Your brand’s voice and purpose-driven strategy have to work in lock-step.

At the confluence of post 9/11 melancholy and the hysteria of a new thing called social media, a different kind of marketing emerged.

Gone were the days of ad agencies feeding consumers a steady diet of a caustic, acerbic humour,  inspired by years of Seinfeld and The Simpsons. Instead, earnest sensibility – Sadvertising – was ushered in, one that intentionally aimed its marketing directly at the heart rather than the funny bone.

The new sincerity not only reflected a more contemplative and wistful audience, but it seemed exponentially more shareable on people’s social networks. After all, you could be critiqued on your choice of a humorous post. But even the most cynical of friends could never question your share of a heartfelt message of inclusion, love or hope.

Met Life Values the Dream of Every Parent

Perhaps no other region in the world does Sadvertising better than Asia. Whether they’re selling insurance or security cameras, Asian agencies have perfected the art of emotional storytelling, such as this spot from Hong Kong.

Tropicana Delivers Sunshine …

In Canada, thoughtful and heartfelt creativity dovetails perfectly with the country’s reputation for being kind and moderate.

After years of demonstrating its 100% purity claim by using animated oranges squeezed into containers Tropicana tried something much more powerful – corporate compassion.

… While WestJet Delivers Christmas

For some years now, WestJet in Canada has dedicated much of its marketing budget to non-traditional advertising, including goodwill initiatives like its Christmas Miracles campaigns.

Here’s Windex in Your Eye…

Perhaps the most surprising proponent of a heartstrings marketing approach is Windex Canada with its claim that ‘what’s between us, connects us.’ (They’re suggesting, in other words, that nothing unites family like a little electric blue ammonium hydroxide.)

Of course, the heartfelt approach is nothing new. But never has our industry become so quickly and ubiquitously predisposed to one singular brand of advertising. And, not surprisingly, as more and more marketers jumped on the bandwagon, critics grew more and more sceptical.

Heineken Opens Itself to Criticism

Last year, Heineken unveiled its #OpenYourWorld experiment, challenging unsuspecting participants to reconsider their prejudices and discuss their differences with each other. (Over a beer, naturally.)

The Heineken stunt proved polarizing, and was met with both praise as well as cynicism.

And for the first time since the rise of Sadvertising and its popularity in social media, the creative approach was parodied — … a lot — and the parodies … also went viral.

And then came the ultimate parody, created by someone in the ad industry itself.

Taco Bell Calls Out Sadvertising

The marketers of Taco Bell finally called a spade a spade. Knowing theirs was the last brand that could elicit the tears of consumers, they did the opposite and produced a charming spoof instead.

So, has the gentle age of marketing sincerity come to an end?

Absolutely, not.  

But it does call the motivation of some brands into question, not to mention their marketing judgement.

If nothing else, the Sadvertising trend reinforces how important it is for marketers to clearly understand their brand’s purpose. And to only adopt a particular, tone of voice if the character of that communication is perfectly aligned with their brand’s purpose-driven strategy.

Sadvertising refers to a consumer advertising trend in which ad creators are using a certain set of strategies to play on people's emotions and touch off feelings of sadness, melancholy or wistfulness.


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