Mobilisation of Emotions in Advertising: A Cross-cultural Perspective

By Chavalin Svetanant, Macquarie University

‘Emotional branding’, or the mobilisation of emotions in creating a brand identity, raises an intriguing question, not only in the fields of advertising and marketing, but also in the field of cross-cultural communication: Is there a typology of marketing framework driven by the way people of the same culture communicate?

Advertisements are created to increase product recognisability, and ultimately to motivate viewers to buy or at least to engage with the products in one way or another. To make products stand out in a competitive market, advertisers have to find a way to boost their product recognisability by building a powerful brand identity, either by distinguishing themselves through unique visible qualities such as a company name, logo design, or alternatively through ‘emotional branding’: an emotional connection that triggers a consumer’s feelings.

The TV commercials of a Thai life insurance company that is itself little known outside the country have enjoyed a phenomenal global popularity for years through the art of mobilising emotions. Their advertisements have over 100 million views on YouTube.

What will he get in return if he keeps doing these kinds of things every day?

He will get nothing. He won’t be richer. He won’t appear on TV. He will still remain nobody, and won’t be gaining any fame.

What he will get are only feelings, happiness, understanding, and love – things that money cannot buy – and a little more beautiful world.

In your life, what is the thing that you most desire?

Thai Life Insurance, Believe in Good.[1]

The secret of their branding success lies in the ability to create advertisements that call for tears and sentimental values. The term “sadvertisement” has been coined for this unique genre of Thai advertisement that continues to capture hearts across the world.[2] It is exemplified by the above voice over script taken from Unsung Hero: the most well-known ad for the company. The ad, listed in the top ten most shared videos in the world in January 2015, features an ordinary man who selflessly offers generosity and compassion to those he meets without expecting anything in return.[3]

A still from Thai Life Insurance’s commercial, “Unsung Hero”.[4]
The long-running ad campaign has been warming the hearts of Thai audiences since 2003.[5] It began with a story of a wife who requested to have her baby delivered ahead of the due date so that her husband could meet his son before he died of brain cancer.[6] Since then, dozens of other touching stories have been created: the story of a deaf-mute father who devoted his unconditional love to his teenage daughter, a dying father who came to regret what he had not done for his only son, an everlasting promise of an elderly husband to his loving wife who has dementia. They all strive to highlight the importance of life without a pronounced attempt to blare out the product name until the end.

In an interview with Mumbrella Asia, Phawit Chitrakorn, managing director of Thai Life Insurance’s advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather Bangkok, shared his insight behind the strategic use of “sadvertisement” in engaging with Thai audiences:

Emotion is one of the signature characteristics of Thai Life Insurance. Thais are an extreme bunch, so if you want to connect with them, you need to go all the way, whether it is comedy or drama… The audience crying isn’t our main objective. However, we want people to appreciate the ‘Value of Life’, which is a core value of the brand. What people should take away is that Thai Life Insurance truly and deeply understands the value of life, and this creates opportunities for us.[7]

Korn Tepintarapiraksa, executive art director and copywriter – the creative mastermind behind the Thai Life popular campaign – confirmed in a personal interview with me that the ultimate aim is to make a strong social impact. He believes that once the company’s name is well recognised, the target audience will find their own way to get relevant information about the insurance packages without a need to make a hard sell on TV.[8]

Selling insurance requires a unique way of advertising, for it is an invisible product of which consumers can only see the true value when the least favourable events occurs. However, not all advertisers choose to entirely rely on emotive need and imagination.

The prevalence of life insurance advertisements in Japan, widely known as ‘the big country of life insurance’, is important due to the massive national income realised through life insurance premiums. In this competitive market in 2013/2014 – the same year as Unsung Hero was released – there was one ad campaign that stood out for its high popularity. It was a series called Jibun Mondou, ‘Talking to Oneself ’, created by Nibankobo Productions Corporation. The four-episode series formed part of a popular long-running advertising campaign, Mirai no Katachi – ‘Shape of the Future’—by Nippon Life Insurance Company, the second largest life insurance company in Japan.[9]

Nissay_credit to YouTube screen capture-resized
Screen capture from Jibun Mondou, ‘Talking to Oneself ‘ advertising campaign, showing all six generations of the salaryman’s life.[10]
The fictional story portrays one middle-class salaryman at different stages of his life, from his twenties through to his eighties. It shows one’s life in regard to marriage, career, illness, and children. The story was filmed in a way that persuades the target viewers to consider buying insurance at an early age to secure life-long protection. The main message is communicated in a businesslike manner with a slight sense of humour. The product details are clearly presented in a logical manner. There is nothing like what we have seen in Thai Life’s advertising series.

What about Australia? Taking one of the examples aired between 2013 and 2014, approximately the same year as Unsung Hero and Jibun Mondou, it is hard not to mention a campaign by Australian Associated Motor Insurers (AAMI). Rhonda and Ketut, an ad campaign created by Ogilvy Melbourne, has been a huge hit with Aussies for many years. The marketing achievement of the advertising campaign was evidenced by an increase of 56% in spontaneous consideration for AAMI[11], and its ranking in the top five best Australian marketing campaigns.[12]

Screen capture from AAMI’s Rhonda and Ketut advertising campaign.[13]
The popular TV commercials portray a soap-opera style love story of Rhonda, “an everyday knock-about Aussie girl” who went for a holiday to Bali on the insurance savings she made for being a safe driver, and Ketut, a Balinese cocktail waiter.[14] The Balinese romance captured the hearts of a nation due to the humour surrounding the witty scripts on top of the comical acting.

