Why are advertisers trying to make people cry?

family Christmas scene

Sainsbury's Christmas ad is a tear-jerker. Clare Spencer asks why the supermarket thinks making people cry helps their business.

Sitting at my desk in the middle of a busy open-plan office, tears were rolling down my cheeks. This was embarrassing for many reasons, not least because it was an advert for a supermarket that made me cry. I'm not the only one. Former X Factor presenter Kate Thornton tweeted: "Can't stop crying." She was among many to tweet about their tears.

Sainsbury's advert made its debut in Wednesday's Coronation Street ad break. It is a collage of home videos of Christmas Day, made by Kevin Macdonald, who also worked on the Ridley Scott film Life in a Day. The ad takes you through a "trolley" of different emotions, from cynicism to humour to sadness, says Paul Domenet, co-founder of ad agency Johnny Fearless and former creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi. The ad ends with a family recording a Christmas message to their dad, a soldier posted to Afghanistan.

Domenet says it was inevitable they were going to try to make the audience cry. "There are some fairly obvious triggers emotionally. At this time of year you have an audience predisposed to act emotionally. They're not trying to change that behaviour, they're trying to touch a nerve that's already exposed."

I couldn't even remember any of the products in the advert, which makes me wonder how it will make me buy my turkey at Sainsbury's instead of the multitude of other shops. "It's not about flogging their products, it's about creating an emotional connection with the brand," explains Chris Arnold, former creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi and now at ad agency Creative Orchestra. "Embracing the emotional sensitivities of this time of year shows you are an empathetic company," adds Domenet.

Sainsbury's seems so nonchalant about pushing particular products or deals that, as MSN News reports, the ad even features Co-op products. A Sainsbury's spokesman put this down to the "authentic" nature of the ads "filmed by real people". "The public won't care," says Arnold. "But it is as embarrassing as hell and will be remembered in the industry in 10 years' time."

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