The power and pitfalls of schmaltz marketing

Ash (1).jpgBy Ash Hall (left), media director, Atomic 212

Nothing brings out the emotion in us quite like our mums. Be it getting a bit teary, telling them that they're the best, or being 14 and threatening to, like, totally smash that bloke if he makes one more 'yo mamma' joke - "MY MAMMA'S NOT FAT!"

And for marketers, there's nothing quite like emotion to get people to notice your ads.

However, there's generally two ways to get noticed: by being spectacular or being spectacularly bad. And when it comes to marketing using emotion, you generally fall into one category or the other. I'm yet to see an ad that tries to pull at the heartstrings and just leaves you feeling nonplussed - you're always left in tears, but ensuring they're not tears of mocking laughter is the challenge.

With Mother's Day just around the corner, I thought I'd have a bit of a look at how do you do it? First, let's have a squiz at an ad that absolutely nails the brief when it comes to schmaltz marketing.

P&G's Thank You, Mom - Strong
Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 9.00.24 am.jpgA year ago, in the lead-up to Mother's Day, and with the 2016 Rio Olympics 100 days away, Procter & Gamble released this tear-jerker.

It all kicks off with a black screen and the sound of a warning siren, before thunder sounds and we see a young girl staring off at a cyclone bearing down on her home, her mother trying to coax her into the family's shelter.

It cuts and we see a gymnast preparing to perform at the Olympics.

We then follow the story of Cyclone Girl (the gymnast), as well as three other athletes, and how their mothers instilled in them the strength they needed to succeed in their chosen sports and become Olympians.

But rather than the mothers making personal sacrifices, doing early morning drop offs and the like - as was standard fare in P&G's other Olympic-themed ads - this time the mums are there to pick their children up and reassure them in the most challenging of situations: car crashes, bullying, the aforementioned cyclone...

The payoff comes, of course, when the athletes celebrate with their mums after finishing their respective events.

Then comes the emotional uppercut, the tagline "It takes someone strong to make someone strong."

Right. In. The. Feels.

Let's start with the obvious: the production values are absolutely top notch. That's not crucial to making a quality emotional ad, but it does up the ante for P&G. If you spend millions on a piece of creative that fails, then you've failed hard.

But it soars, because they found a perfect, universal heartstring at which to tug. As I said at the start, we all love our mums. And this is reflected by the fact the various athletes represented in the ad are from different countries and all speak different languages.

What's more, it's such a perfect bit of brand alignment on P&G's part.

"Being the proud sponsor of Moms is the natural way for us to look at the Games, because P&G brands are part of the journey that moms of Olympians, and all moms, take with their kids every day," said Marc Pritchard, P&G Global Brand Officer.

"We see how strong moms are in every facet of their lives, and how their children draw on that strength as they grow. Through our campaign, we invite everyone to join us in saying 'Thank You' to moms for the role they play in raising strong children."

P&G isn't supporting athletes, it's supporting their mums. It's so much better.

And it absolutely resonated with the broader public, having racked up over 22 million views on YouTube alone.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 9.00.36 am.jpgBut it doesn't always come off so smooth.

"Go to bed, Jessica!"

This 1997 ad by the then-RTA has got all the ingredients, but sometimes things just aren't the sum of their parts.

We open on a man, 'Tony', being interviewed by the police. He got behind the wheel after drinking, and hit and killed a young girl with his car. Then he has to come home to tell his wife and young daughter what's happened.

It's all done in a cinema verite style, which was favoured by a lot of road safety ads at the time, to give it a feel of having really happened.

It's hard to put your finger on why this doesn't work - maybe it's the clinical way we find out about the girl's death, or the fact the story seems to focus on the ramifications on the culprit and his family, rather than the victim and hers. Tony certainly doesn't inspire feelings of sympathy, nor does his wife's anger (although it's easy to at least empathise with her).

The coup de grace, if you will, is where the man yells at his own daughter. It's supposed to ram it home to both him and the audience - it could have been young Jessica who died due to his reckless behaviour - but instead it just comes across as funny, perhaps by the way Jessica takes the rebuke by striking a pose, hand on her hip in defiance.

Some 20 years after it aired, girls and women named Jessica are still being told to "go to bed" - the line and her response has even inspired GIFs.

(There's also a great moment at the end, where Tony throws a fruit bowl at the window, which causes the blind to shoot up. Did he practice that shot? Did the director just decide that it was too awesome a throw not to keep in the finished product?)

The RTA took a second swing at it a few years later, wherein Tony is sentenced for his crime.

In that one, we see his reaction in the moments after he had killed the little girl, as well as the girl's family in the courtroom, making eye contact with Tony's wife.

Now that one is far closer to the mark.

So what makes a great shmaltz ad?

There are perhaps two central tenets to making an emotional ad great: it needs to seem genuine and have a universal theme.

The universal theme may seem a stretch, but if you look for some of the best 'sadvertising' that's ever been done, it tends to play on something we can all get on board with: the bond we share with family members, a disease that is all too common, a person down on their luck.

And perhaps the best one of all is "I love my Mum!" Who can't get on board with that?

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