For over a decade, AAMI has built a unique brand identity through comedic storytelling. Before Rhonda and Ketut became a national hit, the Australian company had launched another campaign entitled What About Me?. It presented dangerous though hilarious situations that led to people claiming insurance payouts. This dark Australian sense of humour is also present in AAMI’s latest campaign, Karate Camilla, which depicts a situation where the father of a 6-year-old karate student almost creates disaster by knocking over a pile of equipment during his daughter’s karate lesson.

Richard Riboni, AAMI executive marketing manager, admitted that the humorous narratives may not be universally popular, since humour can be differently interpreted.

Humour is at the heart of the campaign – but humour can be dangerous. What some people find funny, others don’t. We still get emails from people telling us that they don’t like the campaign.[15]

Advertisement and emotion are inseparable. If I were to sell an insurance product to Japanese consumers, following Nippon Life’s model, I would be inclined to engage my Japanese customers through a strong sense of insecurity towards the unknown future and offer them a series of logical solutions for one’s life- long protection.

On the other hand, if I were to sell the same product to the Australians, I would likely opt for an approach of comedic storytelling and offer an Australian way to embrace tragedies as nothing but light-hearted everyday life events as AAMI does.

In contrast, if my consumers are Thai, I would have a better chance to sell if I could engage my target consumers through tear-jerking stories. Arousing sad emotions and sentimental feelings of appreciation toward the value of life will definitely be a more successful approach in the Thai market, just as it has been for Thai Life.

[1] Thailifechannel, “Unsung Hero [Official TVC 2014: Thai Life Insurance]”, uploaded on April 3, 2014, YouTube video, 3:05 min, https://youtu.be/uaWA2GbcnJU/. Author’s own translation from Thai.

[2] Philip Kotler, Hermawan Kartajaya and Den Huan Hooi, Asian Competitors Case Book: Marketing for Competitiveness in the Age of Digital Consumers. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Company Pte Limited, 2018, p. 92; Chai Chaiyawan, Chai, “How Thai Life Insurance Is Successfully Pioneering the Use of ‘sadvertising’”, World Finance, 27 February 2018, https://www.worldfinance.com/wealth-management/how-thai-life-insurance-is-successfully-pioneering-the-use-of-sadvertising/.

[3] “Thailand Television Commercials Will Make You Cry, or at Least Get a Bit Sad”, news.com.au, 8 September 2015, https://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/thailand-television-commercials-will-make-you-cry-or-at-least-get-a-bit-sad/news-story/8640bf2660dbd5c84140dcd7452b3c08/.

[4] Chaiyawan, “How Thai Life Insurance Is Successfully Pioneering the Use of ‘sadvertising’”, 2018.

[5] “Value of Life, Value of Love เมื่อคุณค่าของชีวิตและความรัก สร้างแบรนด์ไทยประกันชีวิตได้ ไม่รู้จบ”, Marketeer Online (blog), 11 October 2017, https://marketeeronline.co/archives/17943/.

[6] thailifechannel, “Peace of Mind: [2003 Official TVC : Thai Life Insurance]”, uploaded on 27 June 2014, YouTube video, 1:32 min, https://youtu.be/UdVtkBPbeY0/.

[7] Phawit Chitrakorn quoted in Robin Hicks, “Why Thai Life Insurance Ads are so Consistently, Tear-Jerkingly Brilliant”, Mumbrella Asia, 28 January 2015, https://www.mumbrella.asia/2015/01/thai-life-insurance-ads-consistently-tear-jerkingly-brilliant/.

[8] Chavalin Svetanant, unpublished interview with Korn Tepintarapiraksa, 2019.

[9] The information is based on database provided by Tokyo CM Research Institute/CM Databank.

[10] 117cmVol5, “いいなCM 日本生命 岡田准一 みらいのカタチ”, uploaded on 29 March 2019, YouTube video, 0:30 min, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGD9f4SMt5I/.

[11] Min Read, “The Rhonda and Ketut Narrative: Campaign Post-Analysis”, Marketing Magazine, 8 April 2014, https://www.marketingmag.com.au/hubs-c/the-rhonda-and-ketut-narrative-campaign-post-analysis/.

[12] Chris De Santis, “Top 5 Best vs Worst Australian Marketing Campaigns”, Broadcast (blog), 22 January 2016, https://www.crucial.com.au/blog/2016/01/22/top-5-best-vs-worst-australian-marketing-campaigns/.

[13] AAMI Insurance, “New Rhonda and Ketut! AAMI | Drive Happily Ever After: #Rhonda finale! See how it ends!”, uploaded on 9 January 2014, YouTube video, 0:30 min, https://youtu.be/pqbtR7gyYeI/.

[14] Robin Hicks, “AAMI Marketing Chief Richard Riboni: Social Media – the Secret to Rhonda Campaign’s Success This Year”, Mumbrella, 16 November 2012, https://mumbrella.com.au/aami-marketing-chief-richard-riboni-social-media-is-the-secret-to-rhondas-success-126059/.

[15] Richard Riboni quoted in Hicks, “Why Thai Life Insurance Ads are so Consistently, Tear-Jerkingly Brilliant”, 2012.

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