Tug­ging on heart­strings

Thai com­pa­nies are cre­at­ing tear­jerker ad­verts that leave view­ers scram­bling for the tis­sue box.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING -

FEVER­ISHLY jot­ting down ideas in a funky glass- pan­elled con­fer­ence room, Thai­land's Mad Men are do­ing what they do best – cre­at­ing tear­jerker ad­verts that leave view­ers scram­bling for the tis­sue box.

So- called “sad­ver­tis­ing” has ex­ploded around the world in re­cent years as brands jos­tle to en­gage cus­tomers and stand out from com­peti­tors.

An an­nual nos­tal­gia- tinged Christ­mas com­mer­cial from re­tailer John Lewis has be­come a fes­tive tra­di­tion in Bri­tain, while Bud­weiser's Lost Dog pulled heart­strings and swept ad­ver­tis­ing awards in the United States.

But few places are do­ing it with such dev­as­tat­ing ef­fi­cacy as the Thais, where the ad­verts are of­ten as gru­elling as they are mem­o­rable.

To out­siders Thai­land ad­ver­tises it­self as the Land of Smiles, but it’s more emo­tion­ally com­plex than that.

The Thai lan­guage has more than one hun­dred phrases that use the word heart – “jai” – to dis­cuss a whole gamut of emo­tions, while its soap op­eras are renowned for their no­to­ri­ously tragic sto­ry­lines.

The same is true of ad­verts. One re­cent spot, for a lin­gerie brand, piv­ots on a woman di­ag­nosed with can­cer on the same day she dis­cov­ers she is preg­nant, leav­ing her with the heart- wrench­ing choice of risk­ing the baby's life with chemo­ther­apy, or her own.

An­other, ac­com­pa­nied by the trade­mark soft pi­ano mu­sic and a melan­cholic voiceover, is about a deaf and dumb father who saves his daugh­ter with a blood trans­fu­sion af­ter she at­tempts sui­cide.

The emo­tional punch packed by such ad­verts has flum­moxed many in­ter­na­tional view­ers, with videos of non- Thais try­ing not to weep through the ad­verts do­ing the rounds on YouTube.

“This is so hor­ri­ble,” ex­claims one viewer un­der the name “Dead­lox” as he watches the ad­vert fea­tur­ing the girl who at­tempts sui­cide, which was com­mis­sioned by a life in­sur­ance com­pany.

“Why would they do that,” he says of the film­mak­ers.

Jinn Pow­pra­pai, founder of CJ Worx, a Bangkok agency that spe­cialises in pro­duc­ing emo­tional vi­ral ad­verts, of­fers one an­swer.

“Be­ing a Bud­dhist is all about giv­ing and car­ing. We tend to al­ways have an emo­tional sym­pa­thy for peo­ple less for­tu­nate than us,” he ex­plains.

One of the com­pany's re­cent com­mis­sions was from Khrung Thai Bank, a state- owned en­tity look­ing to pro­mote its schol­ar­ship fund. Af­ter months of back and forth they set­tled on two lengthy In­ter­net spots.

One tells the tragic tale of a fe­male stu­dent who learns to con­quer her fear of the neigh­bour­hood dog Olieng af­ter his el­derly owner dies.

Girl and dog then be­come in­sep­a­ra­ble, un­til she re­turns from school one day to find it fa­tally in­jured by a car.

Olieng even­tu­ally dies in her arms as mem­o­ries of his happy life with the girl flash be­fore his fad­ing ca­nine eyes.

The ad­vert then skips to the present day where the girl has be­come a vet and is patch­ing up an­other per­son's beloved pooch. “While oth­ers were lost in life's bad mo­ments,” a voiceover states, “she recog­nises the good times are an in­spi­ra­tion to reach our dreams.”

It's a for­mula that clearly works for the do­mes­tic mar­ket.

Since its Jan 11 re­lease the ad­vert has racked up 12 mil­lion views and more than 350,000 shares on Face­book and 1.68 mil­lion views on YouTube.

But Phil Townsend, Asia- Pa­cific man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Un­ruly, which spe­cialises in get­ting ad­verts to emo­tion­ally res­onate with view­ers, says cre­atives around the world are tak­ing note of Thai­land's tear­ful out­put. “We get a lot of peo­ple ask­ing us ‘ How can we make videos like that’,” he says.

Ralph Brun­ner, chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer in Asia for in­sur­ance com­pany MetLife, has been mak­ing ad­verts across the re­gion since the late 1990s.

“The Thais have a knack for emo­tional sto­ry­telling,” he says. “You see it on TV, short films that ei­ther make you cry or have a tremen­dous sense of hu­mour and a very play­ful na­ture.”

MetLife had one of the most suc­cess­ful emo­tional ads of 2015 with a spot about a father strug­gling to pro­vide for his daugh­ter. On YouTube alone it has been viewed over 11 mil­lion times.

It was shot in Thai­land, but aimed at mul­ti­ple mar­kets across Asia.

Un­like hu­mour, which is very spe­cific to coun­tries and even ages, parental strug­gles are some­thing al­most ev­ery­one un­der­stands, says Brun­ner. “It's a uni­ver­sal theme peo­ple can re­late to.”

Dave McCaughan, a vet­eran of ad­ver­tis­ing who spent nearly three decades across Asia with McCann, be­lieves the rise of the genre is linked to rapid eco­nomic and so­cial changes – and grow­ing dis­quiet over what the fu­ture holds.

When he first ar­rived in Thai­land in the eco­nomic boom years of the mid- 1990s, many ad­verts em­ployed slap­stick com­edy.

More re­cently Thai­land's econ­omy has be­come known as the sick man of South- East Asia, fol­low­ing a decade of political tur­bu­lence.

And the ad­verts have got sad­der. “There's a lot of dis­con­nect and dys­func­tion go­ing on – and those ads play to old­fash­ioned val­ues,” he says.

McCaughan be­lieves Asia will pro­duce more tear­jerk­ers in the com­ing years, es­pe­cially as China's eco­nomic slow­down im­pacts the re­gion.

“What hap­pens when you're feel­ing low, you go for the se­cu­rity blan­ket,” he says. “It doesn't mat­ter which cul­ture you are, it's the same. And the big se­cu­rity blan­ket here is real emo­tions.” – AFP Re­laxnews

Ac­tors and tech­ni­cians get­ting ready for the shoot­ing of an ad­vert for a Thai bank pro­mot­ing a schol­ar­ship fund. — AFP

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