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- This video. Even without the Twist Ending. For those of you who need context, it shows a little girl playing with a stuffed animal. Everything seems fine at first until her parents become increasingly annoyed with her. Her dad then throws her toy out of the car and abandons her in a field. The camera then zooms out to reveal that the girl is actually a dog. The video ends with “adopt wisely”, the message being that all living things need love and that children and pets aren’t things you can throw away.
- A similar PSA from Fundacion Purina simply cuts to the chase and just shows the dog getting abandoned.
- Yet another similar PSA about dog abandonment (beginning of this compilation, this time from Japan and with a crying child saying goodbye to her puppy to make it even harder for the viewers.
- This PSA ups the ante by not only starting with a really sad dog abandonment, but having said dog give out a forlorn howl afterwards. It is joined in its cry by other animals in utterly depressing conditions, namely a dying elk, some pigs on their way to being slaughtered, a bleeding bullfighting bull, a baby monkey in a laboratory, and a bear in a tiny cage at an abandoned circus. There is a Hope Spot in the form of a man who hears the animals crying and looks out his window... but then he shuts his shades and goes back to watching TV.
- Jenny Jinya's "Loving Reaper" comics, featuring the Grim Reaper caring for animal ghosts. The comics feature heartbreaking topics like abandonment, dogfighting, pool dangers, the stigma around black cats, and pollution.
- There have been complaints that the comics are too sad, so new character Life was added.
- When they aren’t scaring the crap out of you, PETA’s comics will make you cry. They feature a neglected dog, rats and other animals being tortured in laboratories, a calf crying for his likely dead mother, a fish with PTSD, a chicken with a damaged beak, and what happens to circus elephants. Make sure to bring lots of tissues before reading these.
- To show why dogs die in hot cars, Dogs Trust made a video featuring a dog-shaped ice sculpture inside a car on a hot day. Sad music plays as the sculpture begins to melt, and the sculpture’s collar loosens. In the end, we are left with only the collar as the puddle evaporates. Although it’s not a real dog, it’s still heartbreaking.
- Any animal shelter ad, especially the ASPCA ones with the sad music and pictures of abused animals. There is a local shelter ad that has more uplifting, eyes-get-misty-in-a-good-way ads showing before and after pictures of animals after being nursed back to health and looking all happy.
Sarah: Hi, I'm Sarah McLachlan. Will you be an angel for a helpless animal? Every day, innocent animals are abused, beaten and neglected... and they're crying out for help.
- Those notorious ASPCA commercials with Sarah McLachlan. Imagine this, you're having a great time watching TV and eating lots of junk food. It's Friday night and your parents are out, which gives you the freedom to do whatever you want. The TV channel you're watching suddenly goes to a commercial break, and the first thing you see is a sad dog staring directly at you with depressing music playing in the background. You can't find the remote, so you're forced to watch the entire thing from start to finish. It seriously feels like the animals are staring deep into your soul with their vacant eyes. The music certainly doesn't help at all. So many people (Even Sarah herself) would change the channel when these commercials came on. And judging by their haunting content, it's not hard to see why.
- Due to how depressing it is, many parodies of this commercial exist on the internet. They suck all the saddening nature out and replace it with something far more comedic. This one features footage of people crying when an ASPCA commercial comes on. And instead of Sarah begging to donate, she tells the viewer to call the number on the screen to receive an apology for her sad commercials that are always on TV
- On the bright side, the commercial generated $30 million dollars for the company.
(As various clips of dogs are shown) "I know how to sit. I know how to roll over. I know how to fetch. I know how to stay. What I don't know is how I ended up in here. But I know that I am a good dog, and I just want to go home."
- The Pedigree adoption drive ads.
Echo: "I don't know why I ended up in here - But I'll never forget the day I got out."
- One of them, however, has a heartwarming follow-up for a dog named Echo.
First Cat: "Tomorrow!"
- This Commercial. Natalie Merchant's My Skin is lethal to hearts. The captions don't help any. "What did I do wrong?... Why did they hurt me?... Why did they abandon me?... Will I die today?"
- From an anti-dog fighting ad: "You're my best friend," that quote will echo in one's head for a while.
- A similar cat adoption video courtesy of The Shelter Pet Project has two cats in a cage, each cheerfully insisting that today is the day someone's going to adopt them. They go on like this the entire day until it's obvious that it's not going to happen. But the last thing they say before going to sleep?
Second Cat: "Guaranteed!"
- The real Tearjerker? They never lose hope. Even as the day goes on and on, they remain as cheerful and hopeful as ever, and not in any sort of Stepford Smiler way—it's completely sincere.
