This article originally appeared in Branding In Asia.
“I want them to cry!” said the client with glee, as we concluded yet another campaign brainstorm. Emotional storytelling is such a cliché now: tugging at the heart strings equals emotional resonance, which translates to warm fuzzy feelings for the brand, which aids recall, which leads (hopefully) to awards, which leads to more briefs from aforementioned client. Hopefully. Oftentimes the most tenuous of links to the brand proposition is enough for a client to sign off an ad concept, if one can promise results akin to slicing onions.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a purist; I love emotional storytelling as much as the next person. But an emotional ad must serve a higher purpose, regardless of storytelling and production values. It must tie intricately to the brand promise, it should strive to surprise and delight.
It takes an army: Apple’s “Three Minutes”
“Three Minutes”, a video filmed entirely with iPhone X by Hong Kong director Peter Chan, passes the smell test. Critics may cry foul at sighting a Focus Puller in the credits, not to mention a veritable army of crew, but an iPhone on a jib is still an iPhone. I loved the talented cast, working off a screenplay that perhaps demands too little of its child protagonist, whose only lines are multiplication table recitations. Not much emoting required there. But it works.
A love letter to a vast market pivotal to Apple’s fortunes, Three Minutes taps into the national anxiety that is China’s annual chunyun migration, where hundreds of millions of migrants head homeward for a brief visit. A tense on-screen timer evokes the brevity of those precious few days, metaphorically compressed here into three minutes, and the importance of capturing those memories on your phone. Not just any mobile phone, mind you, but iPhone X, with a camera so superior it can make movies like the one you just saw.
Redefining Wholesome: Honey Maid “This is Wholesome”
Before Black Lives Matter, before marriage equality, before the Muslim ban, Honey Maid, a cereal brand, debuted its “This is Wholesome” campaign in 2014, redefining unconventional families as wholesome, whether mixed race, LGBT, black, or immigrant.
Honey Maid rode the resulting tide of controversy to an elevated affinity with its target demographic, in the process redefining its brand as hip and of-the-times. This may seem quaint a mere four years later, but Droga5 did an admirable job of helping their client blaze the way. Honey Maid then masterfully continued the momentum, producing another video where they asked artists to literally craft negativity into an expression of love. Very clever.
So much wood: SingTel “Mr. Lim’s Reunion Dinner”
Singtel’s “Mr. Lim’s Reunion Dinner’, lauded for its millions of views on social media, doesn’t cut it for me. The story is bland, the acting wooden. Mr. Lim tells a hawker he’s expecting his children home for dinner, one flying in from Sydney, the other from Hong Kong. They of course will disappoint him with last minute absences, so that we can be shown a scene of Mr. Lim dining alone, talking to a picture of his deceased wife.
The denouement is, surprise surprise, his children showing up unexpectedly, but not before realising that next time, they need to coordinate parental neglect. Presumably by calling each other on Singtel.
Apart from bad news being passed around along phone lines, it’s not obvious how this ad ties into Singtel’s services. The son in Sydney calling the daughter in Hong Kong was most likely on an Optus line anyway.