, May 24, 2024

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Mayank Dhanawade on Unsplash

by Vincent R. Pozon

When in international advertising conferences, the Thai and the Japanese would always amaze us. Their work would always be met with knitted brows and applause.

When a global account asks to see work from every port of the globe, submissions from Japan and Thailand are guaranteed to bewilder or disconcert headquarters.

In comparison, there would be no arguments with the work from Manila, and it would be approved easily. We are a large, English-speaking people, notoriously subservient; our work would be in English and would hew close to the global template.

If plotted on a continuum, the Philippines has the dubious distinction of being the most obedient of ports while the Thai and the Japanese would be jostling each other on the opposite end.

If they are aberrant, if they depart from accepted standards, from what is expected, it is because they are closer to their souls. The advantage is a kind of cultural sincerity. They are in love with their own. You will not mistake their work for that of any other country.

Meanwhile, the Filipino adman thinks he is cosmopolitan, speaks in English, prefers to do “Madison Avenue advertising”, loves Starbucks.

I exaggerate, but the honest in the industry will nod.

Joey Salgado, Our Brew editor, sent me a rather humorous ad made in Thailand ("Wrangler Torture"), and he asked if I could write an article on Thai advertising. I dove into it, into hours and days of sillily weeping alone in a corner, and surfaced with a better understanding.

Cursory -- not comprehensive

Good Thai advertising is a large subject; there is a sea of admirable work. So like one in the Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, I offer an understanding based on the little that I have found and felt of this Thai elephant.

The genre -- long form emotional videos

While there are good humorous spots, punchier ones, while they have Madison Avenue type ads ("Antidote for Workaholics" , "Disconnect to Connect"), this article will focus on the phenomenon called Sadvertising, those lengthy, Cannes-winning tearjerkers.

"In Thailand, heavy, emotional storylines to sell everyday products are a niche genre of entertainment coined 'sadvertising'. The commercials are so popular that people have even posted videos of themselves trying to hold back tears while watching the content," says an article in Culture Trip.  

"The art of emotional advertising is something that has long been embraced at Thai Life Insurance. Over the course of the past 15 years, our advertisements have reached huge audiences both at home and abroad, and have even been recognized at the Cannes Film Festival", explains Chai Chaiyawan, President at Thai Life Insurance, and proudly.

It has also been recognized by Philip Kotler, the father of modern marketing. Kotler says the digital branding of Thai Life Insurance is the classic case study of the sadvertising phenomenon.

IMHO: We shouldn't call them ads

Because they aren't, that is if advertisements are planned, prepared, produced and aired to make you ease yourself out of your chair, walk to the nearest grocery and buy a product.

Sadvertising is mindset-making. These long-form pieces of communications skip the rationale why you need the product, in Chaiyawan's case, life insurance. This is heartsell, an approach far more effective than hardsell, than reason. The client renders to Caesar what is Caesar's: Sadvertising is used to encourage thinking about purpose and being of value to others, while insurance agents and 30-second TV commercials handle the hardselling.

"The videos are life-inspired. They motivate people to think of their loved ones, and encourage the audience to appreciate the values of love and concern for both family and society."
Chai Chaiyawan, President at Thai Life Insurance

The point is not to sell Thai Life, but to "prompt viewers to think deeply and pause to comment: 'why are we born? Who do we live for?'"

What elevates it to a genre of its own?

One important quality is, well, quality. Production values must be impeccable – as in movies impeccable. You cannot cut corners lest the viewer be waylaid. "Far from being traditional commercials, our videos have a cinematic feel and focus on bringing the importance of our products to life through storytelling", says Chaiyawan.

Other common characteristics of sadvertisements, at least of the well-known ones: one, they are lengthy; two, they are dripping with emotion; three, many have spectacular O. Henry twists and endings; four, many claim to be based on true stories; five, they run only on social media; which means, six, they are content made more powerful by intimate viewing – a foot away from our faces, devices; seven, they do not sound like ads – no commercial 'in-your-face' editing or scoring; eight, the talents are more real than pretty. "We have to present reality," Thanonchai Sornsriwichai, the director at the forefront of the trend,  told CNN.

"In the past, in advertisements, they always used beautiful people."

These aren't ads but nudges: they elicit the imperceptible nod to an idea, to accepting a value, like protecting the people you leave behind.

Sadvertising leaves you nodding and sniveling.

In no order other than how I found them, here are sadvertisements that make our list of "Ads We Wish We Wrote". Enjoy with three ply tissues.


Amongst felt and found, this ranks as best. When you are already able to watch it without crying, scrutinize the masterly direction.

"Garbage Man"

Terrific visual storytelling.

"Unsung Hero"

A young man performs selfless deeds without expecting anything in return. After all, must we be sung and celebrated to be of value to others?


No English subtitles but... you really don't need the words.


"One of the great stories from 30 million LINE users in Thailand".

"Tokyo Unexpected"

A mini-movie. A personal favorite.

"Waiters' Moms

No acting necessary, just switch on the camera.

"Every Mouthful is Meaningful"

Excellent acting. Guaranteed tearjerker.

"Silence of Love"

Multi-awarded; over a million views in the first week. More importantly, immense sales generated.

"Growing Together"

Dog-lovers will need handkerchiefs.

"Nothing can replace the taste of love"

Not a dry eye in the house.

Special mention:

Not Sadvertising. Just an entertaining Thai ad worth sharing with the readers.

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