- In the 1970s, an actress whose twelve-minute bravura performance in a single film had terrified generations of children appeared in a Humane Society PSA surrounded by cats, speaking gently about the tragedy of abandoned kittens and puppies and pleading with us to spay and neuter our pets. Margaret Hamilton was a lifelong activist for animals and children's rights and a member of Friends of Animals.
- Don't Abandon Your Pet shows a man abandoning his dog in the park and the dog sits there homeless for months, crying. To make matters worse, the man who abandoned the poor beagle feels very guilty about it and only did it because of his wife having a baby, a common scenario for pet abuse situations. We don’t see what happens to the dog, but he likely starved to death because of how skinny he looks.
- RSPCA Australia made this sad PSA back in 1998: A Tamagotchi-like toy appears onscreen. It turns on to reveal a cartoon dog. The dog barks at the image of a beach ball, indicating that he wants to play. Suddenly, a black X appears over the beach ball, and the dog is sad. The dog then gestures towards his dog house, but once again the X appears. The dog appears very sad and noticeably emaciated now. He begs for food but is once again denied. The dog lays down and closes his eyes as a broken heart image appears. A cross then appears onscreen, meaning the dog starved to death. The PSA ends with the message “pets aren’t toys.”
- In 2016, IFAW made an anti-puppy mill PSA disguised as a toy commercial. Suzy Puppy (watch here) is an adorable toy puppy suffering from the deadly parvovirus, diarrhea, severe conjunctivitis (pinkeye) that is so bad her eye is oozing pus and bulging out of her head and is crawling with fleas. Press her paw to hear her whimper. The video ends with the poor little girl burying Suzy in the yard.
-Parents: Is the puppy’s mother present? If not, do not purchase the puppy.
- An actual Suzy toy was made later that year for the UK Parliament to use as an educational tool, which is arguably worse than the video. Suzy’s registration certificate says that her mother was slaughtered after Suzy was born after spending her whole life in a cage, that Suzy is part of her mother's twentieth litter, and that she is only six weeks old (it is illegal to sell dogs if they are under eight weeks old). Her box says that she only has six more weeks left to livenote . She’s also traveled hundreds of miles in a cage, her exact weight and breed are unknown (although she looks like a beagle), and she’s now suffering from worms due to receiving no vaccinations. The toy also comes with a plush poop, simulating the diarrhea symptom. Suzy was designed to teach IFAW’s PUPS rule for purchasing puppies:
-Underage: Is the puppy at least eight weeks old?
-Papers: Does the puppy have valid papers?
-Sickness: Is the puppy ill?
- This Samaritans PIF, shown around the time of the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis, is sure to tug on the heartstrings. While Barber's Adagio for Strings plays, real news footage of obviously devastated farmers (many of them visibly and audibly sobbing) and dead or burning livestock is shown. The things the farmers say are heartbreaking in and of themselves (for example, one farmer tearfully explains how she "used to know them all by name", and audibly breaks down as she mentions that "they're just over there with their legs sticking in the air".) You can't help but feel sorry for them.
- This PETA campaign about the cruelty of using wool-fronted by P!nk; the unsightly imagery of the sheep's infected wounds, the sight of thousands of animals crammed in hot enclosures on boats, and later being slaughtered is a mix of this, Nightmare Fuel and Nausea Fuel all at once.
- This heartbreaking PSA about animal testing starts off with a Beagle puppy trying to escape from a cage, until a man walks over to it and opens it, picking up the puppy. We're at first lead to believe that the dog will be going to be adopted, but... "he's not going to a good home", as it's revealed that the man is actually taking him to a testing site. The sad guitar music, courtesy of Joan Armatrading, does not help at all.
- "The Bridge", a short film by PAWS NY that has as much to do with mental health and suicide awareness as it does about adopting a pet. Set to "Perfect Day", we follow a lonely man in New York City that for whatever tragic reason no longer has his wife and child with him. He is clearly depressed by this and no one ever reaches out to him except for an Ugly Cute homeless dog with lots of injuries like an eye with a cataract, who is also ignored and belittled on the streets after being violently thrown out of a moving vehicle. They pass on a bridge day-by-day, but one day, the dog doesn't come to see him. After a brief return home, he decides to attempt suicide by leaping off the bridge. It becomes happy tears when the dog escapes the shelter it was placed in and happily knocks him over just before he jumps, unknowingly saving his life and finding his new owner.When someone rescues an animal, they're also rescuing themselves.
