Few would question that Thai Life Insurance is one of the most consistently brilliant television advertisers in Asia, with heart-wrenchingly emotive spots that invariably reduce the viewer – any viewer, from Thailand to Timbuktu – to tears.
In this Q&A with Mumbrella, Phawit Chitrakorn, managing director of Thai Life Insurance’s advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather Bangkok, talks about the secret to making consistently great television advertising, finding actors on the streets of Bangkok, and what makes Thailand one of the world’s most creative countries for advertising.
Can you explain the thinking behind Thai Life Insurance’s decision to put so much emotion into its commercials. Frankly, people don’t usually have much of an emotional connection with an insurance company.
Emotion is one of the signature characteristics of Thai Life Insurance. Thais are an extreme bunch, so if you want to connect with them, you need to go all the way, whether it is comedy or drama. As for Thai Life Insurance, we’ve been building the brand through emotional engagement for three decades; it’s not something we’ve just decided to do.
This emotional branding has its advantages. When other businesses decide to create emotional content, it tends to come back and help us as consumers are misled by the branding and assume it’s a Thai Life Insurance ad.
Watch Thai Life Insurance’s most recent ad, ‘Garbage man’:
In what way do you think that reducing your audience to tears will have a positive impact on the brand?
The audience crying isn’t our main objective. However, we want people to appreciate the ‘Value of Life’, which is a core value of the brand. What people should takeaway is that Thai Life Insurance truly and deeply understands the value of life, and this creates opportunities for us.
When people are making a decision to buy a life insurance policy, Thai Life Insurance needs to be at the top of the repertoire. We have to understand that people don’t need and don’t think about life insurance every day. People need to be in a certain stage of life or suffer an incident that makes them stop and think about the desirability of an insurance policy. When that day arrives, the brand that they’re aware of, and think understands what they’re feeling, will be in the final running.
Do you have any effectiveness data that shows the impact of the commercials on the brand?
For many years now, Thai Life Insurance enjoys growth at least equal to the category. We do sell.
The Thai Life Insurance commercials are some of the most consistently brilliant ads in Asia. What is the secret to keeping the quality so high for so long?
We have a great client and we share the same belief system. It’s incredibly difficult to create work that people say is better than before, but it’s everyone’s goal to always create something better, every time.
Of the ads Ogilvy has produced for Thai Life Insurance over the years, which stands out in your view and why?
It’s difficult for me to pick a favourite child! So let me answer it another way. From the response we’ve had globally, Unsung Hero is the number one favorite. It’s had over 17,000,000 views from 232 countries within four weeks launched. It’s has had 18,000,000 engagements. It’s the ninth most shared viral video in the world.
Do you use the same director and production company for each ad? What are the criteria for choosing the director that is right for these sorts of ads?
It’s not one director or production house. We don’t limit ourselves that way. Although a few directors have produced many of the films, we try to choose the best available person for each specific execution.
One of the stand-out features of the Thai Life Insurance films is the acting. Where did you find such great actors?
From the streets. One of Thai Life Insurance key traits is we try to never embellish or be overly melodramatic. We want to keep it real as much as possible. This comes from our belief that a person’s life isn’t something to be played around with. What we try to do is find a touching human story that we all believe can happen to anyone – our neighbour, friends or even family. When we achieve this, life insurance companies begin to have meaning for our lives.
Watch Thai Life Insurance’s ‘Street concert’ ad:
Can you hint as to what direction the next ads for Thai Life Insurance will take, creatively?
Sorry, where’s the fun in that? Just please continue to follow the category.
A question that is always asked about television advertising in Thailand is: how come it is so good? What in your view has led to such high creative standards in Thai TV advertising that makes it heads and shoulders above other markets in Asia?
While I do believe that Thais have a unique and refined sensibility, I think the requirement for creating great work is the same everywhere. Good work always comes from the skill and determination of both the client and the agency. Good Thai work is real and emotionally honest; something that has a universal insight that people around the world understand and appreciate.
There are a great many works that we admire, and that only inspires us to be even better in the future.