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No More Tears: Are Advertisers Trying Too Hard to Make You Cry?

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PRESS ALERT || Aug. 21, 2017 (NEW YORK) -- The American Council of Emotionally Manipulative Advertisers (ACEMA) today issued a special directive to its brand and agency members instituting a moratorium on so-called "cry before you buy" commercials. The directive, which calls for a six-month freeze on filming and distributing ads designed to make consumers tear up, encompasses categories of manipulative marketing including the council's MEM (momentary eye-moistening), RMC (rapid mouth-clasping) and OSI (outright sob-inducing) rating classes.

The moratorium is meant to allow the advertising marketplace to absorb what ACEMA, a self-regulatory group, has officially designated a "glut" of heartstring-yanking ads. The council also plans to consider additional proposed guidelines and regulations regarding such ads' production and use.

The action follows an emergency meeting called by ACEMA President Simon Dumenco in the wake of a new Windex campaign titled "The Story of Lucy," which describes the (fictional) life of an adorable girl and her seafaring -- and therefore often literally distant -- father. The campaign, which launched Aug. 7 as a three-minute short film on YouTube and Facebook, is also being released as a series of 30-second TV spots that excerpt different moments from the longer piece.

The ad's tagline, "What's between us, connects us," appears to be a reference to glass -- specifically glass that has been cleaned by Windex. At the start of the ad, for instance, the loving father first glimpses newborn Lucy through the glass window of a hospital nursery, which a heroic janitor standing nearby has just Windexed.

"The gorgeously melancholy soundtrack of 'The Story of Lucy' -- the Grace VanderWaal song 'Beautiful Thing' -- is enough to make this a MEM-class ad on its own," said Dumenco. "But the gratuitous introduction of the absentee-but-devoted father storyline represents a misguided attempt to escalate the ad to dangerously high OSI-grade 'cry before you buy' status. The council's governing board was nearly unanimous in expressing bewilderment at the use of an emotive coming-of-age story to market a proprietary blend of water, 2-hexoxyethanol, isopropanolamine, sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate, lauramine oxide, ammonium hydroxide, fragrance and Liquitint sky-blue dye."

One ACEMA board member, Robert McDougal, dissented, stating that the Windex ad's message was both appropriate and relevant: "It's not a stretch at all. What's between us -- namely, glass -- does connect us, and the opposite is true too. Frankly, I love my children less if they don't do their household chores, including cleaning the windows to keep them smudge-free."

The prevailing opinion of the ACEMA board, though, was expressed by member Judy Pollack, who stated, "It's a glass-cleaner, for crying out loud. Windex does not help you see into your soul." Another board member, Dave Skid, said, "I'm from Vermont -- we use a little bit of vinegar dissolved in warm water to clean our windows. And crumpled-up newspapers are great for getting a streak-free shine. Wait, what were we talking about?"

Before issuing its moratorium, the council conducted a focus group study of the Windex campaign; viewer comments included "Is this an ad for glass?" and "Windex? Wait, what? Why?" as well as "Is Lucy that little girl from the Audi Super Bowl soapbox derby ad? Because I totally support equal pay for equal work." The study also revealed that the topical application of Windex, including spraying it directly into the eyes of focus group participants, was nearly three times as effective at inducing tears than watching the ad itself.

ACEMA's emotive-ad moratorium follows similar actions by other ad industry groups, such as the ban by the APSCA (American Producers of Super-Creepy Ads) on Puppymonkeybaby breeding following the Puppymonkeybaby public self-pleasuring incidents of 2016; those prompted a series of sexual harassment lawsuits as well as the legalization in 11 southern states of Puppymonkeybaby hunting for the purpose of herd-culling.

The ACEMA board stopped short of formally censuring Windex, noting that emotionally manipulative ads generally remain "an essential and enduring category of marketing that helps jaded consumers who are mostly dead inside feel momentarily alive." Additionally, emotive marketing represents an important area of growth for the embattled advertising industry. Some of the directors and crew members who have created such ads have also gone on to work on popular longform tearjerkers including NBC's "This Is Us."

"As an organization, ACEMA has a proud history of supporting emotionally manipulative commercials, including that 2011 Google Chrome Chrome 'Dear Sophie' coming-of-age ad that showed a devoted dad writing a series of heartfelt emails to his young daughter that he planned to give her when she was old enough to read," said Dumenco, sniffling. "I'm verklempt just thinking about it. Not to mention that recent ad with the little boy who remembers his dead mom every time he looks at the stars at night from his skylight-equipped bedroom in a house that his devoted dad found on Zillow. As an emotive-ad category, devoted-dadvertising in particular shows no sign of slowing down."

But, he added, "tear-jerking as a marketing strategy must be deployed judiciously and responsibly. 'The Story of Lucy' proved to be too gratuitous in its attempted emotional manipulation, even by ACEMA standards. Quite simply, Windex went too far."

ABOUT ACEMA: The American Council of Emotionally Manipulative Advertisers evaluates, rates and regulates emotionally manipulative advertising, and has introduced protections for actors and crew members involved in the production of such ads, including the mandating of on-set grief counselors. ACEMA was established in 2007 following the release of an ASPCA ad featuring the Sarah McLachlan song "Angel" (aka "In the Arms of an Angel"), which caused a nationwide Kleenex shortage.

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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