Unruly / Blog / Sadvertising And Why We Love Brands Making Us Feel Emotional

Sadvertising And Why We Love Brands Making Us Feel Emotional

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: strong emotions are key to the success of an online video.

Brands and content creators love to toy with our feelings. They like to pump you up with pulse-racing action, make you wistful for your youth before then compelling you to drop everything and travel the globe. Online adverts are an emotional rollercoaster at the best of times.

But for all the bombastic, fist-pumping campaigns out there, often the most memorable (and shareable) adverts are those that get us reaching for the tissues. While you’d think humans would get tired of subjecting ourselves to net-enabled melancholy, it turns out we’re gluttons for punishment. ‘Sadverts’ or ‘sadvertising’ very often reach the upper ranks of Unruly’s Viral Video Chart.

This is certainly true of Patagonia’s ‘Denali’, an immensely moving short film that is sure to induce whimpering in your friends and co-workers. The outdoors brand collaborated with writer and photographer Ben Knight on an all-encompassing tale of life, death and man’s best friend. It’d be an ad for the dog lover in everyone’s life, if only it wasn’t so damn sad.



We won’t give away what happens, but ‘Denali’ is a sumptuous watch that justifies every second of its seven minute running time. And while Patagonia’s spot got us Googling the nearest animal shelters, it also got us thinking about our list of the saddest online adverts ever. Whether they produce a stifled sob, a blubbery moan or an outright wail, these are not spots to watch with a first date.

Besides the first ten minutes of Pixar’s ‘Up’, there’s a limited number of subjects that make everyone well up. If ‘Denali’ teaches us anything, it’s that pets are one of them. Back in 2013, dog food brand Cesar grabbed heartstrings with gusto with ‘Love Them Back’. An adorable twist on the legend of Greyfriars Bobby, it’s an ode to the special kind of companionship only pets can provide.



More recently, an Argentinian organ transplant charity (with the help of agency DDB) produced what may be the mother of all depressing dog adverts. Drawing inspiration from the easily the saddest moment in cartoon history, ‘The Man and The Dog’ depicts a similarly gripping story of friendship and altruism. It even borrows the theme from ‘Up’, which is basically cheating.

Acts of human kindness also help to drive ‘sadvertising’. Basically its own full-fledged film, TrueMove’s ‘Giving Is True Communication’ shows how one small act of generosity echoes over time, culminating in a third act twist underscored by swelling strings. ‘Giving’ proved such a sharing hit for the Thai telecom brand that they tried to pull off the same trick with 2015’s even more ambitious (if slightly misjudged) sequel.

Parent-child stories are also hallmarks of the genre. Google are infamous culprits on this count, with spots like ‘Dear Sophie’ elegantly tracking the notes a father leaves for his daughter (a nod to 1993 Michael Keaton vehicle ‘My Life’) and ‘Jess Time’ displaying the paternal possibilities of video messaging. There’s heavy cross-over between ‘Sadvertising’ and ‘Dadvertising’, the latter being the sub-genre of adverts that celebrates Dads in all their Dadness. Undeniably the best among these is MetLife’sMy Dad’s Story’, an ad that likely boosted Kleenex’s share price back in January.

And that’s not even counting the sob-ready Mum adverts out there. Whether P&G is reminding you to thank your mum for everything she does, or Knorr takes the taste of home to the ends of the earth, the online ad world will always provide good reason to give your parents a weepy call. So whether you’re an emotionally-repressed robot or the sort of person who tears up at Vines, ‘sadverts’ are evidently here to stay.


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