who know their music better than I and can see my sweeping assumptions for what they are].

Right, a cadence is a a particular series of intervals or chords that ends a section of music. If you don't know what I mean, listen to a piece of music, and the last two or three chords of any section constitute a cadence. Cadences basically tell you when a piece of music is concluded, giving you a feeling of completeness and satisfaction in the process (think of Mozart and his gratuitous repetition of cadences at the end of his grandest works... you're left in no doubt that the piece, and the story, is 100% over and resolved).

But then along comes Wagner who rather brattishly decides not to give his listeners the satisfaction of cadence completion. Throughout the whole of
Tristan and Isolde (the highest summit of music or incomprehensible garbage depending on your critic of the time) Wagner uses "harmonic suspension" to create musical tension. This means the listener is exposed to a long sequence of unfinished cadences... and in the absence of nice, neat Mozart-like cadences, the audience is left gagging for a musical resolution that does not come. Tristan & Isolde is build-up with no delivery... excrutiatingly tense and frustrating, but incredibly engaging, involving and dramatic... no wonder this musical form became a staple in 20th century cinema scores.

So, I wonder if a purely negative ad might work like harmonic suspension... a failure to deliver resolution that just leaves you emotionally entwined around the brand and desperate for more. It works for Eastenders (Britain's best soap opera which is all negative all the time... it doesn't stop middle-aged women sending off for Eastenders mugs).

And just as Wagner was denounced and misunderstood by many, perhaps the all-negative ad would only appeal to a discerning few?

A final point... lack of resolution may leave it open to the consumer to interpret what has happened, what they have felt, what it means... and in an era where consumers define brands as much as marketing professionals... perhaps this is no bad thing?

Well next time I post on this all-negative all-the-time thing I hope to have a little more ammo than a musical analogy... but even if it is the case that an all-negative ad would just leave me feeling "bewildered and upset", the last paragraph of my Admap article suggests that could be quite a nice experience.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

The bug spreads: more great posts on sad-vertising...

First of all, Nigel Hollis, the Chief Global Analyst of Millward Brown has opened a dicussion on his blog (I'm really chuffed that Millward Brown are showing such appetite for this debate... and such openness!). In response to the posts of the last week, Nigel begins by asking...

"Has Erik now become the savior of Millward Brown, or has he simply articulated our belief about how emotion works better than the rest of us?"

He goes on to indicate his broad agreement with the principles of sad-vertising, but also underlines an important distinction that certainly warrants further debate...

"An ad that touches deeper emotions which resonate with the target audience will always be more effective than a “happy-talk” ad. There is, however, a very important distinction to be made between how we feel when we watch an ad and how we feel about the brand as a result of watching the ad."

Citing my example of the Fly Fishing / J.R. Hartley ad, he says...

"The key point is that the narrative flow of the ad resolved my sadness and empathy into affirmation, just as David suggests it should. That’s what great ads do; they engage your emotions in a way that leaves you feeling better disposed toward the brand. The problem is, not every ad is a great ad. Not every ad resolves itself to leave you feeling affirmed, revived, or exhilarated. All too often ads which seek to utilize “negative” emotions end up turning people off the brand because they fail to close the loop."

Now I still maintain that we cannot yet be 100% sure that "failing to close the loop" means people will be turned off by a brand. Yes, it is intuitively appealing to believe that negative emotion is ok as long as the resolution within the consumer is positive. People get this.

But I worry that implicit within this is the belief that the ad itself must have a positive resolution. And in my paper I speed over a number of reasons to believe that negative emotion without positive reconciliation may be just as effective (mood congruity, the experiential similarity between postive and negative emotion, the example of tragedy, and motivational attractiveness to negative emotions in others). We can't know for sure, but it may be that purely negative ads can be effective for brands.

And with a complex media strategy perhaps a brand could communicate negatively for weeks or months before finally offering a positive resolution... a true emotional journey, far greater than that possible in 30 seconds? Consider the Smirnoff Triple Distilled ad (pictured above) a sad tale covering a break up, adultery and a "positive" resolution which at first only came about if you pressed the "red button".

