Sadvertising: How Thai Advertisers are Captivating their Audiences


Emotional storytelling in adverts has now become a signature move of many companies such as John Lewis, but what most people don’t know is that the trend actually originated elsewhere – and it wasn’t in the UK or USA. The champions of emotive advertising are actually Thai advertising agencies, whose emotional content and visual style is so distinct that their adverts have earned themselves the light humoured label of ‘sadvertising’.

‘Sadvertising’ has become niche to the Thai advertising industry, creating extremely emotional stories of ordinary people who hold high morals, and presenting them in an alluring, cinematic style. Before ‘sadvertising’ was identified as a form of marketing, it could have been seen as unconventional. They cover heart-string pulling topics such as family ties, filial duty and the overcoming of personal challenges. Essentially, they tell a short story, have film-like qualities and don’t come across as your stereotypical 30 second TV advert – but audiences are nothing less than gripped.

The most popular example of the ‘sadvertising’ trend is the Thai Unsung Hero advert, created by Ogilvy & Mather for Life Insurance. It tells the story of a young man doing selfless deeds and captivatingly urges the viewer to join him in his journey. Since its launch, the video has gained 31 million views online on Youtube alone, generating even more engagement on the company’s Facebook page. In the first four weeks of launch, the video generated 17 million views from 232 countries and was the ninth most shared viral video in the world at the time of release, according to Phawit Chitrakorn, director of Ogilvy & Mather in Bangkok.

Watching these adverts online has become some form of digital spectator sport, where adverts are treated as films and watched for interest or pleasure. Following its popularity, YouTube stars have started incorporating ‘sadvertising’ videos into “crying challenges,” challenging users to watch a playlist of Thai adverts without crying.

Although not a new concept, emotion seems to be something that draws us towards stories, regardless of whether it’s an advert or a film. Emotion is an internationally recognised human element which can be an extremely useful tool for marketers worldwide.