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Loving the Mushy Stuff: The Success of Tissue Box Marketing

Once upon a time, tear-jerk marketing was reserved for coffee commercials that aired at Christmas and AT&T spots that made moms cry in the ‘80s. But today, tissue box marketing has broken out of its narrow demo, and is being used by a wide range of brands to appeal to not just moms, but young consumers who are proving that when it comes to ads and content, they love the mushy stuff. 

“Fastest growing site on the web” Upworthy has made tear-jerker content a key part of their repertoire, with titles for videos on the site like, “Who Wants To Cry And Have Their Faith In Humanity Restored?” The fact that “cry” is being used as a keyword to grab clicks on a site that is known to use their headlines and emotional data as a major traffic growth technique with Millennial readers could be seen as proof that right now mushy marketing is at a height of appeal. They aren’t the only ones doing it either: the Millennial frequented Jezebel regularly features posts titled “Your Afternoon Cry” featuring videos of tissue-bait moments like “comfort dogs” being used in Boston after the bombings, and deaf children hearing for the first time.

Part of the allure of tissue box marketing and viral content for Millennials right now is that moment of catharsis. Certainly they have enough pressures (debt, unemployment, everyone telling them they suck) to seek out bite-size bits of emotional outlet on a daily basis. The digestibility of commercials and short-content that choke them up and get passed to friends is key: who has time for a full Notebook or Field of Dreams cry on a daily basis? 

But the more powerful reason for the success of tissue box content right now is the doses of uplift and inspiration they provide. It’s the emotional boost of these videos that really captures them. As AdWeek wrote in their “The Sweet, Funny, Listy Ways of Getting Millennials to Love You” article (featured in today’s Essentials), “Millennials…want ‘uplifting stuff…something they want to put their name behind and share across the Web.’ The widening appeal of this uplift is clear when you look at some of the most successful tissue box marketing of late, which we’ve helpfully categorized into some new categories of tearjerker:


The Bro Cry

Lest you doubt that tissue box marketing has not truly moved past it’s previous demographic into new, young and uncharted territory, we present The Bro Cry. This brand of heart-wrenching material is aimed squarely at Millennial male consumers and is perfectly represented by a recent Guinness commercial that has gone viral, with almost 7 million views to date. The spot shows a group of guy friends playing basketball in wheelchairs, only to reveal that only one friend is actually handicapped, the rest just practice with him to help him improve and make sure he is included in their bonding. The tagline of the ad is “Dedication. Loyalty. Friendship. The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.” Dude, pass the tissues.


The Storytelling Cry

Perhaps the most successful recent tissue box ads are those that tell a story not about the product or brand, but about people. None is a better example of tissue box marketing than that of Thailand communication provider True Move, whose recent spot “Giving” (NSFW for those readers who don’t want their co-workers to see them weeping at your desk) has spread across the globe thanks to articles online that often feature the words “this commercial will make you cry.” The commercial is about the power of giving, and the original post on YouTube has over 11 million views. “Giving” has been praised for telling “a better story than most movies” and putting “full length Hollywood films to shame,” a great indicator that telling an inspirational story, with the emphasis completely on the story and not the product, is a key part of creating great tissue box marketing. Google has had similar success with their storytelling spots, which use Google Chrome to tell a heartwarming (and yes, cry-inducing) tale about the people who use it, instead of pushing the featured outright.


The Our Parents Are The Freaking Best Cry

Seeing as Millennials have legendarily close relationships with their parents (at least when compared to angsty Gen Xers) it’s not too surprising that marketing featuring how awesome Millennial parents are, and how much they appreciate it, have emerged as a new kind of tissue box ad. Case in point: Extra’s recent spot “Origami,” also known as “the gum commercial that will make you cry.” The ad tells the story of a dad who has made origami cranes for his daughter every time they share a piece of gum, or a touching moment. As she goes off to college, he finds that she has saved every one of them and is taking them with her to remind her of him. 


But the tearjerker isn’t an unfailing tactic. A recent Cheerios ad called “Nana” showcases a moment between a mom and her young son, who asked whether she ate Cheerios with her mom, ending with the line, “So, when we have Cheerios it’s kind of like we’re having breakfast with Nana.” The Colbert Report parodied the commercial saying, “somehow no one ever thought of leveraging the death of a grandparent to hawk some hoops of oat.” The spot was Cheerios’ first since their massively successful and headline making ad earlier this summer featuring an interracial couple. That ad has earned over 4 million views to date. The “Nana” spot? Under 200K. It was called “sappy” and “manipulative.” So why the derision towards this tear-jerker? For one, Cheerios might have gone a touch too far in using a dead Grandmother to try to induce an emotional reaction over cereal. But the ad is also missing something that is a key element of the successful tissue box marketing we’ve talked about so far. “Nana” isn’t inspirational. It doesn’t make you want to be a better friend, parent, or person. It’s just sad.