So, to the more complex point about positive resolution having to occur within the consumer (if not in the ad). Well again this seems very sensible - I argued the point in my paper - but we cannot yet rule out the possibility that an unresolved negative emotion associated with a brand could be good for the brand. It's hard to fathom... I know... but let's remember the important distinction between complex social emotions (guilt, embarrassment, empathy) and base reptilian motivational emotions (e.g. fear).
Take the Bisto ad made by McCann Erickson, London... it was beautiful, effective... but didn't it also leave a lot of parents feeling guilty?

Secondly (a long way down for a second point I know) Faris posted some lovely stuff on sad-vertising and the Dark Side of brands yesterday. Check it out, he echoes the above with his discussion of brands functioning to reconcile complex opposites and talks about the thinking of his Australian chum. All quite fittingly adding to the complexity of this matter.
And given Faris's prominence in the blogosphere it has led to some nice coverage here... ... thanks for being so popular mate!
Phew... I think all this warrants a PhD.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Erik Du Plessis, Millward Brown, joins me on the Dark Side

Who says blogging isn't good for planning?

Last week, what started as a blog-posting about sad-vertising, led me to having a full and frank email discussion with Erik Du Plessis of Millward Brown about the merits of negative emotion in advertising.

And guess what… where originally I had considered Erik and Millward Brown to be firmly against negative emotion, it seems we are now in agreement that negative emotion can lead to powerful and effective advertising.

This is Erik’s last note to me; including an important warning on the dangers of using negative emotion gratuitously, and a hypothetical illustration with a brand I work on...

“Hi David, I can only agree with your last comment that we need to simplify, and not over-simplify, the issues about emotion.

Up to 1995 the general view has been the D’escartian view that emotion is the antithesis of rationality. (E.g. “Be rational, not emotional, about this). Everything has changed with Damasio’s book “Descartes’ Error”. Along with LeDoux a new paradigm has come about. Mostly being discussed only from 2000 onwards.

This leaves us with a situation where much of the pre-1995 work on emotion should be questioned against the new paradigm. Remember that this work was undertaken by only a few psychologists without the benefit of the new paradigm.

I think all of us at Millward Brown will agree that we still have a lot to learn about measuring emotions, and we are investing a lot of time in this. From what I have seen our approach is probably the best, at this stage. I believe we can learn a lot from debates like you have initiated with your paper, and your Blogg. At a minimum you are raising questions, hopefully you might even come up with solutions.

This is one reason I prefer to talk at conferences where there are creatives, planners and clients; rather than researchers.

Onto another point: I am impressed by the depth you have read my book to be quoting it at me, and yes, I might have been unclear, or simply wrong.

Negative emotions are as (if not more) important for survival as positive emotions. Thus, as far as the attention role of emotions you will give attention to things that cause strong negative or positive emotions. This makes for powerful advertising.

As far as the second role of emotions is concerned – setting up a pre-disposition – you might find that negative emotions sets up a negative predisposition, and this is the danger of gratuitous sadvertising.

I can see that showing people dying as a result of eating Marmite will get attention, but I really doubt that it will do the brand any good. The same ad execution showing people dying but this time because they did not eat Marmite brand might be more effective. Both would probably classify as sadvertising.

Thanks for giving me space on your Blogg. Erik.”

So with Erik on side, we can now be optimistic (if that is the right word?) about the future of sad-vertising. Let’s hope his authority will help breed optimistic clients too.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Other sad-vertising proponents

Some other great writings on sad ads came to light after Scamp's post this week.,,1724184,00.html

Millward Brown: A New Hope?

Scamp posted a lovely piece this week on sad ads and followed it up with some flattering coverage of my sad-vertising article. Yet again, why is it that creatives are first to engage the power of sad-vertising?

