Emotional commercials that will make you cry

Most commercials are annoying — something to fast forward, or ignore, while you’re waiting for your show to resume. But others are like tiny television shows. Such well-told stories, that you find yourself crying over your popcorn. Maybe this is what all commercials should aspire to be — deep, impactful, and emotional. 

Like a girl

In this commercial by Always, a pretty, blonde woman stands in front of the camera. The director, Lauren Greenfield, asks, “Show me what it looks like to ‘run like a girl.'” The woman mimics running, her hands flailing. She is followed by two other women, a boy, and a man, all of whom run slowly and awkwardly. Then she asks the actors to “fight like a girl and throw like a girl,” all with similar responses.

Greenfield then asks young girls what it means to run like a girl, fight like a girl, and throw like a girl. The girls run hard, throw like they mean it, and fight like they actually want to hurt someone. Greenfield asks one of the girls, who wears a pink dress and looks about six years old, “What does it mean to run like a girl?” “It means to run as fast as you can,” the girl responds.

Greenfield asks one of the girls, “Is ‘like a girl’ a bad thing or a good thing?” She scratches her chin and says, “It sounds like a bad thing. It sounds like you’re trying to humiliate someone.”

The other actors are invited to redo their original attempts. This time, they run, fight, and throw —like themselves. Greenfield wrote, “When the words ‘like a girl’ are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering. I am excited to be a part of the movement to redefine ‘like a girl’ into a positive affirmation.”

You’re more beautiful than you think

Dove Real Beauty Sketches aren’t about Dove products — they’re about seeing yourself as a beautiful person. In this commercial, forensic composite artist, Gil Zamora, asks girls and women to describe themselves as he draws their portraits. Their comments about their own appearances aren’t exactly glowing. One young woman describes her chin as “protruding.” Another woman says, “I kind of have a fat, rounder face.”

As one of the models puts it, “We sort of realized, oh man, now I have to talk about myself and think about my looks.” She describes herself as having crow’s feet around her eyes.

After Zamora sketches them, he asks them to describe another person they met that morning. Their comments are much more complementary, including descriptions of a nice chin, a thin face, and eyes that lit up when a woman spoke. After that, Zamora shows the women his sketches that show the way they described themselves and the way the stranger described them. One woman says about the sketch from the stranger’s description, “She looks more open and friendly and happy. I’ve come a long way in how I see myself, but I think I still have some way to go.”

The commercial was part of one of the Dove campaigns, exploring different meanings of beauty and encouraging women to see the beauty in themselves.

Be brave

This beautiful commercial by Pfizer, a Canadian biopharmaceutical company, begins with a scene of a young man painting graffiti in a dark alleyway. He anxiously looks around to make sure no one is watching, and then sprays the wall, and even climbs up the fire escape to paint there, as well.

Then it cuts to him entering an apartment building, where a tired, sad woman sits with a little girl at a table. The young man walks to the back room, where another girl is lying in bed with tubes going into her nose. The man walks to the window, pushing the curtains open, to reveal his graffiti work on the sides of two pale brick buildings — the words “Be Brave” surrounded by colorful flowers.  What you thought was an act of vandalism is revealed as an act of love.

Veronica Piacek, customer director of consumer communications and relations for Pfizer Canada, told Marketing Magazine, “We believe that it takes more than medication to be healthy. With this viral campaign, we wanted to encourage Canadians to show that love and support is just as important when helping someone with a serious illness.”

Maddie

If you have a dog, “Maddie,” a commercial by Chevrolet, will make you bawl like a baby. It shows a young woman petting an old golden retriever in a poorly lit vet’s office. Then it quickly cuts away, to show the woman and dog together on her couch, crunching leaves in the park, and moving into an apartment together. She hugs Maddie as her dad takes a picture of her in her graduation gown. Maddie stares up at her from the bed, concerned as she breaks up with a boyfriend on the phone.

Tracking back thru time, the woman learns to drive as Maddie sits bravely in the backseat, and hugs a young Maddie on her lap, a little girl again, blowing out the candles at her birthday party. You finally see her choosing Maddie and naming her as she kisses her on the nose.

Then it cuts back to the woman as an adult, kissing Maddie on the nose in the vet’s office. She has tears in her eyes, and even though the viewer isn’t told what’s about to happen, you can easily guess. Chevy managed to capture the entire relationship of a woman and her dog so well that you feel her pain as she prepares for the most heartbreaking moment in a dog owner’s life.

Follow your dreams

This Pantene commercial covers the entire journey of a rhythmic gymnast going after her dreams. In the first scene, a little girl watches rhythmic gymnasts on television with her mom, mimicking their moves with her arms. She then swishes a yellow ribbon around on the playground, before joining a class full of little girls in black leotards. She quickly transforms into a graceful teenager, taking private lessons, and then leaves home formore intensive training and competition. Before she gets on the train with her teacher, she gives her mom a big hug.

But her journey isn’t without obstacles. As she practices, another girl kicks her over, and then sabotages her costume for the performance, forcing her to perform in plain black leggings and a white shirt. Despite her outfit, she receives a standing ovation from the judges and the audience. The other woman leaves in a huff as our heroine receives the first place ribbon, her mom watching from their television at home.

Love over gum

Who says gum can’t bring lovebirds together? In this sweet commercial by Extra Gum, an entire romance unfolds, beginning in high school and ending with an engagement. The two lovers, Sarah and Juan, first see each other across the high school courtyard, and soon meet face to face when Sarah drops her papers on the floor. Juan helps her pick them up, and she gives him a piece of Extra Gum. 

