Why So Sad?

What exactly is it about objects being abandoned in the rain that makes us teary-eyed? Is depressing the audience a valid strategy for advertisers to use? Sidekicks seems to think so. In one such ad, a family’s salt shaker becomes unnecessary when the sodium in Knorr Sidekicks is reduced. This salt shaker is left to wander alone in the rain, tragically ending up watching the family enjoy their meal from outside the dining room window. If you haven’t seen this ad before, you may not think that this sounds particularly distressing. Take a look for yourself, you might find yourself holding back a tear or two.


I find myself wondering why an ad would devote its valuable 30-45 seconds to the depiction of a heart-wrenching scene. I doubt, “aww the poor salt shaker” is really the only message that the advertisers wanted to convey. However, there are some reasons why an advertiser might want to take this route.  The first thing I want to discuss is the difference between central and peripheral processing of ads and how this relates to persuasion. In central processing, you are rationally and logically evaluating the information you are presented with. If an ad wishes its audience to use this type of processing, they will present the product in a way that highlights its attributes; strong arguments for the benefits of the product will be all the persuasion the consumer needs. I do not think that this is the path that Sidekicks has chosen in this case. The only attribute that I see mentioned in this ad is the fact that this product has 25% less sodium. Does that constitute a strong argument? I don’t think so. This is why I think this ad is attempting to engage peripheral processing instead. Using peripheral processing requires much less rational thought. All in all, you spend less of your precious mental energy evaluating the pros and cons of the product and you rely on the more superficial elements. In this case, the arguments don’t need to be strong ones. The mind can be tricked into thinking weak arguments are persuasive through multiple techniques, such as distraction and time compression. Lee and Colarelli O’Connor (2003) suggest that emotional ads are more likely to enlist peripheral thinking. Instead of presenting lists of reasons why you should buy a product and letting central processing do the work, the audience is presented with an ad that gets them to feel. This engages peripheral thinking.

In addition to the manipulation of emotion, I think that this ad has another trick up its sleeve: the use of a narrative. Narratives are a very good way to disguise persuasive intent. When people are aware that something is intended as persuasive, they tend to resist that message. In the case of this ad, the focus is on the creative elements and not the persuasive aspects. Obviously a salt shaker isn’t going to hop off the table and walk out the door in real life. However, we get emotionally invested in fiction. Additionally, with fiction there is more flexibility in the meanings that the viewer will take away from it, which makes the message more memorable.

What strikes me as the most odd about this advertisement is the fact that it is because of the reduced sodium that the salt shaker is doomed to be an outcast; unwanted and purposeless. If Sidekicks hadn’t reduced the sodium in the first place, we would not be feeling sorry for the salt shaker. The voiceover at the end of the ad even says, “Sidekicks now have 25% less sodium than before. Not everyone’s happy about it.” So why isn’t everyone boycotting this product in support of the salt shaker? I believe that this can be explained both through the notion of peripheral processing and by the ad’s use of fiction. I think that with peripheral thinking, we end up associating Sidekicks with the cute salt shaker, and forget the specific details. I’m sure that when most people purchase this product, they are not thinking that it will lead to lonely salt shakers everywhere, their salt tears falling to the sound of Michael Bolton’s How am I Supposed to Live Without You. This is because we are aware that the ad is fiction. In real life, we don’t hold Sidekicks responsible for the unfortunate turn of events in the salt shaker’s world, because we know it isn’t real. While feelings can get transferred from the fictional advertising world to the real world, the assertions (in this case, implied assertions) do not. We don’t expect everything we see and hear in ads to be true in the real world. The emotional connection just makes the ad and the product associated with it more memorable.

There are a number of additional reasons why one might purchase this Sidekicks product. The health benefits associated with reduced sodium could be the selling point for some viewers. Who knows, there might even be some people who buy the product just so they can put some extra salt on it in honor of the salt shaker! Sidekicks even had a promotion where if you bought the product, you could send in proof of purchase to get your own salt and pepper set, just like in the commercial. The most important thing to keep in mind is that as much as this ad makes you want to burn down the Sidekicks factory in a show of solidarity with the poor, cute salt shaker, that is something you would never do (plus your explanation would never hold up in court). The ad is not real. If you disagree, and think that your real life salt shaker has developed the ability to walk and show emotions, you might want to see a doctor.

Along similar lines, there is an Ikea commercial I would like to discuss briefly. We all know the story: girl buys lamp, lamp gets old, lamp gets retired to a rainy street corner, lamp gets replaced. Okay, so maybe that isn’t so common, but this commercial certainly had me feeling sorry for the lamp.


I guess it isn’t all that difficult to get an audience to feel sad over what is happening to an inanimate object. The power of fiction is at work again! The sad music really helps set the tone. We even get a couple of shots filmed from the lamp’s perspective, such as when it is being removed from its former home. Similar to the Sidekicks commercial, this ad gets us to feel emotion. We get caught up in the simple narrative, creating a memorable experience.

This ad also seems to make use of peripheral thinking. It creates emotion, and even uses the distraction of humor at the end when a somewhat eccentric man appears and says, “many of you feel bad for this lamp. That is because you crazy. It has no feelings. And the new one is much better.” I actually find this quite amusing because it has basically just pointed out that the purpose of this ad was to get you to feel bad for this lamp. So their manipulation of emotion is no secret. It also disguises the fact that their arguments in favor of the new lamp are quite weak (if they even exist at all). A strong argument might consist of the reasons why Ikea’s lamps are superior to other lamps, but we barely even get to see the new Ikea lamp! All we see is a blurry view through a rain-streaked window. Are we just supposed to take the word of the random man who appears at the end of the commercial and claims that the Ikea lamp is better? In my books, that isn’t a strong argument worthy of central processing. That is why I believe that there are elements of peripheral processing.

It seems as though the use of sad ads is relatively common. The ads I discussed above are sad, but in a lighter way; in retrospect, it is quite humorous that ads about salt shakers and lamps can spark an emotional response. It is always a good idea to keep in mind what an ad is hoping to accomplish, and the methods it is using to achieve it.




Lee, Y., & Colarelli O’Connor, G. (2003). The impact of communication strategy on launching new products: The moderating role of      product innovativeness. The Journal of Product Innovation Management, 20, 4 – 21. doi: 10.1111/1540-5885.t01-1-201002


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