And then yesterday,
Scamp was contacted by Erik Du Plessis of Millward Brown (the arch villain of the piece if Scamp's "hssss"-ing and Darth Vader pictures are to be heeded). Why a villain? Well apart from Millward Brown having no doubt commited many atrocities on Scamp's ideas over the years, I kind of made Erik out to be the bad guy in my ADMAP article. Well Erik isn't really sad-vertising's nemesis, and if he's Darth Vader, then that makes me Luke Skywalker... and why would Luke be defending the Dark side?

Have a look at what Erik had to say about sad-vertising and then I'll respond below...

"Hi Scamp, I was not sure how to use your comments block (no send button) so I thought I will mail direct. I also do not find David Boneys address – you might be able to forward this.

I am Erik du Plessis, from Millward Brown (hssss). I don’t think I mentioned that I am against advertising that raises a negative emotion. In fact I am a great one for advertising that raises an emotion, any emotion.

The Maxwell tape ad on David’s blogsite is a very good example of using emotion in advertising (or sadvertising). Emotion has two functions: getting attention and setting a framework inside which the message is interpreted. Sadvertising can do both, and often more effectively than Gladvertising.

I would warn against Gratuitous negative emotions in an advertisement, but then I think gratuitous positive emotion has a similar problem. My view is that there must be emotion in an advertisement, and hopefully compatible with the product.

Congrats to David on his paper in ADMAP."

Well I just posted this response on Scamp's blog...

"Well if Erik Du Plessis is Darth Vader then he must have sympathy with the Dark Side.
I'm really heartened we seem to be on the same side now. For the record, my take on Erik's and Millward Brown's attitudes towards negative emotion are based on his book "The Advertised Mind" which anyone would be forgiven for interpreting as being firmly against negative emotion.

Here's a quote...

"We are all programmed to seek out the positive and shun the negative. So it goes without saying that the emotions an ad generates in us needs to be positive ones".
Granted Erik acknowledges in the book that emotion is a "difficult" concept, but it does seem his views have moved on in the last couple of years.

Millward Brown should be congratulated for trying to get to grips with measurement of emotional responses to ads. And if Millward Brown's methods for testing sad-vertising are a not as honed as they could be (I think I recall a list of 16 emotional states that do not include a fair representation of complex social emotions) then I'm sure under Erik's influence things will improve.

The biggest challenge is drawing clients away from a "positive or nothing" approach to creative. And if Erik and MB can help us push clients out of their comfort zone, then the main barrier against truly moving ads will have been lifted."

Emotion is really a complex issue and will never be addressed if we get hung up on creating opposing sides for the sake of it. The biggest danger to good thinking in advertising is over-simplificiation. People love simplicity... but as Einstein said (I think it was Einstein) ... "An idea should only be as simple as possible, and no simpler"... and if we simplify emotion too quickly, we'll make mistakes.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Neuroscience says "make ads sad"

Yoshiro Okubo of Nippon Medical School is a brilliant Japanese neuroscientist whose research confirms that there are indeed sophisticated social emotions which are qualitatively different from the basic emotions found in animals. He was featured in The Economist recently, but you can read one original journal article here.

For example, guilt and embarrassment show heightened activation in the medial prefrontal cortex (and if memory serves, that's pretty close to where the Coca-cola brand is supposed to live). The characteristically human cortex is quite a different part of the brain from the amygdala and hindstem where the base emotion of fear operates, an emotion that Millward Brown use to validate their simplistic motivated-to-positive and motivated-away-from-negative model of human emotion.

And what of this beautiful study by Adam Anderson et al? Not only does he show that emotion enhances memory for neutral stimulus (emotional arousal being induced alongside first exposure to neutral stimulus), but his findings suggest that negative emotional arousal leaves a more powerful memory trace than positive. Perhaps taken in tandem with my finding that negative ads evoke greater emotion, perhaps the effect on memory is simply to do with degree of evoked arousal rather than valence?

Lovely stuff - the potential of sad-vertising is beginning to look irrefutable.

Can't wait for my next client meeting!

Monday, 22 January 2007

Do a Brand Onion on yourself or a friend

It struck me that every planner should be forced to construct their own brand onion, a parrallel to psychtherapists having to undergo years of self-analysis before qualified to dole out advice.