- Some of the "We Prevent" PSAs from the Ad Council and the National Crime Prevention Council in the 90s are especially heartbreaking.
Voiceover: Not one more lost life. Not one more grieving family. Not. One. More.
- For instance, this one shows a woman with her dead son on her lap. She sings "Hush, Little Baby" to him as a policewoman comes to comfort her. Her husband runs to the scene and cries over his body. The PSA ends with the said boy's funeral.
- Another features Peter, Paul, and Mary's song, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" remade as "Where Have All the Children Gone." Just listening to the song is sure to work those tear ducts. To redden your eyes further from crying, this PSA is a musical montage of various news coverages of crime scenes, memorial vigils, families reacting to their relatives' and friends' deaths, funerals, etc.
- Speaking of the "Not One More" PSAs, here's another one. It's about a girl who talks about inviting her mother and her friends to an important event. She talks about having nice music and a pretty blue dress. But she isn't talking about her sweet sixteen or her quinceañera - she's talking about her funeral when she gets fatally shot. Before we cut to the NCPC phone number and the Ad Council logo, a white casket is displayed in front of an open window.
- "Quiet Time" is also another Ad Council PSA that needs tissues. A group of kids in their Sunday best are standing quietly, only to have the viewer find out that they are attending the funeral of a classmate who has been murdered by a gun.
- A PSA for States United to Prevent Gun Violence tells viewers that every three hours, a child dies by gunshot. What makes it even more harrowing is that the message is conveyed from an ER doctor's point of view. As she puts on the coat, washes her hands, and heads to the ER waiting room, she explains offscreen how she prepares to notify the family that their son has died. The haunting, wordless vocals do little to help wonders.
- The doctor's inner musings as she walks from her changing room to the ER waiting room are based on the NY Times Op-Ed "How to Tell a Mother Her Child is Dead", which was initially a writing class assignment ER doctor Naomi Rosenburg took.
Domestic Violence and Child Abuse
- The Japanese advert involves a puppet girl talking about her parents being good people, then she shyly covers injuries on her knees, asserting she is fine, as her parents (played by actual people) twisting her arms roughly, with the puppet girl insisting that she still loves them.
- This NSPCC advert which shows an abusive dad beating his poor son (in the form of a cartoon) throughout the whole thing. The ad ends with the dad throwing his son downstairs. The last shot shows the kid (in human form) and the words pop up: "Real children don't bounce back." It's just so depressing to watch. No wonder it got a '18' rating by the BBFC.
- A Brazilian domestic violence awareness organization placed statues of the Virgin Mary all over one beach town. Passerbys took pictures and prayed in front of them as they bleed from not only their eyes but from their noses. They did it intentionally to reflect the reality of women who are enduring domestic violence.
- This cinema ad for the NSPCC. It's very simple, being merely just a series of photos and text on a black background set to "Tell Me There's a Heaven" (itself a tear-jerking ballad) by Chris Rea, who wrote the song in response to his young daughter asking him questions about how cruel people can be. It is quite possibly one of the saddest—yet greatest—ads against child abuse you will ever see. Listen to the lyrics in conjunction with the coroner's notes and comments from the NSPCC, and if you aren't crying by the end, you'll almost certainly feel a deep chill on your back from the magnitude of what you've just read.The little girl she said to me
What are these things that I can see?
Each night when I come home from school
When mama calls me in for tea -
Oh, every night a baby dies
And every night a mama cries
What makes those men do what they do
To make that person black and blue?
Grandpa says they're happy now -
They sit with God in paradise,
With angels' wings, and still somehow
It makes me feel like ice.
- This chilling NSPCC campaign from 2001 called Kids Learn Fast. It begins in 1971, when a young boy is locked in a closet by his abusive father. It then skips to the present showing the boy, who is now a grown-up, screaming verbal abuse at his young daughter. The haunting music playing over the scene doesn't help matters at all.
- This 2014 ad for NSPCC released in the run-up to Christmas of that year, talking of how child abuse escalates during the holidays. The acoustic cover of Slade's "Merry Xmas, Everybody overlaying it only makes it worse.
- MTV Europe's EXIT campaign produced a PSA using Radiohead's track "All I Need". It depicts the lives of two boys, one being raised by a middle-class English family while the other boy from Southeastern Asia is being exploited to produce shoes. The stinger? The English child is wearing the shoes made by the exploited child.
