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.


Leo said...

One thing to explore might be that a constant focus on the 'good' or 'positive' side of brands rather than the negative or dark side, may reflect a Western cultural bias.
Neitzsche was really interested in exploring a range of moral values, (yes, including the darker ones), as well as traditional 'good', and predominantly Christian, ones.
He suggested that Christianity's desire to banish evil and all its works led to a rather narrow moral world, whereas Eastern philosophy allowed for the existence of Ying and Yang as a harmonious whole. Is there more evidence of sad-vertising amongst Eastern cultures? Will the decline of Christianity in the West lead to the exploration of new sets of values that are not 'good'. E.g. selfishness, pride, anger, lust, gluttony and so on?
PS My dodgy blog is at

David Bonney said...

A great suggestion Leo. And looking back on the postings of recent weeks I reckon there's some truth in it; how many decent sad-vertisements have we seen from Asia? Anthony Goh commented that there's a greater comfort with death in Asia - but perhaps their balance of darkness and light, Ying and Yang is a more natural approach to life? Perhaps Christianity has unnaturally biased us towards goodness and light? And yes, perhaps as we begin to shed the baggage of Christianity we will reclaim the dark side of our humanity, something that hasn't been celebrated since pagan times?

I look forward to the possibility, because frankly I don't believe in "Good". As the Brad Pitt character in Twelve Monkeys wisely states "There is no such thing as good and evil, there is only popular and unpopular".

Hmmm, a great theme this. Certainly warrants further investigation. Cheers Leo and I look forward to exploring your dodgy blog.