By Gloria Watson 

I’ll never shy away from an ad that makes me cry.

I’ll watch it again if it makes me ugly cry.

This is especially true of ads that express the emotional essence of relationships. Asian advertisers, in particular, seem to deeply understand this concept and have historically created story driven ads that resonate using the emotional truths within relationships.

Instead of coming off as saccharine or over-the-top, these stories help consumers connect with brands on a level that is relatable and memorable.

How do they do this?

They use real life, authentic stories. The best, most heart-warming brand stories can’t be made up. They come from the heart of real people doing extra-ordinary (or in some cases, very ordinary) things.

Based on a real life event, Jolibee Philippines, the largest fast food chain in the Philippines, created a commercial about a young boy arranging a date with his mother at the restaurant. Little did the mother know that her husband, who lay dying in hospital, had planned it so that she would always have a date on Valentine ’s Day with her son. Get ready to ugly cry. 

They use real people. Real women don’t wear makeup and have their hair done all the time. Real men are half-bald and wear the same brown belt for weeks even when they’re wearing black pants. Rather than showing meaningless high standards of celebrities who truly don’t have to worry about high prices and crammed schedules, these ads show real people in the midst of real activities. People who consumers can genuinely relate to.

Pampers Japan, which produces baby and toddler products as part of Procter & Gamble, shares the story of “Mom’s First Birthday.” As several moms take their babies to the doctor for a standard annual checkup, we see giggling babies and worried moms, and in the end, moms brought to tears by the love and attention of their own spouse. If you weren’t ugly crying with the last video, get ready for this one. 

They tell the entire story. Rather than constraining advertising concepts to fit within 6-second online bumper ads or 30-second boundaries of television commercials, they let the story be as long as it needs to be. They give themselves permission to create mini-movies and take the time to artfully express the complexity of relationships and the emotions that go with them.

This ad for Wacoal Thailand, a women’s wear company that wants women everywhere to feel more beautiful, is more than 7 minutes long. It describes a heartbreaking situation in which a teenage woman found an abandoned infant and raised the child as her own. Along the way, she allowed herself to be judged as a promiscuous youngster rather than let people ridicule her child as abandoned and unloved. 

They respect the human over the brand. Rather than casually displaying the brand as a side prop throughout the commercial or prominently displaying it as the saving grace during a big finish, they treat the brand as the secondary feature that it is. The people and the human story in the ad always come first. The messaging always comes second.

This ad for Brother Thailand, a print, labelling, and sewing company, doesn’t show or mention the brand name until 9 minutes and 31 seconds into the 9 minute and 38 second ad. Seven seconds from the end. And we don’t even get a speech about how amazing their products and services are. 

By hitting these emotional notes, these ads, which are hugely popular, have successfully broken through. They have been viewed more than 17 million times on YouTube, and can be blamed for millions of cases of ugly crying, myself included.

Will we see this strategy more frequently in Canada and the USA? Well, Asian-Americans make up the fastest-growing segment in the U.S.A.  Between 2000 and 2012, their population grew 51%. In Canada, more than 5 million people, equating to 15% of the population, have Asian roots, including South Asian, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and Japanese people. Almost half of foreign-born people in Canada are from Asia. And, this Nielsen report (which is an excellent review of the state of the Asian American consumer) shares that the median income of Asian Americans is 27% higher than the total USA median. Given our growing Asian population, it only makes sense that more advertisers will try to reach that audience with a tried and tested method. Indeed, it’s effective with other target audiences as well.

Brands that want to be successful need to move beyond the traditional rules that dictate 6 second bumper ads and 30 second commercials. They need to cast aside outdated standards and create marketing moments that speak to consumers on an emotional, individual level – whatever that turns out to be.

As for me, I’ll take the epic tearjerkers every day of the week.


Ready to learn more? Download our Sklar Wilton BrandPrint™ for a template that will help you articulate the key elements of your brands on one page, delivering a clear and concise brand expression. Or, learn how we helped M&M Food Market breath new life into their brand by understanding who to win with, defining a compelling, differentiated brand promise, and overhauling the customer experience.