When I left McCann Erickson last month, I found myself in the pub sharing a final fond drink with Rob and Laura (fellow McCann planners) and, almost as a symbol of knowing each other so intimately, we assigned each other brand essences (Rob suggested mine was "emotionally bald", hardly as flattering as mine for him... "forgivably superior", whilst Laura was "Entwining" to my "Beguilingly Cunning"). All great fun... and reasons to believe, emotional benefits, etc. followed suit. Never got onto NPD.

(Rob looking unforgivably superior)

I highly recommend every planner try this, or perhaps every Planning Department should do this at their Christmas outing instead of Secret Santa... a kind of "guess who did my brand onion". All very revealing and almost as good as "Shag, Marry or Shoot".

The Admap article in full

Hmmm, I tried uploading this blasted article and it comes out looking short and fat. Anyone know how to upload a pdf? In the mean time, I've pasted the full text of the article (unedited by Admap) below.

“Sad-vertising” – the downbeat path to true emotional resonance (unedited version)

A middle-aged man plays a tape cassette:

“Son, I know it’s many years since we talked. But, as you may know, I am dying and I won’t get a chance to see you.

I wanted to tell you I’m sorry… and I love you”.

The tape ends. The man cries.

You can rely on Maxell Tapes .

A dying man chooses Maxell tapes for their reliability, because he won’t get a second chance to say goodbye to his son. Brilliant. Moving. Possibly the most emotional part of your day so far. Possibly causing you to reflect on your own relationships with your parents or children. And it’s only a script… the finished ad might have floored you. And what is more, all that meaningful experience brought to you by Maxell Tapes!

Unfortunately, however, this is the script for an ad that was never made. And one can imagine why. The client was nervous – who wants to associate their brand with death? The agency wasn’t too sure – why risk losing the client’s favour defending a script that seemed a gamble? And in creative-testing the punters had never seen anything like this – how could they say they “liked” such an ad? How could this be an ad at all - where was the uplifting music, the protagonist’s pay-off, the hilarious and unlikely series of events that demonstrate the product’s quality?

Yet, of all the scripts written by Naresh Ramchandani that never got produced, this is the one that no one forgets. I’ve never encountered so many people eager to tell me about an ad that was never made – every time I’m told about it the script is slightly different and after 16 years of Chinese Whispers I’ve no doubt the above script is a distant ancestor of the original. But whilst the words may have changed, the sentiment has remained constant, and Naresh provides a very simple reason as to why that sentiment was so important.

“I learned my trade at HHCL, where we set out to be different…. and in a world where most ads were young, bubbly, irreverent… it was clear something poignant would cut through”.

It just so happens Naresh went on to win a Cannes Gold for Maxell Tapes with “Israelites”. But, interestingly, the script I opened with was HHCL’s first choice when they went to the client… which surely makes it the greatest “sad-vertisement” never to be made.

“Sad-vertising” is my term for those rare and beautiful brand communications that reach a little deeper. Communications with the confidence to make consumers feel something more sophisticated and meaningful than momentarily cheerful or excited. Sad-vertising spurns the convention of using upbeat positivity to stimulate trivial, fluffy emotions in the consumer. Rather it embraces a downbeat tone which flies in the face of superficiality, acknowledging that people, emotions and real life are a confusing mess of ups and downs, all blended into one and nonetheless enjoyable, meaningful and powerful for it.

Now the term “sad-vertising” risks being misleading – for the downbeat communications I allude to do not necessarily leave you feeling sad. On the contrary, because these communications hit deeper, because they may say something more meaningful and truthful, they can leave one feeling affirmed, revived, even exhilarated.

I’d like to see more sad-vertising out there (certainly beyond the charity and public information categories where you’d expect to find it). It says a lot that I had to choose a script which never got made as my archetypal sad-vertisement. Nearly all advertising is upbeat, dealing in happiness, offering shortcuts to gratification through the portrayal of humour, elation, dreams-come-true.

