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.