Lost In Translation: Foreign Ads Speak a Whole Different Emotional Language

Each and every one of us experiences a vast—and constantly changing—spectrum of emotions on a daily basis; at any given moment, the pendulum may swing from happy to sad, from calm to frustrated, from content to annoyed. While there is a certain familiarity with feeling these emotions, very few of us are equipped with the 3,000 words of the English language that can be used to describe these feelings we experience.

The painful, bittersweet excitement of packing up your car and watching your old life shrink in the rear-view mirror; falling in love for the first time; holding your newborn baby for the first time. So, maybe there are cases like these where words simply fail to do the feeling justice. But other times, the words for these “speechless” moments do exist; they just don’t exist in the English language.

Is this the reason why so many foreign companies are putting U.S. advertising to shame? Can non-English speaking advertisers tap into a secret, unspoken emotion that we simply can’t define?

Frankly, the most powerful ads don’t care whether or not there is an English word to define its message, because those ads elicit a response that transcends words—a physical one. Ogilvy & Mather Bangkok has proven its tear-jerking and heartwarming abilities with its newest video for Thai Life Insurance, “Unsung Hero.”

This ad is not the first of this genre from the Ogilvy and Thai Life team, as the 2011 spot, “Silence of Love,” remains one of Southeast Asia’s most memorable, emotionally charged commercials. Featuring the tumultuous relationship between a deaf-mute man and his daughter, this ad truly demonstrates that actions speak louder than words.

Some attribute this connection between shareability and the sentimentality of ads to the behavioral tendencies of its audience. There seems to be a correlation in Southeast Asia between the ads that appeal to basic human emotions, like the love between father and daughter in “Silence of Love,” and the virality of the ad.

If this is a regional trend, then is Western society afraid to address these emotional topics? If so, do we see humor as a safer route?

For the sake of comparison, consider the ads that Arnold Worldwide produced for the U.S.-based insurance agency, Progressive. Both “Tuesday Tie” and “Free Ride” utilize outlandish and not-so-subtle humor to promote its new initiative.

Which kind of ad is more effective? I’ll let you be the one to decide. But if the viral success of Thai Life is crossing oceans and continents to reach the United States, then maybe the American palate is more sophisticated than advertisers think. Foreign advertising is quickly becoming a case study for students of the viral game to emulate.

The lesson: emotion is the key to creating a longer life for your video. The videos that make us feel are the ones that we watch again and again, the ones that we share more than once, and the ones that we talk about ad nauseam.

The conclusion: if your audience feels nothing, they do nothing.

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