Heathrow Bears: Making Tenderness Go Viral

The commercial that gained the top spot on Advertising Age’s Viral Video chart covering the week through Sunday is absolutely amazing. Featuring a stuffed bear couple arriving at Heathrow Airport after a flight, amid human actors, it could have easily turned kitsch. Instead, it is extremely delicate and tender, even moving. The fact is, its structure and form are the perfect recipe to get us involved.

According to Advertising Age’s brief article, this message had an incredible viral success, receiving more than 67 million views in just one week (see Heathrow Joins the Viral Video Chart with Unbearably Cute Bears’ Arrival by Rebecca Hia). What reasons may explain such an impact?

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Titled “Coming Home for Christmas”, the video is just 1:10 minute long, and starts with the two bears, dressed as elderly people, being helped to disembark from a plane by the hostess. Walking slowly, hand by hand, sometimes faltering, they pass through corridors, halls and security check. He needs to put on his glasses to see where Baggage Reclaim is. She looks around slightly lost. They struggle to recover their luggage, always appearing a bit mystified by the airport environment.

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When they reach the Arrival door and see the large group of waiting relatives and people, they come to a stop. Being stuffed bears, their faces don’t change, but they still seem somewhat confused and vulnerable. After a moment, they are revealed to be an elderly human couple (dressed the same way), who are greeted with enthusiasm by their grandchildren.

Based on the analysis of my 2012 book Viral Stories, these are the reasons why this campaign was spontaneously shared and viewed by so many:

Weakness

The two old bears appeal to our memories and win our hearts with their frailty. More in general, we always enter a story drawn by the weaknesses of the protagonists, which mirror ours.

Metaphor

Some verbal or visual figure of speech is often found in viral videos. Although at the start it’s not so evident, the bears clearly stand for two humans. Their special tenderness is something that we are invited to transfer from a beloved toy to the elderly couple.

Conflict

In the central part of the story, the little bears face a worrying conflict with an environment they are not familiar with. Their emotional struggle brings us closer. All good stories must contain some tension in order for us to care.

Twist

Most videos that go viral imply an unexpected twist, which surprises and delights us. In this case it’s the revelation that the bears actually are two human grandparents (who may behave very similarly).

Resolution

The embrace with the grandchildren is the emotional conclusion of the story. The elderly couple is reunited with their family. They have now safely come home.

This little exercise of reverse engineering underlines the reasons why this ad performed so well. Hopefully, it may also give some hints to make yours the next viral success.

And if you are wondering what benefit that message can bring to Heathrow, this is the answer: the helping hands that support the bears in their little journey and the very fact that this ad has been created show that Heathrow people understand their customers – especially the frailest ones – and really care. A smart way to turn an airport from anonymous hub to a human, friendly place.

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