LAKELAND, Fla. - It’s not snow falling from the sky that’s a harbinger of the holidays here in Florida. Instead, crying while watching commercials for a grocery chain has become a sure sign the season is upon us.
Floridians everywhere brace themselves at the sound of the first piano chord of one of this year's holiday-themed commercials from Publix.
“You gonna do it?” one boy says to another. Clearly, they’re up to no good. “Go, go, go!” the kids say as a little boy runs off after leaving something on his neighbor’s porch.
If you watch FOX 13, or you’re one of the 7 million total views of the ad spot on the Publix Facebook page, you know what happens after that.
If even the thought of Publix's latest holiday commercial gives you a catch in your throat, it’s OK. Even employees at the grocery chain’s corporate headquarters can’t resist.
"People get very emotional about them. We get emotional over them,” said Brian West, a spokesman for the company.
It wasn’t always thus. 30 years ago, Publix commercials focused on – wait for it – groceries. But in 1989, at the height of Gordon Gecko’s “Greed is good” in pop-culture, the company decided to focus on advertising something else.
Then came the synthesizers and the “Last Train Home” commercial, the start of advertisements focused on family and friends gathering together at the holidays.
"Our marketing research at the time showed that customers gravitate toward brands that they believe really emulate their own self-image or aspirations,” West said.
But the commercials didn't really shake things up until a nearly a decade later, when an unlikely pair of salt and pepper shakers became separated during a holiday feast.
“There's nothing like being together at the holidays,” says the voiceover, as two salt and pepper shakers – a Mr. and Mrs. Pilgrim - are finally reunited at the dinner table.
Now, an outside ad agency works together with Publix in-house marketing to come up with the concepts.
"They've built a whole lot of brand equity and I think those commercials are a big part of it,” said Erika Matulich, a marketing professor at the University of Tampa.
Is it working? If the gauge is the company's near-fanatical customer loyalty, then yes.
The commercials aren't subtle in pulling on heart-strings, but they’re subtle in what they’re selling.
"They're telling that 60 second story like a little mini-movie,” Matulich said. “Then to just have that tie-in line, 'Publix, where shopping is a pleasure,' ties it all together."
Or as FOX 13's Rusell Rhodes put it on Facebook, "Where crying is a pleasure."
Search "Publix" and "cry" on social media and you'll find posts just like that.
"Publix could tell me how much I could save by shopping there OR they can make me cry by having a kid invite the elderly neighbor for dinner,” posted one Twitter user.
"Ok, this #Publix commercial just made me freakin cry, bro,” posted another.
"Everyone has that same reaction. There's typically not a dry eye in the room,” West said. “When that happens, we know we've made a connection."