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Is ‘sadvertising’ a marketing tactic that’s here to stay?

When we attach a powerful emotion – good or bad – to an event, it’s far more likely that we will remember it. Which is why, for years, brands have been trying to make their customers laugh and feel happy.

As comedian and social media lead for Cisco, Tim Washer, said recently: “If you can make someone laugh, it’s the most intimate connection in business.”

But what’s even more intimate and memorable than making someone laugh?

Unfortunately, the answer is making them cry.

The rise of sadvertising

Many brands caught on to this notion and coined a whole new advertising term known as ‘sadvertsing’.

Sadvertising is simply a way of using stories that tug at the heartstrings in order to connect with the audience on a deeper emotional level. ‘Sadverts’ aim to bring tears to the eyes and genuinely affect a person. And while it’s quite new, it has proven to be an extremely powerful way for brands to connect with their customers.

After all, people purchase with their hearts, not their heads.

This video is a classic example: You have to buy Pedigree now – all other brand practically hate dogs!

Why this works

A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University (mentioned by Chip and Dan Heath, in their book “Made to Stick”) exposed an audience to two types of request letters. One of them states the statistics of poverty in certain countries then asks readers to make a donate to Save the Children. The other tells the story of one young poverty-stricken girl who lives in one of the affected countries then also asks the readers to donate money at the end of the letter, both for the girl and the charity. The result – people who read the latter version donated more money compared to the former. Simply put, stories that generate sympathy and compassion, as the Heath brothers put it, “…make people care enough to act.”

This is a valuable tool to use if you’re a worthy charity like Save the Children but should other brands and businesses go down this path?

For example, it’s now common for reality talent shows on TV to highlight the “sad” stories of their contestants to make the audience sympathise and potentially form an alliance with their favorite (most ‘worthy’) contestant. But what if the most worthy and talented contestant is the one who doesn’t have a sad story? Are they any less worthy of winning?

An example of sadvertising done well

Dove’s Beauty Sketches campaign is an example of sadvertising done well as it made us feel emotionally vulnerable but also gave us hope. It wasn’t sad for sad’s sake, it was about empowering the audience at the same time. And Dove, being in the beauty product industry, is in the position to discuss the perception of beauty with some authority. It’s their space.

When ‘sadvertising’ is ‘badvertising’

This is down to perspective and I actually do like the advert below (I’m a sucker for a sad story) but at the same time it’s a dubious link to P&G. Why do they get to make us feel sad like this? What’s their position here? And what are they doing about it? Oh, and look they’re sponsoring the Olympics. For me, it’s a brilliant message but misguided.

‘Sadvertising’ turns into ‘badvertsing’ when the brand doesn’t have the right to talk about the sad message they’re spruiking. In other words, when the link is so tenuous it becomes nothing more than insincere.

What’s your opinion on the place of ‘sadvertising’ in the business world? Should sadvertising be left to the charitable? Or is it a useful marketing tool across all brands?

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