- Barnardo's, a British charity that works with vulnerable children, has a few depressing ads:
- A TV commercial showed a series of vignettes from a girl's life: injecting heroin, mugging someone to feed her addiction, being locked up, beaten by her father, and bullied at school because she can't read. These repeat and repeat at increasingly vicious speed, ending with a statement that Barnardo's is often the only way for such kids to break the cycle of violence and abuse.
- The Life Story advert, where an adult is shown talking to a psychiatrist. He subtly ages down as he speaks to the audience about his childhood.
- This PSA from the '70s, "Keep America Beautiful," featuring Iron Eyes Cody as the Crying Indian.
- The American Museum of Natural History has a video that plays on a loop in the Hall of Ocean Life that starts off showing the wonders of the ocean with very nice Background Music. Then the music changes, the video shows pollution and other environmental problems affecting the ocean, concluding with a sea turtle trapped in a net, struggling, then giving up and looking helplessly at the camera. At this point, if you've been watching the whole thing, you're ready to scream. Then, some scuba divers come by and free the turtle, and it cuts to oceanography and preservation, for a serious Heartwarming Moment.
- This ad from the Philippines' Live for the Rivers Movement Coalition starts cute enough, with a rendition of a local nursery rhyme about vegetables. But it takes a twist when the first chorus begins. The vegetables start to look like they've been filled with ink. Then near the end of the song, the river behind the farm is polluted, there are landfills, the tree next to the farm is dead, and the vegetables are all sick. They then pass out and are placed in a garbage bag. This also doubles as Nightmare Fuel.
- The National Religious Partnership for the Environment used to have a beautiful PSA with Biblical quotations about stewardship, showing various animal families in the wilderness, ending with a gorilla and her baby. It was a great feel-good tear-jerker, especially for people of faith.
- This promotion video Dream for the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, which somehow manages to make "I Dreamed a Dream" even more heartbreaking. To summarize, a group of animals horrifically fall victim to man-made hazards. A pelican becomes trapped in an oil spill caused by a nearby oil rig. A rhinoceros mother is shot then dehorned by Evil Poachers and left to die in front of her calf. A blue whale is speared to death by whalers. And finally, a Sweet Seal pup is surrounded a pack of seal hunters and is killed by the pack's leader who can't help but smirk before doing so. At least we don't see the cruelty on-screen.
- An animated Smokey Bear PSA from 1973 titled "Emptiness", features Smokey standing at a now burned down forest. During this PSA, he tells the viewers about how beautiful this place once was complete with Smokey reminiscing about the forest (such as a river that had the best fish around, a nice picnic and camping area, and a forest that was once filled with love and life). Then man happened and got careless with fire. After he finishes reminiscing, he urges the viewers to "Think before they strike" and "The forest won't be back in our lifetime either".
- Smokey: It's all gone now, and it won't be back in our lifetime either. So think before you strike, put the life out of your campfires. Before the campfires put the life out of the forest.
- In 1963, there were a series of posters◊ and commercials featuring Smokey Bear and the other forest animals praying. That same year, a short PSA aired on television that shows the aftermath of a forest fire. We see burnt down trees and dead grass and the camera slowly pans to Smokey Bear and the surviving and homeless forest animals praying complete with Smokey shedding a tear.Smokey: A beautiful forest was destroyed because someone was careless with a match, a smoke, or a campfire. Now the birds and animals have no place to stay. Their food and homes have been burned away, please make people more careful.
- This Animated Music Video for "My Only Love" by Moby addresses the devastation of climate change, deforestation, and hunting along with the calamitous effects brought by it. A jaguar and her cub are separated by a fire in the rainforest and they end up getting killed by hunters.
Alcohol, Drugs, and Tobacco usage
- Last Dance An anti-smoking PSA video to the song "Que Sera Sera". A wife is sharing a last dance with her husband, who is clearly dying of cancer. The fact that their young son is watching (who the husband will not live to see grow up) makes the scene even more heartbreaking.
- This Australian anti-smoking ad. A mother and her child are walking along a crowd... and suddenly the mother vanishes without a trace. The child gets increasingly worried and then finally cries alone, openly sobbing as the faceless crowds walk past, completely ignoring him. All for a message that smoking's side effects may suddenly end your life.
- This one anti-drinking commercial with the little girl who says that in seven years, she'll be an alcoholic.
- This NHS advert from 2004. As if it isn't bad enough that the man in the advert is dying of both throat and lung cancer from smoking, he mentions that his daughter would be coming to visit him for Christmas and that he'd be alive for the holiday... only for the end caption to reveal that he died 10 days after filming the advert and never got to see his daughter.
- This Malaysian version from 7 years later is far worse as we get to see more victims of smoking. The part where the Indian man turns out to have been amputated hits you hardest in the gut.
