Moving images: ten of the most emotional ads ever shown in the UK

With long nights and cold days, January is the month when most of us are at our most miserable. Campaign took advantage of the prevailing mood to poll readers on what they thought was the most emotional ad ever shown in the UK. More than 1,000 people responded, picking from ten shortlisted entries (charity ads were not included). Here, James Swift analyses the results.

Moving image: Abbott Mead and Vickers BBDO's 'journey' ad for Cesar
Moving image: Abbott Mead and Vickers BBDO's 'journey' ad for Cesar

1 Cesar "journey" 2013

Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
Creatives: Diccon Driver, Alan Wilson
Director/production company: Andy McLeod, Rattling Stick
The British are a stoic lot (some might say emotionally constipated) who prefer to confront life’s sadder moments with a stiff upper lip. Just compare the sob stories of contestants on UK talent shows with those of their US counterparts and you’ll see that we are mere amateurs at pouring out our hearts. All bets are off when it comes to animals, though. Few things move this nation more than a sad tale involving a pet. So it is no surprise that Cesar’s "journey" ad was considered the UK’s most touching, winning in a landslide with more than half of the total vote. Telling the story of a dignified old man whose best friend accompanies him to his wife’s grave, this spot penetrates the sole chink in a typical Brit’s emotional armour with surgical precision. In other circumstances, you might feel resentful for being manipulated emotionally by an ad for pet food but, when it’s this sweet, it’s hard to care.
Twitter reaction
@xbabybird I maybe getting sentimental but this ad is rather beautiful Cesar Love Them Back.

2 John Lewis "always a woman" 2010

Agency: Adam & Eve
Creatives: Ben Tollett, Emer Stamp, Steve Wioland, Matt Woolner
Director/production company: Dougal Wilson, Blink
Campaign’s shortlist for the UK’s most emotional ad could have been littered with John Lewis spots. Every year, the retailer tries to outdo itself in reducing viewers to tears. One suspects the shop might be in cahoots with Kleenex. But "always a woman" was where it all began; when Adam & Eve first got the formula right. Sales leapt 39.7 per cent after the first airing of the ad, which accumulated 100,000 YouTube hits in one week – a big deal at the time. The Daily Mail wrote: "You won’t find many people admitting to crying over the usual flood of formulaic adverts… yet this ‘moving’ ad has got Britain talking and sobbing into their breakfast bowls."
Twitter reaction
@itvmedia Emer Stamp @AandE made a nation cry with their John Lewis ‘always a woman’ ad & we love it at itv!!
@danaeshell That John Lewis "always a woman to me" ad is like emotional crack. Really lovely!

3 Channel 4 "meet the superhumans" 2012

Agency: 4Creative
Creative/director: Tom Tagholm
It is hard to imagine that anyone could watch this trailer for Channel 4’s coverage of the 2012 Paralympics and not feel something. The ad is not sad, but its expertly crafted depiction of human spirit triumphing will still make you well up. What’s more, the spot doesn’t lose any of its impact after multiple viewings. It won top prizes at D&AD and Cannes, and changed people’s perception of disability.
Twitter reaction
@ShappiKhorsandi The Meet The Superhumans paralympics ad makes my heart do a faultless triple summersault.
@marycreagh_mp Watch this, cry, then buy a Paralympics ticket…

4 Procter & Gamble "best job" 2012

Agency: Wieden & Kennedy Portland
Creatives: Kevin Jones, Ollie Watson
Director/production company: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Anonymous Content
One rarely associates the FMCG sector with raw emotion, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a parent who wasn’t misty-eyed after watching this depiction of mothers as the driving force behind young athletes. Some fathers might feel aggrieved at being airbrushed from the picture, but that’s their fault for not buying enough P&G products.

5 BBC "perfect day" 1997

Agency: Leagas Delaney
Creatives: Will Farquhar, Ian Ducker
Director/production company: Gregory Rood, Paul Weiland Film Company
The BBC and Leagas Delaney took a superb and melancholy song and arranged a remarkable cast to sing it – a simple formula that proved most effective. The spot takes on added poignancy following Lou Reed’s death in October last year. The fly in the ointment is the cameo from the Irish crooners Boyzone, who confusingly appear to be wearing shiny bin bags.

6 Hovis "go on lad" 2008

Agency: MCBD
Creatives: Gavin Torrance, Danny Hunt
Director/production company: Ringan Ledwidge, Rattling Stick
Showing a lifetime pass in the space of a couple of minutes seems to be a sure-fire way of getting viewers to choke back the tears. Two years before John Lewis did it, Hovis condensed 122 years of British history into 122 seconds. With less than 5 per cent of the vote, maybe only people who are old enough to remember some of the events depicted find the spot truly affecting – and there can’t be many of those in advertising.

7 Oxo "last supper" 1999

Agency: JWT
Creative: Unknown
Director/production company: Derek Coutts, BFCS
"It was quite tear-jerking. It is the end of an era." So said Lynda Bellingham, matriarch of the Oxo family. You won’t find many actors so attached to their commercials roles, but then not many ad series last 16 years. The final spot was aired in 1999 and shows the family sitting down to dinner for the last time before moving house. Bellingham’s character begins to cry while reminiscing before being told by her husband that it is "time to go".

8 Sussex Safer Roads "embrace life" 2010

Agency: Alexander Commercials
Creative/director: Daniel Cox
Creating a road-safety ad that doesn’t resort to violent images to shock people into paying attention, or resign itself to being ignored, is not easy. With "embrace life", Cox did it masterfully, drawing widespread acclaim for a regional execution. The ad polled little over 2 per cent among Campaign readers, but perhaps it suffered from being an online spot.

9 Aviva "holiday packing" 2011

Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
Creatives: Dave Buchanan, Mike Hannett
Director/production company: Declan Lowney, HSI
Without wanting to downplay the idea, it is the casting that qualifies this spot as a tear-jerker. No-one expects the Fast Show comedian Paul Whitehouse to be anything but cheery on the screen. So when it turns out that he is playing a ghost, missed by his family, shock compounds the sadness.

10 NHS "Rebecca" 2000

Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
Creatives: Unknown
Director/production company: Unknown
This NHS anti-smoking spot featuring a girl talking frankly to the camera about her father’s lung cancer, while a solitary tear runs down her cheek, was voted by Campaign readers as being less moving than a gravy ad where a family moves house. Maybe the subject matter was just too brutal for people to engage with emotionally.