Why Do We Like Ads That Make Us Cry?
It’s that time of year again when tabloid writers and dinner party guests are talking with varying degrees of enthusiasm about the new John Lewis Christmas ad. At the same time, in boardrooms all over the land there are fierce debates about whether traditional television advertising is ineffective. They can’t both be right
And year after year the John Lewis campaign from adam&eveDDB has proven itself one of the UK’s most effective.But why are their ads so successful?
The one consistent factor each year is the use of powerfully engaging stories which have made us cry like babies, or cough awkwardly and rub at “something in our eyes”, or leave the room altogether “to look for something”. But why is this “sadvertising” so effective, in comparison to humour or simple price point messages?
Research by Prof Jennifer Escalas of Vanderbilt University shows that people use stories to understand the world they live in, create meaning within it and draw their own conclusions.
Nobody likes to feel they are being told what to do. So a narrative is always a better way of convincing an audience than a lecture or a series of unconnected vignettes. Storytelling has been used since the earliest times when oral history was all we had, to educate, to entertain and to lead thought and action. Elders would tell stories which fostered group culture and ensured the survival of the species. Tales of danger and heroism, tradition and transition. Funny, frightening and sad: the storyteller used all their skill to make the tales memorable and persuasive. The essence of leadership lay in the craft of storytelling.
Peter Guber, Oscar-winning producer of Rain Man and Midnight Express says, “Great storytelling does not conflict with truth. It is always built on the integrity of the story and its teller. Our minds are relatively open, but we guard our hearts with zeal, knowing their power to move us.“
The one that started the trend of amazing John Lewis ads for me. Created by Matt & Steve at adam&eve (before the merger) and directed by the genius Dougal Wilson from Blink.
So what is it that moves us cry in ads? And why do we cry anyway? What could possibly be the purpose? Humans are the only species to cry purely as a result of their own emotions rather than through pain or frustration. Darwin called emotional tears “purposeless”. Yet there must be a reason we evolved to have the ability to cry.
In his book Why Only Humans Weep, Ad Vingerhoets, a professor at Tilburg University, Holland put forward the theory that tears Remarkably,
Timing is often everything. This HP spot was released when kids were going back to school. From Little Spoon in NY, directed by Rudi Schwab from Bang TV.
As well as being a powerful means of communication, Vingerhoets also found that crying can be cathartic. In one study, he found that 90 minutes after watching a tearjerker the people who watched it were in a better mood. “We cry because we need other people”, he says. In Tokyo cry workshops
Sometimes an ad just tugs at something deep within us, like the relationship between an adult and an older parent. This film from GreyNY is directed by Rudi Schwab from Bang TV.
That in itself should