- Here’s a downright brutal anti-drugs PSA:Meet Suzie.
- Concerned Children's Advertisers sponsored a PSA back in the mid-90s or thereabouts. It featured a young man visiting his estranged friend in drug rehab, intercut with flashbacks to their carefree childhoods, all while "He Ain't Heavy, He's my Brother" played in the background.
- This commercial from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. It features actor Carroll O'Connor (known for his roles in All in the Family and In the Heat of the Night) talking briefly about his son Hugh O'Connor and his 1995 suicide after struggling half his life with drug addiction. At the end, the pain in his voice is heartbreaking as he urges other parents: "Get between your kids and drugs any way you can." Carroll himself would die 6 years later in 2001.
- Another Partnership ad (and this page's image) has a man telling his son that he was going to talk to him about drugs when he was old enough. He just didn't think he'd have to have that conversation with a 13-year-old. As the man breaks down into tears and the camera pulls back, it's revealed that he is standing in a cemetery, and he's speaking to his son's gravestone. A narrator then pleads with the parents in the audience to talk to their children about drugs because if they don't teach them to say no, they might as well be teaching them to say yes.
- The Partnership for a Drug-Free America ads ads where the rehabilitated users are shown everything they gave up for meth. Having a child makes the one of the young father touching the face of the mannequin very painful.
- This PSA from Japan, in addition to its unsettling atmosphere, is deeply upsetting, as it ends with the drug-addicted mother fading away, leaving her very young son repeatedly crying out for her. It's not hard to feel sorry for him.
- The "Solvents" British anti-huffing ads only features sounds and white text on a black screen describing said sounds. One ad features a 14-year-old girl snorting, coughing and gagging as she huffs some solvents which then morphs into her mother's breaking down and crying as she identifies her body in the morgue. Other ads in the series include a father identifying his teenage son after his own demise, the sister of another teenage boy waking up in tears after having a nightmare months after his death and the "friends" of an 11-year-old freaking out about him huffing for the first—and last—time. It's absolutely gut-wrenching.
- A Drug-Free World ad from the "They said... They lied" collection, titled "One Hit", features a boy getting hooked on drugs because his peers said "One hit wouldn't hurt." This ends up spiraling into the boy getting sent to the hospital due to drug addiction, where he is pronounced dead by the doctor, all the while his mother tearfully and hastily drives to the hospital after receiving news of what happened. What's even more heartbreaking is at the end of the ad, it's not the boy who said "They lied", but rather, his mother, who finishes the ad.
- Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" is already a depressing song. In Brazil, a PSA on Down Syndrome used it in the background, and somehow it gets even worse.
- These◊ cot death awareness posters that have shown up in Scotland have combined Narm and tragedy.
- There was one commercial where rain was falling in sheets on grimy city streets while anonymous feet stomped and hurried to and fro. From a crack in a sidewalk, a single flower was growing, the only bit of color in the whole city, but battered by the rain and always in danger of being crushed. The flower was a child with cancer...
- This advertisement for chicken pox vaccinations from the early 2000s began by revealing that many children die each year from complications brought on by chicken pox, and it features several toys, a jack-in-the-box, a teddy bear, a ragdoll, a rubber ducky, and more, all quietly weeping over their lost "children."
- This Anthony Nolan commercial tells the story about Emily, a child with Leukaemia. She had to go to hospital numerous times, and she had to take medicine that made her feel really sick. The real stinger? "Daddy doesn't laugh much anymore".
- When ignoring the Nightmare Fuel, "Rewind the Future" from the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta has a very sad story. The main character, Jim, suffers a heart attack at 32, and his life flashes before his eyes. In reverse chronological order, Jim relives every unhealthy habit he made that contributed to being on the operating table. From his lack of exercise to his diet of mostly fast food and unhealthy sweets and drinks to his inability to make a change (despite stern warnings from his doctors and parents trying to find solutions), you're literally watching a man's life gradually go south as he ages and keeps his habits.
- Seeing him interact with his wife and son is also sad on the base of both Fridge Horror and Fridge Sadness. Horror in that he might be influencing his son with his unhealthy eating habits and Sadness in how his family would react upon hearing that his life is on the line. And Jim's fate is never answered in the ad's end, leaving it a question as to whether the operation was a success or not.
- Those commercials for the children in foreign countries that have lost their families and need water or vaccinations.
