Crying to heartbreaking Thai adverts has become a 'digital spectator sport'

One video has had 27 million views on YouTube since it was uploaded 

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The Independent Online

In Thailand, heartbreaking adverts aren't just for Christmas, they're for life.

Well, life insurance. Thai companies selling everything from phones to life insurance have become well-known for cinematic, tear-jerker adverts featuring stuggling parents and lonely grandparents, just like the weepy John Lewis Christmas adverts that appear on our screens once a year. 

The ads are so popular that they have spawned a “digital spectator sport” for people uploading videos of themselves trying to not cry while watching them, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In “Unsung Hero”, created by Ogilvy & Mather Bangkok for Thai Life Insurance, a good Samaritan whose daily deeds include feeding a stray dog, watering a dying plant and giving money to a begging child goes unnoticed.

“He gets nothing,” an English subtitle reads. 

But his kindness is rewarded when he sees that the girl is going to school, the plant is growing and stray dog is healthy - and wants to be his friend. 

The video has had 27 million views on YouTube since it was uploaded over a year ago - and internet users are still posting reactions online. 

“Thai people must have a iron heart if these kinds of commercials are constantly running,” said one YouTube user.

Another said: “I really love Thai advertisements, it's more than just advertising.”

One YouTube user called James Reacts has uploaded a video of himself reacting to the ad. “Amazing. Truly inspiring,” he says when it has finished.

Ogilvy & Mather Bangkok have been making the videos since 2011. Phawit Chitrakorn, managing director of Ogilvy & Mather Bangkok, said in an interview that the audience crying isn't their main objective. 

“What we try to do is find a touching human story that we all believe can happen to anyone – our neighbour, friends or even family. When we achieve this, life insurance companies begin to have meaning for our lives,” he said. 

In another called “Giving Is The Best Communication” for Thai communications company TrueMove H, a cafe worker helps a boy trying to steal painkillers for his sick mother. Thirty years later, when the worker is ill in hospital, the boy, now a doctor, writes off his medical expenses.

“Wow, I don't know what to say, that was so impactful,” James Reacts says, wiping the tears from his eyes. 

A YouTube commenter with the user name Tony Robson said: “I am a 35 year old man and I cried like a baby.” 

Another said: “I love this video, it's changed me for the better.”

You'd never be able to tell that it was an advert for a phone company. 

Heartbreaking advertising is mostly used in Europe at Christmas. This year, John Lewis told the story of a lonely man on the moon in their Christmas campaign.

The German supermarket Edeka had an internet smash with an advert about an elderly man who feigns his own death to get his family to come home for Christmas. 

Thomas Brown, director of strategy and marketing at the Chartered Institute of Marketing said that such adverts aren't out there to get the customer to come into the store the next day. “It’s about having an emotional connection with the shopper to reinforce the brand, which can have a halo effect into the following year,“ he said.

Given the success of the Thai adverts, it could be only a matter of time before heartbreaking adverts start to appear on UK television all year round.