Feelings have loomed large in advertising for decades. At least as far back as the 1960s, companies learned that it is generally better to appeal to the emotional core of a thing than to market a product’s utility in rational, practical terms.
But even within our emotionally charged era, ads have taken on an increasingly poignant tone as of late, first in Europe and the UK and now, more and more, in the US. They’re not just relatable or funny or entertaining, but touching, heart-wrenching, even sad. As Rae Ann Fera writes in Co.Create, “Never in our collective memory has there been a time in which ads—whose purpose is to make people positively inclined toward a brand and, ultimately, to sell products—have left us feeling all the feels.”
Consider Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign. Or EDEKA’s “Heimkommen” Christmas ad. Or John Lewis’s “Man on the Moon.” Or P&G’s “Best Job” tribute to moms. Or Always brand’s “Like a Girl.” Or Nike’s “Find your Greatness.” Or Verizon’s “Inspire her Mind.” The list goes on.
Speculations as to the origins of this trend range from a need to reconnect with the human amid our technologically induced isolation to backlash against the more ironic, distant tack of an earlier period.
These ads tend to dovetail with a social cause on the rise. They make a point or carry a message designed to slip frictionlessly into an ongoing conversation about gender, poverty, race, or another dominant cultural issue. Doubtless, many of these brands believe in their message. But the shareability of these messages—and their ability to own the conversation through hashtags—provides a strong incentive too.