- One UK drugs PIF featured a man in a suit talking to the camera about how his daughter was a good girl with no problems, and that her boyfriend was a "nice young man". He then reveals that her boyfriend's previous girlfriend was a drug user. Then comes the Wham Line. It turns out he's dressed for her funeral, and his wife appears behind him, ready to go."Well the way I see it is if that girl had been helped in time... my girl wouldn't have got AIDS."
- These two old anti-AIDS Public Service Announcements. To say that these stories are depressing is an understatement.
- This Ad Council PSA about AIDS awareness, "Apathy is Lethal", dares you to watch it without tearing up. It features a city with just small children, babies, and dogs inhabiting it.
- If this isn't saddening enough, a shot of a baby in a crib crying out for his parents is heart-wrenching. Like all the adults in the PSA, they presumably died of AIDS.
- This COVID-19 PSA from the Michigan HHS shows a slow-motion scene of hospital personnel responding to an emergency to a somber acoustic version of Auld Lang Syne.
- In 2011, the American Heart Association featured an ad where a woman talks about her beautiful 28-year-old daughter who died of heart disease. She closes out by saying how painful it is to bury your child and then says that she would give anything to have her daughter back.Anything. (on the verge of tears) My own life.
- This Japanese ad (around 4:30 in this video) is an advert for suicide prevention. A high school girl is reading "Cinderella," "The Frog Prince," and "The Ugly Duckling", but stops in the middle of them, believes there are no happy endings, and attempts to jump off the roof of her school, with the titular characters of the fairy tales tearfully trying to convince her not to jump. She doesn't seem to listen, and you see her shoe fall on the ground. Fortunately, the advert ends with the girl returning the books to the library, her shoe simply fell off, but it still hits home hard for many.
- This Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation commercial aimed at veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A man has horrific war flashbacks to the body of a dead young girl in his nightmares, only barely escaping the pain when his dog wakes him up.
- The UK got a particularly gutwrenching advert from Save The Children a few years back: real videos of emaciated young children lying on the streets with this piano version of Annie's "Tomorrow" in the background.
- Save the Children's Most Shocking Second a Day video is essentially a good minute and a half illustration of breaking the cutie. It opens with a little girl in England celebrating her birthday with all her family and friends and going about her life, only to find herself in a war zone as the year progresses. The video ends with her once again celebrating her birthday, only she's in a refugee camp, with only her mother nearby, and clearly physically ill.
- It doesn't get any better with the sequel. The girl is forced to leave the country and cross the Channel (where multiple people drown around her) without her mother, fending for herself and a little boy she picks up. It once again ends with her birthday, with her all alone (as the refugee service found a family for the boy and took him away), as she stares vacantly at the camera.
- An element of the sequel, being the apathy and hatred of the French citizens towards the English refugees has become especially Harsher in Hindsight, given the uptick in terror attacks in Europe carried out by terror organisations such as Islamic State, as well as the worsening relations between ethnic groups in both the UK and France.
- It doesn't get any better with the sequel. The girl is forced to leave the country and cross the Channel (where multiple people drown around her) without her mother, fending for herself and a little boy she picks up. It once again ends with her birthday, with her all alone (as the refugee service found a family for the boy and took him away), as she stares vacantly at the camera.
- A 15-rated cinema ad from the UK which tells us that nobody seems to care if kids in Africa starve or die and all they talk about is extra VAT on biscuits. The images of suffering children seal the whole deal.
- The 2017 "food is precious" ad from My Save Food walks a fine line between Food Porn and tragedy. The ad depicts various food being prepared and served: laksa, grilled chicken, nasi kerabu, a slice of papaya, and a molten chocolate cake. The fact that the foods depicted in the video are either left to rot or get thrown in the trash instead is really painful to watch.
- MTV used to air this ad where a donkey travels across the screen in a gritty urban landscape and after it, a text appears. "It takes 20 seconds for the donkey to reach the other side of the screen. By then, two children die because of starvation. Help now." It really hit the point home with the facts in a really, really sad way.
- Yet another British cinema ad (rated 15) about foreign children. This time, they compare the children's fates to that of the Jews during The Holocaust, complete with black-and-white footage of dead Jews being carried and thrown into piles of bodies and suffering or dying children. The sad piano music playing in the back doesn't help matters.
- This 1998 PSA for the 10th Annual New York Cares Coat Drive depicts the Statue of Liberty shivering in a snowy environment. It's likely to bring a tear to any New Yorker's face.