But who wants a world where everything is always upbeat? I think most would say that ‘all upbeat, all the time’ is precisely why most advertising is so perpetually irrelevant and irritating to most consumers. Life contains sadness, empathy, boredom, frustration, anger, jealousy and fear. And advertising all too rarely captures these emotions from which real life is born – the themes of hope, regret, gratification, resilience, ambition, love, hate and competition resonate deeply and are founded upon a confusion of positive and negative emotions. Surely advertising’s reluctance to embrace this full, rich spectrum of emotional life distances us from the consumer, reducing the effectiveness of communications? I’d like to think my job as a creative planner is to ensure our communications touch people – how can I truly do this if prohibited from plumbing the depths of my target’s true emotions?

Many great brands have successfully flirted with sad-vertising, producing memorable and effective ads in the process: “J.R. Hartley” for the Yellow Pages, “Dad” for Mastercard, and others for Orange, Hamlet, Volkswagen, Tennants, Nescafe, Bisto and Smirnoff. Be it an old man who’s life has clearly not made much impact on the world, a girl freshly dumped by her boyfriend, or a child appealing to spend just one night a week eating with her parents and doing “what families do”…these things really get to us, and it’s not purely positive emotions they make us feel.

But, for some reason most brand communications continue to be superficial, inanely upbeat and unrealistic – these are missed opportunities and nothing frustrates me more than having to watch surfing cars, chocolate-induced giggles or blokey slapstick. Despite great brands having had the confidence to produce touching, tonally authentic ads, the consensus is still against sad-vertising.

Seeking the positive, shunning the negative – the argument against sad-vertising

The Cognitive Neuroscientific revolution of the 1990s has led to a renaissance in our understanding of the brain, and as a former research psychologist it pleases me to see advertising benefit by keeping abreast of recent psychological advancements.

Most significantly, advertising has learnt that man is at the mercy of his emotions. We now know that emotional responses precede conscious thought, determine allocation of attention and can even occur without our being aware of them. Some behaviours may even be driven by emotional responses without the mediation of conscious thought. So as much as we may stress about the rational, persuasive merits of an ad - if the ad doesn’t evoke emotion, it is still-born.

But if we have begun to review the importance of emotion in advertising, we have yet to question the assumption that these emotions must be positive. In 1991 Haley and Baldinger published the findings from their “ARF Copy Research Validity Project”. This showed “ad liking” to be the most effective of several measures in pre-testing and, in the wake of this article, Erik Du Plessis of Millward Brown has advocated, and claims to have validated, the metric extensively. Du Plessis has not been shy in backing “likeability” as a measure of emotion and has rationalised that it’s advertising’s job to build or reinforce a brand’s positive emotional associations. Why positive? Du Plessis bases his argument on an understanding of the brain’s most primitive structures (with learnings derived from LeDoux’s experiments on “fear” in rat brains) and the inference that humans are drawn towards positive stimuli and repelled by negative stimuli. Accordingly, he argues that brand communications must aim to elicit positive emotions, with the powerful implication that emotions portrayed in ads should also be positive.

“We are all programmed to seek out the positive and shun the negative”,
Du Plessis, “The Advertised Mind”, (2005).

But I believe human emotion, and the manner in which we experience brand communications, to be so much more sophisticated than a simple motivated-to-positive / motivated-away-from-negative model. Our evolution took place over millions of years and whilst we retain many of the simple adaptations from reptilian and early mammalian stages (e.g. basic fear response) the emotional adaptations that define us as humans evolved much later, to serve the social needs of hominid group-living (e.g. jealousy, love, hope, empathy). These latter emotions are more complex and surely cannot be reduced to the simple positive and negative motivational terms that Du Plessis employs?

I hypothesise a hierarchy of human emotion, with social emotions being qualitatively different from their non-social precursors. Unfortunately, however, Neuroscience remains far from having a firm grip on our most complex, social emotions… possibly because rats do not often experience empathy or love.

Sad-vertising is more emotive and just as likeable!

