Great Advertising Tugs at Heartstrings

It’s very easy to criticize bad advertising because it’s everywhere – pop-ups, interactive, print, billboards, outdoor, TV commercials, movie theatres, bathrooms, elevators, and even taxicabs. But let’s not go there – let’s focus on the positives! What makes good advertising? I believe it’s a consistent campaign that pulls people’s heartstrings and here are two examples.

The Dove Real Beauty campaign has won numerous industry awards over the years since its creation in 2005. Even if you’re not into skin care or advertising, you will remember because it’s a touching grabber. Their latest Web-only commercial which continues to focus on the theme of self-image has been generating a lot of discussions. The video, presented in three- and six-minute versions, shows a forensic sketch artist who is asked to draw a series of women based only on their descriptions of themselves.

The artist asks the women a series of questions about their features. All the women are very critical about their self-perceived features – crow’s feet, protruding chins and dark circles. Having finished with a drawing of a woman, the artist then draws another sketch of the same woman, but this time based on how someone else describes her. The two sketches are then juxtaposed side by side, and the women are asked to compare them. The second sketch is always more flattering than the first. “I’ve come a long way in how I see myself, but I think I still have some way to go,” says one of the women with teary eyes.

The New York Times reported that the video has become an instant sensation online. Since its launch in mid-April, the three-minute version has been viewed more than 37 million times on the Dove YouTube channel by April 26, and the longer version has been viewed more than 2.2 million times. There’s even a parody of the entire approach with a men’s version on YouTube. Consistent with the ‘real beauty’ theme, this latest campaign is aimed at boosting women’s confidence in themselves. Dove executives pointed out that the campaign resulted from company research that showed only four percent of women consider themselves beautiful. We all know that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder; but we women are often the worst judges and critics of ourselves. Hence the tagline: “You’re More Beautiful Than You Think.” Now this is smart advertising because every woman can relate to it and whether the campaign helps sell more soaps or skin care products for Dove or not is another issue.

Along the same ‘perception’ theme as Dove’s, HSBC’s “Different Points of View” campaign, introduced in 2008, underscored the financial institution’s global strength in understanding the subtleties of cultural differences around the world. On any given subject, there are multiple perspectives – in other words, the Bank sees your perspective as a customer wherever you live. What better match is there with the organization’s “worldwide local bank” positioning? It’s also a smart media buy because very few people can forget the billboards at the airport jet bridges when we’re all captive audiences waiting to board our planes. Three visuals of the same carpet were juxtaposed side by side: a carpet may enhance the décor in one country; but it could also be a souvenir in another; and a place of prayer in Muslim countries. Another treatment focused on values such as “security” and “responsibility.” Again, what security means to one country is entirely different from that of another. Similarly, a car may mean different things to different people – freedom, status symbol or polluter? All these treatments hung around the same theme: “The more you look at the world, the more you recognize how people value things differently.” This is effective advertising because it is provocative and memorable. There’s also an inherent call to action – let’s put aside our prejudices and try to understand other cultures and other people’s points of view.

I understand that the financial institution has been gradually replacing the “Different POV” campaign with a visionary “in the future” campaign. But it’s a tall order for the marketing team and the ad agency to achieve the same powerful impact.

As a public relations professional who’s also a consumer, I look at ads from a ‘persuasiveness’ perspective. If the advertisement pulls my heartstrings, I will gladly loosen my purse strings!

Lina Ko

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Tags: Advertising, Digital, Multicultural, Strategy, Social Media, Customer Insights, Branding