- Covenant House have made some really gloomy commercials over the years. Most of them tend to be very downbeat and serious, But this one is just downright melancholic. It starts off with a teenage girl in a blanket (which is also her makeshift home), sitting near a bus stop. She stares into the camera with a blank expression as the words "How Young" swipe in. The screen then cuts to a crying baby in the same spot as the words "Do They Have to Be" "Before we Care?" swipe in. The fact that anyone would leave a baby on the street is just wrong on so many levels, and the commercial doesn't get any better after that. Video clips of teenagers laying on the street are shown one by one. And to make things more emotional, we hear people talking about their abusive parents ("I felt like my life was in danger, like, the abuse was getting worse and worse" "I slept anywhere that I could find. I slept on a subway, I slept on the street, i slept in a park"). All while "Amazing Grace" plays in the background, thus adding to the emotional factor.
- Move The Middle Now has an advertisement talking about how many kids do not graduate from high school, including what might happen to them, this advertisement has only aired on TV a few times, it appears on billboards and on their website, Including a girl saying if you do not donate she might live on the streets and in that same advertisement a boy says he is going to push drugs (meaning he will become a drug dealer). There are more examples on their website, including a girl saying if you not donate she will become a single parent. It is very sad when you think about how many people become these things when they graduate from high school, apparently, it has a happy ending for the kids. The things that might happen without move the middle are in black and white, but it shifts to colors when the kids have happy endings, including the kids standing in a blue background, which is Move The Middle Now’s popular color, on the billboards, it appears with one side of the billboard in black text it says what they might become is in black and white but the side they will be when they grow up appears to be in color and appears in a blue background with white text which says what they will be when the grow up thanks to Move The Middle Now.
- The United Negro College Fund tends to put out commercials that evoke tears:
- A 1972 ad named "Disappearing Mind" has an upset-looking man sitting in a chair in a living room as various sounds from television are heard. Gradually, he begins to fade away as an announcer states that people can do things like bring peace, cure disease, and end hunger, but without an education, they won't get a chance, ending with MLK's famous statement which also became its slogan "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."
- Another commercial from the early 2000s has two girls, best friends, grow up together like sisters and continue to do everything as they age. One of their shared ambitions is to get a higher education and it shows them both studying as the scene fades into the one girlfriend sitting in a college classroom and sadly looking into the empty seat next to her.
- Possibly the most heartbreaking commercial came from 1993 as a man happily talks to his adorable infant son, Christopher, about how much joy and hope he has for him to get an education and do better in life than he ever did...only for the scene to flash-forward 25-plus years later, which shows a now-adult Christopher giving his own infant son the exact same speech his father gave him as Christopher's father then forlornly reminds him that it's time to go to work.
- One poignant United Negro College Fund ad from the eighties starred a young Courtney B. Vance as a teenaged boy named Jimmy. His parents, clearly distressed, tell him how proud they are of the fact that he's the first in their family to get into college...but Jimmy has already guessed what they're trying to get at: that they can't afford to send him. For now, the best his parents can hope for is that they'll be able to send him next year. Jimmy's clearly crushed. However, so far this shorter version of the ad is the only one on YouTube. A slightly longer version had a despondent Jimmy going up to the room that he shares with his little brother. The little guy, having overheard, gets out his jar of small change and dollar bills: "Jimmy? Will this help?"
- A month before the 70th Anniversary of Japan's surrender from World War 2. Sanrio's monthly magazine published a somber PSA article on July 18th, 2015 which features Sanrio Characters (such as Hello Kitty, My Melody, My Sweet Piano, and many others) crying to reflect Japan's surrender and international concerns.◊ The article begs for world peace and raising awareness for international conflicts (such as My Melody briefly discussing the ongoing Islamic Conflict in Syria) beginning with quotes from two senior citizens remembering the war.
- On December 2018, UNICEF uploaded an anti-war animated short titled "Pictures no child should draw", based on real drawings by children at child-friendly spaces in emergencies across the world. It focuses on a boy desperately fleeing from combat after getting separated from his sister and the death of his parents. Throughout the short, he witnesses people get killed by bombs, dead bodies at a soccer field, and a plane crashing into a school (complete with hand-drawn blood). The short ends on a bittersweet note, when he reunites with his sister at a child-friendly zone both unharmed. The somber music combined with audio of bombs and gunfire only makes the short even sadder.
- It's mostly Narm, but this commercial for the International Fellowship Of Christians and Jews can be seen as bone chilling and touching at the same time. The footage of the sick Jewish people is exploitive and very distressing to watch.Rabbi Eckstein: I hope and pray you will do so, before time is up and it is too late.
- This Action Aid commercial about starving children in third world countries requires lots and lots of tissues.