In a recent study carried out by Pulse, McCann Erickson’s insight generation unit, and Prism Strategy, an online sample of over 1,000 consumers were exposed to 18 television advertisements, 9 of which were purely positive or “happy” in tone and 9 of which were “sad” or emotionally undulating.

Two findings are really important:

1) The “sad” or emotionally undulating ads evoked significantly more self-reported emotion than the “happy” ads. This is a clear endorsement of the power of sad-vertising.

2) There was no significant difference between “happy” and “sad” ads on the measure of “likeability”. This is clear evidence that negative scenarios or emotions do not necessarily “repel” us.

Why does “sad-vertising” work?

Here are some further reasons to be open-minded about the quality of emotions we use in communications, and to believe that sad-vertising can be employed to the profitable gain of brand owners:

- "Advertising is an art, not a science”. I’ve heard this said so many times by lazy advertisers who’ll gladly disparage science if it makes less work for themselves. But maybe advertising can learn something from art. Art, which has engaged humanity for millennia, would be undone were it not able to portray the full gamut of human experience. Imagine if our greatest artists had been permitted only to portray positive emotions; there would be no King Lear, no Rachmaninov’s 2nd, no Catcher In The Rye. Great art confidently portrays and elicits the depths of human experience and through doing so rewards the consumer with intellectual and experiential growth. At a time when everyone talks about engagement, about providing incentive for consumers to spend time with our brands, it’s worthwhile to more closely observe the mechanics of art (pathos, catharsis…. and the way in which tragedy almost necessarily sits alongside comedy).

- The mood of both message and message-recipient have a bearing on the effectiveness of a communication. The cognitive psychologist Bower shows with his “Mood Congruity” principle that a person will better attend to and learn information which tonally matches their mood – so if someone is feeling sad, they will better attend to and remember a message with a sad tone. This has strong implications for television advertising – Csikszentmihalyi has evidenced that people, when watching television, are less happy than normal, experiencing depressed mood, mild guilt and anxiety. And beyond television, 1 in 10 people rate themselves as prevailingly unhappy, whilst certain parts of everyone’s day involve lower mood. So we are wrong to hit people in a blanket fashion with upbeat messaging – instead we should make informed decisions on tonality, taking mood of the target, medium and time of day into account.

Bower also talks about “Mood-state Dependent Recall” - a memory more readily comes to mind when our mood-state matches the mood of the memory – so, unless the consumer is in an upbeat, blissful state whilst shopping, we are wrong to talk about our brand in an upbeat, blissful tone.

All this seems intuitive – when communicating wth another, we are most effective when we mirror that person’s feelings. Unfortunately most advertising acts like the psychotherapist who advises his patient to “cheer up and look on the bright side” – his ignorance of patient feelings and dearth of empathy make for an ineffective intervention.

- Is your brand someone I’d like to hang out with? Or is it the irritatingly and inauthentically happy person one meets at a party who, through saying only positive, predictable things, is quickly identified as being of zero interest? Likeability is so very important in a world where we feed our identity with brand choices and evaluate brands as we would people. If we like people who are “real”, authentic, similar to us, honest and interesting, then surely brands with more complicated moods will stimulate greater likeability?

We bond with others through adversity, shared experience, the exchange of uncomfortable truths about ourselves. And we indicate we are open to sharing a more intimate relationship by displaying our vulnerabilities. So why do brands not behave like this?

Interestingly, Du Plessis in “The Advertised Mind” reports that “empathy” and “meaningfulness” are important facets of “likeability” for an ad.

- Humans can be drawn to negative affect. Not only can depression be functional, designed by evolution to motivate reappraisal and change in behaviour, but our evolved capacity for empathy makes us responsive to sadness in other humans – we want to help, to console, to cheer-up. If your brand behaves like a person who is vulnerable, humble, occasionally in need of support, might the consumer suspend his cynicism, increase his empathy and spend more time listening to what you have to say?