Then, as she walks into her house after a kiss, Juan secretly writes something on a gum wrapper. You see them getting older and going to prom. Then they resolve an argument when Sarah hands him a piece of gum. In the final scene, she walks into a gallery, in which drawings on gum wrappers in frames tell the entire story of their relationship. She sees a drawing of the their first kiss, of them in the snow together, and presumably, all of the memories the viewer just saw. The final drawing is of him proposing to her. She turns around to find Juan, on one knee, with a ring.

Executive creative director Andrés Ordoñéz told Adweek, “[It] is not about a specific relationship, but about all moments of connection. The chemistry between our lead actors was so good, people were tearing up on set during the first scene on day one. We knew we had a beautiful story to share.”

Believe in good

In this Thai Life Insurance commercial, a man’s thoughtfulness threads through every part of his life. He is walking when water starts pouring down on him. Undisturbed, he moves a plant over to catch the water. Then he helps a food vendor push a heavy cart across the street. When a dog begs him for food, he happily shares his chicken. Then the man gives to a mother and daughter who want money for education, as a man in a nearby store looks over and shakes his head.

The commercial asks, “What does he get in return for doing this everyday?” At first it doesn’t seem like much. The plant is still dead, the vendor impatiently waits for him to help, and the man in the store still thinks he’s crazy. The ad answers, “He gets nothing. He won’t be richer. Won’t appear on TV.”

But then things start to change. The dog becomes his companion. He goes to give money to the mom and daughter, and finds that the daughter is going to school, happily wearing a new uniform. The commercial continues, “What he does receive are emotions. Reaches a deeper understanding. Feels the love. Receives what money can’t buy.” Finally, the plant appears on the screen again, a healthy, maturing tree. The ad’s final question is, “And you? What do you desire the most?”

Find new roads

In this heart wrenching commercial by Chevrolet, a father and son prepare to move out of their house. The father leans over some moving boxes, his face sad, while his son walks through the house, running his hands along the walls. The father looks at the marks written on the wall, tracking the son’s height through the years, stopping at the word “Mom” written at the top.

Then, in the garden, the son wipes away soil to reveal a sign reading “Mom’s Garden.” He looks at his dad and asks, “Who is going to take care of Mom’s roses?” “We are,” his dad responds. Father and son smile as they dig up the red rose bushes, put them into a box that says “Mom’s”, and load it into the back of the truck. They can’t bring Mom back, but they can take a part of her with them.

Sister

Sister, a commercial for the National Cancer Institute of Thailand, hits you right in the gut. It’s a story of two sisters who don’t get along. They fight as little girls, and the tension extends into their adulthood. The younger sister leaves trash on the floor, smokes in the bathroom, and passes out after having too much to drink. The low point comes when, discovering her money is missing, the older sister goes to a bar and slaps her sister, saying, “If it weren’t that Dad and Mom passed away and left you with me, I would have dumped you long ago.”

Then the older sister finds out she has cancer. Her hair falls out and she becomes very ill. The younger sister cries when she finds out. “What happened? Why didn’t you tell me?” she asks.

“I would have never thought that the person I wanted to get rid of the most would turn out to be someone who extends my breath and makes me want to live again,” the voiceover says. Then the younger sister donates her hair for a wig for her sister. “What my sister gave me that day is more than just hair,” the commercial concludes.

My father lies

MetLife Hong Kong’s commercial about a father and daughter is a testament to the sacrifices parents make for their children. A little girl gives a paper she wrote to her father. Then she reads it as a voiceover. It begins, “Daddy is the sweetest daddy in the world. Daddy is the most handsome, the smartest.” She goes on to share how amazing her father is in every way. The two walk side by side, do homework, and eat dinner together. He carries her on his shoulders as she says, “He is my superman.”  

Then the father’s face changes from happiness to sadness and confusion as he gets to the part of her essay that reads, “Daddy is just great, but he lies.” In flashbacks, the father runs frantically to the unemployment office as she says, “He lies about having a job.” He searches his pockets as she says, “He lies about having money.” He does menial and backbreaking work as she says, “He lies that he’s not tired.” She concludes, “He lies that we have everything…because of me.”

As the father finishes reading, the two hug, both of them crying. Despite the difficulty of his life, the success of his daughter is worth it to him.

Time to come home

In this commercial by German supermarket chain EDEKA, a father is disappointed by his adult daughter’s voice message that she and her family won’t make it home for Christmas that year. “We’ll try again next year,” she says. He sits at the table next to the Christmas tree, a grim expression on his face as he eats by himself.

The commercial cuts to scenes of his children finding out he has passed away. His son gets a voice message and his daughter receives what looks like an invitation to his funeral. They quickly pack their bags, crying. One of them looks at a photo of him in his wallet. They arrive outside his home in the snow, cry and hug.

When they walk into his house, however, they are shocked to see that the table is set for Christmas dinner. He walks out of the kitchen, and their faces light up in surprise as he says, “How else could I have brought you all together?” His granddaughter runs and hugs him. The entire family eats together, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. The commercial ends with the words, “Time to come home.”

A timeless message

As they tug on your heart strings, each of these commercials also presents you with a message: have confidence, be kind to others, cherish your loved ones. Your tears will dry, but you’ll never forget the stories they tell and the messages they share.

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