The competitive landscape of “sadvertising”

In the latest in our series of blog posts by CommsDirect speakers, Tracy Fitzgerald, managing director of Brandalism speaks on why brands should collaborate with charities to help them share worthy messages.

When we attach a powerful emotion – good or bad – to an event, it’s far more likely that we will remember that event.

Put it this way: Your most memorable moments in life have either been spent jumping up and down in celebration or lying on the floor in floods of tears (it’s ok, we’ve all been there).

The first emotion – elation – has been used as an advertising tool for years. Make people feel happy or make them laugh and you’re much closer to being “distinctive.”

The second emotion – sadness – is newer on the scene but arguably even more potent and memorable than feeling happy.

Ultimately, sadness has become a tool for storytelling. We’ll call it “sadvertising.”

Basically, if you tap into what makes an audience feel sad, guilty, fearful – even empathetic (which would be the nicest emotion in this group) – and then give them

some form of hope at the end of the message, not only will you be remembered but you may even be admired too.

This may sound like a psychological minefield – which it certainly can be – but more confusing is gauging how authentically sad you should feel, particularly when you consider the business behind the message.

A very successful example of this kind of storytelling is Dove’s Beauty Sketches – a video that has been viewed more than 63 million times on YouTube.

By making women demonstrate how critical they are of themselves, the audience empathises with, and is emotionally touched by, the message and therefore the brand.

While Dove can be commended for conceptualising such a poignant message, maybe a more charitable company could have benefited from this more than Dove, which essentially sells beauty products.

I guess the pink elephant in the room is that most charities don’t have the budget to produce and market such campaigns, which raises a lot of questions:

  • How do charities compete against corporate companies that have a team of creatives to conceptualise “sadverts?”
  • How does a real-life message of sadness compete against a creative one? And why on earth should it need to?
  • Should there be more monitoring in place – or more collaboration between brands and charities?
  • How do the worthy become newsworthy in that kind of competitive environment?

I see there being two choices.

Either businesses like Dove should go through more stringent advertising rules in which any campaign that seeks to sell a product by means of “sadvertisng” is required to give X% back to the community (in order to truly support their message) or brands should start collaborating with charities in order to use their creative skills to generate a more authentic and truly newsworthy result.

What would your approach be?



Tracy Fitzgerald is managing director of Brandalism. She has spent the past ten years working in digital media and is now the owner of Brandalism, where she helps businesses produce editorial-style content across web and social.
Tracy will speak at CommsDirect in Sydney on August 7 on the “Making the worthy newsworthy” panel.
Tickets are just $395 for those working in media or the not-for-profit sector and $495 for corporate: $100 off the regular price!