- The experience of positive and negative emotion may not be all that different – in fact all emotion may have the same initial impact on the body (the autonomic responses of increased heart-rate, adrenaline, etc.). Emotion may only be labelled as good or bad as a result of subsequent, higher-brain-processing, when the cortex uses context to decide why an emotion has been aroused.

In fact so similar is the experience of positive and negative emotion that they are readily confused. Consider the principle of “Excitation Transfer” or “Love at First Fright” as researched in the1970s and 80s. One study showed that the emotional arousal you experience on a rollercoaster can easily be misattributed to the person you’re sitting beside – that is, what we would normally describe as a fear response could wrongly be interpreted as the early stages of sexual attraction – exactly the same physiological experience, but subject to different labelling because of context.

So, the means by which we arouse consumers shouldn’t matter - “positive” stimuli (a gurgling baby, a smile) and “negative” stimuli (a crying girl, a death) may have the same initial attention-grabbing impact. After that, it’s up to the brand to provide a context in which it becomes associated with the heightened emotion or supplies a positive resolution to the emotional journey.

- Finally, I believe positive emotions are experienced more intensely when preceded by negative emotions. Sad-vertising probably works best when the brand offers a positive, cathartic finale after arousing a glut of sadder emotions. Consider the iconic “Hamlet” advertising – the meaning of “happiness” is entirely dependent on the misfortune that precedes it. And for J.R. Hartley, finding his book is all the sweeter after repeated failures to do so.


As a consumer, I want to be moved by advertising, to experience something true, meaningful and life-enhancing. As an advertiser, I want to feel proud of my work - and sad-vertising gives me scope to bring texture to consumers’ emotional and mental lives, to adopt moral and meaningful stand-points, just as art does. But most importantly, for those brand-owners wise enough not to put the entirety of their investment behind positive emotion, sad-vertising is extremely emotive, has the capacity to connect with an increasingly sophisticated consumer, and must ultimately be a more effective return-on-investment.

So here’s to a time when advertising reflects the true complexity of human emotion. I leave you with a taste of this complexity and the undoubted wisdom of “South Park”.

I love life...Yeah, I'm sad, but at the same time, I'm really happy that something could make me feel that sad. It's like...It makes me feel alive, you know. It makes me feel human. The only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt something really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good. So I guess what I'm feeling is like a beautiful sadness.

Trey Parker & Matt Stone, South Park “Raisins” 2003.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Sad-vertising in Pakistan

Sad-vertising has it's first postgraduate research programme and it's happening in Pakistan.

Faizan Ahmed, a Masters Student, is bemused as to why in Pakistan "majority of the themes revolve around family, young generation, happiness etc." and why "people just want fun and do not accept any hard and creative ideas". He's aching to do something new in Pakistan and has decided to conduct research to see if there is scope there for emotionally sophisticated ads, the kind he feels could run in the UK.

But Faizan's description of a backward Pakistani advertising industry feels strangely familiar to me and I can't help but feel he'd be disappointed with the output of our own industry (with some powerful, wonderful exceptions of course).

Good luck to Faizan. I'll keep you posted with his findings.

Friday, 19 January 2007

A Beautiful Sadness

I think I feel revolution in the air (is "I think I feel" an oxymoron?).

Not only has my "sad-vertising" article provoked a fantastic response from readers in all areas of communications who intuitively agree that a little sadness, melancholy or emotional complexity can go a long way (thank you to all for your comments, hopefully this blog will now make it easier for everyone to talk).

But discussion on sad ads is sprouting up all over the place. Of course it isn't all down to what I wrote.... this all makes too much sense for that... but it does seem serendipitous and I think we have a movement on our hands! See Scamp's comments from last week for a taster...

As more and more sad-vertising sympathisers feel courage and come out of the shadows (or more fittingly walk into them) they will need somewhere to collect their thoughts, to feel connected to other lovers of all things down-beat, to learn and teach how best to implement "sads" in a too-joyous-by-far industry.

I would like this blog to be blog-central for that movement. If you come across arguments for or against sad-vertising, if you find killer ways to sell it to clients... drop me a note and I'll eagerly blog it.

Viva la Revolución.