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Tearjerker Ads (The Big Idea)
June 15, 2022

Has a TV commercial ever brought tears to your eyes?

I remember watching an ad that made me start to tear up. God, it was a thing of beauty. 

It followed a few athletes and their journeys to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, but it wasn’t just about the athletes—interestingly, the ad was a series of childhood flashbacks that revealed something special about each athlete’s relationship with their mom. The scared phone calls from college, dealing with bullies, an elevator breaking down, being scared of airplane turbulence, and other moments of doubt—all with mom by their side giving words of love and support. 

The climax of the ad was all of these characters performing huge acts of athleticism after they had finally made it to the Olympics—and winning the gold. Then, after they win, they each run to their moms in the audience, hug, and share a tender moment. 

Now, by this point, people are already crying. Trust me—I’ve played this ad in front of a lot of people. Tears are flowing.

But the ad isn’t over.

It fades to white and the words slowly appear on the screen:

It takes someone strong

to make someone strong.


Thank you, Mom.


Then—all of a sudden—the logos start fading in. 






Then a gentle female voice says:

“P&G. Proud sponsor of moms.”


That was a Procter & Gamble ad?!?


They freakin got me!!

Procter & Gamble makes household items! What do they think they’re doing making me all emotional just watching their commercial? I’m happy and sad and nostalgic and confused all at once. This is ridiculous—but I LOVE it!!

Great marketing has to do this kind of thing. 

It has to grab you by the collar of your shirt, shake you around, and say to you—this is real. It has to take you by surprise. It has to be relatable. And it has to point back to the company in a way that’s authentic. That’s genuine.

That’s what really great ads do—it’s why some people (like me) watch the Super Bowl just for the ads. When you’re paying $5 million for a 30 second TV ad, you’ve gotta be on your A-game. So those ads are almost always home runs.

It usually takes an entire movie to lead up to a tearjerker moment. Romantic comedies are the easiest example. We sit watching for ninety minutes enjoying the emotional build-up, and then finally at the climax, the kiss comes and we all go awwww! 

That one, single emotional moment takes an hour and a half of careful, highly-engineered storytelling to strike a chord. 

Super Bowl ads can do it in thirty seconds. 


Because the companies and agencies that designed that ad spent the vast majority of their time staring at a blank piece of paper waiting until they came up with a concept that struck a chord. 

They waited for the Big Idea. 

They don’t go with their first idea, which is what we’re trained to do in workshops and courses and mastermind events. Your first idea will always suck. ALL of my first ideas suck. Never, ever go with your first idea. Your fiftieth idea will probably suck, too. The people writing Super Bowl ads get that. They’re no different from you or I—they’re just patient.

They don’t go with their fiftieth idea. They keep going until the floor is littered with crumpled up notebook paper. But when the real Big Idea ends up on that paper, they know it. The hair on the back of their neck stands up. Their nerves start to quiver. They have a different reaction to the Big Idea than they did to the seventy-nine other ideas that are crumpled up on the floor around them.

That’s when they know it’s ready to move forward.

Here are some Big Ideas from some companies you may recognize. When you read the words, you may remember an ad that you saw that reflected the Big Idea. That’s how memorable these concepts can be.

  • AncestryDNA: We are all connected
  • Coca Cola: There’s a Coke for you
  • Turkish Airlines: Widen your world
  • Proctor & Gamble: It takes someone strong to make someone strong
  • Guinness: Made of more
  • Mini Cooper: You do you
  • Apple: Be a rebel

You may read some of these and think, “oh, those are just the taglines.” And you’d be right. But the premise of your thought is incorrect—the Big Idea isn’t based on the tagline. The tagline is based on the Big Idea. 

It drives the entire campaign. It drives the messaging of the company for years. That’s why it’s the BIG Idea! 

When the person, or team, at a company comes up with a Big Idea, it’s not just the words that make up the Big Idea. It’s the feeling the words create. The stories that appear in our minds. That feeling and those stories cannot come into existence without going through the collective failure of the seventy-nine (or however many) other bad, sucky ideas scattered across the floor. That’s where the Big Idea gets its power. And that’s why Big Ideas are so hard to come by. Because in order to come up with one, you have to fail.

Most business leaders, especially entrepreneurs, have been taught to be impatient; to not wait for the Big Idea. To avoid the failure. In fact, the majority of us don’t even know what a Big Idea is. We’re used to going for the quick marketing “win” that lets us launch on time and impress our clients or bosses, but the quick win isn’t the same as a Big Idea. Quick wins will fade. They won’t sustain conversions. People will question them. They won’t protect your brand. But Big Ideas are bulletproof. They can drive a company’s marketing for years, if not decades. Think of Nike’s Just Do It—that’s a Big Idea that’s lasted a long, long time. A guy named Dan Wieden came up with that phrase in 1988—I encourage you to look up the story. It’s fascinating.

The path to a Big Idea is not in the direction of doing more. It’s not based on the latest technology trend. You can’t get to it with “quick win” thinking, and it’s not going to pop into your head in the middle of the night. You have to put in the reps and work for it.

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Dan Russell

Editor—Goldpan Report