A view from Unruly

Does schmaltzy viral for restaurant chain tug too sharply at heartstrings?

Social video experts Unruly review the latest viral by Thai restaurant chain Bar-B-Q Plaza.

With any kind of narrative stripped back completely, Bar-B-Q Plaza’s direct approach to emotional engagement feels, if anything, a little too raw. 7/10

If you pay enough attention to online video advertising, you might have noticed an unusual trend emerging out of Thailand. While flavours of the month like PSAs and puppies have each had their own viral moment, the Thai advertising market has been steadily making a name for itself with one very specific export: hyper-sentimental video ads machine-tooled to leave the viewer in floods of tears.

Don’t believe us? Just try Googling ‘emotional Thai adverts’ and count the number of teary-eyed screencaps that pop up. If you need any more convincing, you’ll even find an article listing ‘7 Thai commercials that will make you bawl like a baby’.

At Unruly, we’re hyper aware of the connection between emotional engagement and the consequent effectiveness of a video campaign. Added together with the growing importance of emotional targeting, the brazenly emotional nature of these ads (and the massive success of some of them) makes them a vital case study in support of emotional advertising.

More real-life, less cinematic

The latest entry in this trend is ‘The Waiter’s Mom', a nearly six-minute-long spot from Bangkok restaurant chain Bar-B-Q Plaza. While it’s likely that few Western viewers will have heard of the establishment, this fact hasn’t stopped the ad from accruing nearly 750,000 shares since its release last month.

‘The Waiter’s Mom’ takes the form of a short documentary spot, in which servers at the restaurant are filmed filling out a survey on Mother’s Day.

This real-life aspect already sets it apart from some of the most successful ads in this sub-genre, such as insurance company ThaiLife’s ‘Unsung Hero’. In an online landscape that frequently puts an emphasis on documentary footage (as in ‘prankverts’), these ads stand out for their ambitious, sometimes cinematic, narrative scope.

What Bar-B-Q Plaza and agency nudeJEH very cleverly achieve is transplanting that soaring Hollywood emotion to the documentary genre.

Admittedly, this is achieved with the rather blunt application of swooning violins and slightly manipulative footage of waiters crying, but they certainly know what they’re doing.

Global tear-jerker

Making strangers across the planet shed a tear at their desk is no mean feet, and ‘The Waiters’ Mom’ takes no prisoners in that regard.

The real gut-wrenching aspect of the ad concerns the survey itself, which essentially asks the participants to review their relationship with their mother.

Questions include, ‘When was the last time you had dinner with your mother?’ and ‘What was the last thing you talked about?’ and the ensuing montage of guilt-ridden faces is both predictable and cathartic. As with almost all successful Mother’s Day spots, the idea is to have you reaching for the phone by the end.

The ending of the ad neatly ties back to the original premise, with the assembled waiters sitting down for a meal with their respective mothers (at Bar-B-Q Plaza, of course).

As they all break down in tears and hug, you can’t help but feel the audience’s heartstrings being pulled a little too sharply.

While the sentimentality in these ads is certainly never subtle, a hugely successful spot like TrueMove’s ‘Giving Is The Best Communication’ manages to couch its sticky sweetness in an engaging narrative.

With any kind of narrative stripped back completely, Bar-B-Q Plaza’s direct approach to emotional engagement feels, if anything, a little too raw.

The success of the ad so far indicates that ‘The Waiter’s Mom’ fulfils the basic requirements of such a spot (i.e. it might leave the viewer crying). However, the final product is lacking in the depth of its forebears and as a result may struggle to be considered among the most iconic ads of this curious little sub-genre.