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For the brands maintained by Unilever, the consumer product giant, advertising is taking a new tack: Focus on emotion, rather than functionality. Especially when children are involved, the functional benefits often are not the primary purchase determinant. So while Ragu continues to offer two servings of vegetables in every half-cup of sauce, its televised and online advertising centers instead on two key human emotional needs: the need for comfort and the need to laugh.

These drives get closely related when advertising spots remind parents of just how tough it is to be a child. One displays a child getting his face wiped by his mother’s spit-laden thumb. Another highlights a suspicious child, wonderings why her father keeps watching her, and why her hamster looks so much more perky—and different in color—than it did yesterday. The children’s unhappy, untrusting, and resigned faces clearly express just what a struggle a day of childhood can be—and how much of that is their parents’ fault.

The solution is Ragu, according to the campaign’s tagline: “Give them Ragu; they’ve been through enough.” Because every child has his or her own everyday struggles, the televised campaign is being paired with online and mobile functionalities that allow parents to upload videos of their children’s rough days. Another online campaign takes parents’ efforts to get their children to eat a nutritious meal to absurd extremes, such as showing a mother wearing pasta braids dipped in Ragu.

But in all these cases, the focus remains on children. In turn, the advertisements have largely sparked a chuckle of recognition among consumers. However, one of the “Long Day of Childhood” creations raised controversy as well. In it, a young boy leaves his parents’ room, a look of shock and horror on his face. A jingle narrates, “Parents in bed, but it’s only 8:00. That’s why they taught you that you should always knock.” Complaints about the innuendo of this particular advertisement followed quickly, but perhaps it should not have come as too much of a surprise. Unilever also markets Axe body spray, a product whose racy advertising continues to shock, surprise, and amuse various segments of consumers.

Source: Elizabeth Olsen, “Not Every Bad Day Needs to End with Ice Cream,” The New York Times, August 14, 2012.