An Interesting Lesson in Brand Empathy

When was the last time a video or TV commercial truly moved you? Sure there are funny or entertaining spots that may make you smile for a minute or two. But what about a brand message that was really relevant to you? One that you felt truly understood you and your day-to-day life?

I came across a spot like that the other day in an unlikely place. It’s a commercial for an Indian laundry detergent called Ariel.  You’re probably envisioning the typical message already: child gets in a mess, mom is busy, detergent easily saves the day, etc., etc. Not this one. This commercial features a young Indian woman coming home from work to find her husband watching TV on the couch, and her father and her young son playing. She starts to get dinner ready while at the same time answering a work call and cleaning the house. The father of the young mom sits and watches as his daughter runs her house, alone. “I am so sorry,” the dad says in a voiceover. “Sorry that you have to do this all on your own. Sorry that I never stopped you while you were playing house. I never told you that it’s not your job alone… but your husband’s too.”

As the dad watches his daughter cook, clean and take care of her son, he realizes this isn’t her fault — it’s his own. “But how could I say it when I never helped your mom either? And what you saw, you learned,” he says. “Your husband must have learned the same thing from his dad… sorry on behalf of his dad. Sorry on behalf of every dad who set the wrong example.” He goes further to say, “It’s not too late. I will make a conscious effort to help your mom with the household chores. I may not become the king of the kitchen, but at least I can help out with the laundry.”

The power of this spot is not the specific features of the detergent, its cleaning prowess or even the end benefit. It’s the fact that the brand empathizes with its consumers and wants to make a positive impact on their lives. As the chief creative officer of the agency behind the spot said, “We are seeking to create greater empathy in our message because that’s what people want so badly in today’s world—empathy and authenticity. If we can do that in our work and people look at our work and say, ‘That’s so true,’ we will feel we’ve been awarded even before any awards season.” So far, the video has gone viral, receiving over 110,000 shares from Ariel India’s Facebook page in less than a week and gaining support from Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Empathy, even more than differentiation, can be a powerful consumer motivator for a brand. The highly popular television show Seinfeld was successful not because it showed us a world different from our own, but because it reflected our own world back at us. Who knew that a half hour of comedy could revolve around trying to find a car in a parking lot or reserving a rental car? These may be typical, everyday situations, but they’re ones that we as consumers can relate to because we see ourselves in them. We find ourselves saying “That’s so true” or in marketing terms, ”This brand understands me.”

All in all, empathy can be a powerful force when properly employed. Brands that show consumers they not only understand their needs but also empathize with them will be the ones to gain their loyalty and support.