Copyranter: Enough with the teary docu-ads

Mark Duffy has written the Copyranter blog for 12 years and is a freelancing copywriter with 25-plus years of experience. His hockey wrist shot is better than yours.

Digital advertising has made brands desperate for #engagement, desperate for #culturalrelevancy, desperate for #BRANDLOVE.

They first grubbed for these hashtagged goals via desperately “friendly” intelligence-insulting social media posts. The subsequent very measurable feedback left them feeling giddy. But then, it became apparent that likes and hearts and shares and even glowing comments ≠ purchases.

Meanwhile, digital marketers, never short on new #solutions, renamed advertising to “content,” which signaled to the “woke” millennial consumer that these new non-ad ads were ostensibly important/useful/entertaining.

The latest “content” trend is “touching” faux docu-ads, most of which feature a tenuous connection to the brand, if at all. Below are a few of the worst perpetrators.

Canada Dry Ginger Ale

This ad — not a documentary, not a “social experiment” — was released by The Richards Group in August as part of the brand’s new attempt to “disrupt” “relaxation.” If you wanna save yourself three minutes, here’s the gist: Busy people tell camera they love being busy; busy people’s significant others tell camera they don’t like their busy others being busy. Busy people confronted with others’ concerns, tears flow, hugs ensue. Spot wraps with line: “Stop being busy. Start enjoying the things that matter most.” Like fucking ginger ale? How #authentic.

Angel Soft

The Koch brothers’ brand has been foisting this “Be Soft. Be Strong” “family vignettes” effort on consumers through Deutsch LA for two years. All the spots feel as forced as a constipated BM, but this “Grander Parents” execution, which is a “true” story, really shits the bed.

It’s a touching story, no argument: On the way to jail, son drops off daughter to grandparents, grandparents find new meaning to life, #tears. But this isn’t a life insurance ad; it’s an ass-wipe ad! And according to Angel Soft’s metaphor, these lovely folks are ass wipes!

A more recent TV ad in the campaign features dad and crying-son actors. Son just had heart broken, consoling ass-wipe dad (it’s not my metaphor) is leaning against bathroom door — how many times have we seen this hackneyed scenario? The straining brand connecting line here is, “Life takes softness and strength. That’s why Angel Soft …” etc.

Nice subtle product shot — looks like a 12-pack!

Here’s a #brandtruth: A huge, massive, vast majority of people do not use ass-wiping paper to dry their tears. #Forced. #Inauthentic.


Last month, Whirlpool, a Fortune 150 behemoth, introduced cute-as-a-button Sama to appliance shoppers (agency: Zulu Alpha Kilo, Toronto). There are dad tears, a generic strings track and obviously scripted words, and it’s all tied up with the punny double-meaning strap line “Every day, care.” Ah.

Are you OK with a $3 billion company exploiting Syrian refugees to sell refrigerators? If Whirlpool had aided Sama’s family in escaping, then maybe this might’ve been copacetic.

There are several more recent examples of this new bullshit, including Windex’s (fake) “Story Of Lucy” where we see lots and lots of perfectly clean glass surfaces throughout a ridiculously saccharine father-daughter ad (agency: Energy BBDO). It’s tagged “what’s between us, connects us,” which is a tad heady for a bottle of dyed chemicals.

Many brands would love to be Ikea, the only brand that has successfully pulled off this new “touching” approach. But you’re not Ikea. You wanna “do some good”? Go do it, and push it out through your PR agency. But don’t disingenuously use it to sell your product in ads. Your “brand purpose” needs to be about your brand, not some disconnected social issue.

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