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Why Do Ads Make Us Cry?

If you’ve found yourself looking for tissues less than 45 seconds into an ad, you’re not alone. Even the most macho and insensitive of us have secretly wiped away our flooded tear ducts during an emotional ad. Sadness sells, so much in fact that marketers coined the term “sadvertising” to explain this phenomenon. Pulling at an audience’s heartstrings is one of the easier ways to get their attention, and brands run with that. 

While the main objective of advertising is still to persuade people, building a connection is equally important. When consumers arrive at a decision, emotions from past or related experiences attach to the options we have and directly impact our choices. 

“The most startling truth is that we don’t even think our way to logical solutions. We feel our way to reason. Emotions don’t hinder decisions. They constitute the foundation on which they are made!” Douglas Van Praet, author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing, said. 

Storytelling is the Foundation

Storytelling is an essential part of any good marketing campaign and to building that connection with your consumers. According to the UK-based Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, ads with emotional content performed nearly twice as well as those with strictly rational content. This shows proof that many common purchases are not made through deliberate, rational thinking but guided by emotional reactions. Telling the story of your brand will immediately help set you apart from your competition. 

Some of you may remember Maddie from this Chevy commercial from a few years back, a great example of sadvertising in action by a major American vehicle brand:

2014 Chevy Commercial – Maddie

The Science To Sadvertising

Yes, there is a science to sadvertising! One of the easiest ways to capture an audience’s attention is to appeal to their emotions. Stories that make us feel distress or empathy cause our brain to naturally produce two chemicals. One is cortisol, which is the stress hormone and works with your brain to control mood, motivations and fears. The other chemical released is oxytocin, which is directly tied to our sense of empathy and affects other behaviors like recognition, trust, and more.

Sadvertising simultaneously captures your attention and releases these two chemicals. While these two chemicals don’t guarantee a purchase, they do make a brand more memorable and allow people to connect with both the brand and with others who can say “did you see that really sweet/sad ad? Did you cry, too?” S

Another example that really gets your attention is this ad from Duracell  in 2015:

Duracell – The Teddy Bear (2015)

*Wipes away tears*

These are only a couple examples of the power an ad can have over our emotional state, often leading us to tears. Our tears demonstrate compassion and empathy. Ads that tell moving stories help us feel connected to our world.

I think it’s safe to say that the competition to make you cry the hardest won’t end anytime soon as the advertising market continues to compete for viewers’ attention across a multitude of visual platforms. If you need a hand getting your brand to stand out, On Target can deliver with campaigns that pull at your heartstrings or a laundry list of other digital services that can bring your brand to the next level.