- A 2000 PSA from Colombia’s ministry of justice advocating the end of the kidnappings by guerrilla groups and death penalties for them displayed a family in a funeral home, mourning a family member in a casket. According to the equally disturbing red text interspersed with the footage, shown completely in bloody red tint, they were lamenting one of the 3% of hostages killed (3,572 at the time). What’s even sadder is that a child is holding a Mickey Mouse doll, keeping vigil over his dead relative. The accompanied synthesized string music does little to help wonders. Also doubles as Nightmare Fuel.
- This St John's Ambulance PIF. It shows a man being diagnosed with cancer, surviving his treatment, and fully recovering only to die from choking on food because none of his friends or family knew how to do first aid.
- This UK fire safety PIF features a couple weeping and constantly rewinding a video of a child opening a present, followed by the voiceover 'Check your smoke alarm.' This leads to a bit of Fridge Horror when you realize that they'll feel much worse when the constant rewinding breaks the video.
- This Excuses Kill PSA has shots of memorials with people's excuses for not buying or fixing smoke alarms while "Down To The Valley To Pray" plays in the background. The final memorial is that of a grave of a child, the only grave that doesn't have an excuse. Before the commercial ends, we see a "before and after" shot of a house that is reduced to a burned shell with wreaths and flowers on the front porch.
- Many 'Don't Drink and Drive' ads are heart-wrenching one way or another.
- Simple Plan made the music video for Untitled in collaboration with Mothers Against Drink Driving. Untitled remains one of the most memorable Simple Plan songs, due to it breaking away from their usual tone of songs, as well as the music video. (That and the song itself being a meme, but that's another story.)
- The Thai are masters of emotional ad campaigns, and two ads from an anti-drink-driving campaign really hit home. It shows people pleading to a person with a grim look on his/her face not to kill them. The "murderers" won't budge despite the pleas, and the scene eventually cuts to the "murderers" driving into those people. The victims include old people and children.
- Most Australian anti-smoking, anti-drug or road-safe PSAs count.
- The road-safe ads especially. The Australia Road-Safe advertisers don't just show you a car crash or a gravestone, they will show you graphic reconstructions of devastating accidents and the effect they have on both the family and the person at fault. They have ads that are just footage of family and friends of actual casualties speaking about how the incident has affected them.
- The work-safe ones which feature a family waiting for their father at home or at some event he was supposed to meet them at. The music as he finally walks through the door...
- The Happier Home Movie ads for the UK Kill Your Speed campaign in The '90s, showing young children smiling and having fun on home videos until the caption at the end tells you they all were all killed in childhood by speeding drivers.
- One variation had the home videos juxtaposed with a voice-over instructing police officers on how to break the news of a child's death to their family.
- A similar campaign ran in the States around this same time, done by the Ad Council. They too showed home movies of adults and children, before a caption would state that they were killed by drunk drivers.
- The UK "Embrace Life" advert promoting seatbelt use, showing that a PSA can be just as effective without going into Scare 'Em Straight territory. A family is playing charades, and it's the father's turn. He mimes turning a key and pressing an accelerator pedal, looking towards his wife and daughter when his face freezes in horror as he acts out getting into a crash. As the music swells to a crescendo, the mother and daughter spring from their chairs, and pretend to be the seatbelt, hugging the father tightly as he beams with relief!
- A much less upbeat American PSA from the 90s features an attractive young woman complacently explaining that she doesn't wear a seatbelt when driving "because it'll wrinkle my clothes." Cut to the same woman moaning and flailing about in a wheelchair, clearly having suffered massive brain damage in a car accident, while a nurse chides her like a toddler: "Now, now, look, you're getting your pretty dress all wrinkled..."
- There was a radio PSA in the early nineties warning against attempting to beat a train to a railroad crossing. The PSA features testimonials from engineers involved in fatal collisions. One particularly stands out:How can I be so mad at someone who's dead? Didn't she realize that a crossing gate means yield?
- However, the last one can make you cry tears of relief:I prayed that he'd stop, that he'd see me somehow. Thank God he did!
- However, the last one can make you cry tears of relief:
- In this PSA from New York, a little girl celebrates her birthday with her mother. They discuss her father returning with the cake. They hear a car pull up and a door slam and run out to the driveway to greet him, only to meet with a police officer instead. The girl doesn't know what's happening while the mother immediately bursts into tears. The now grown-up little girl explains in voiceover that her father was killed by a Drunk Driver and she now spends her birthdays visiting his grave. A radio PSA with a near-identical story aired in 2022, with the little girl audibly crying as police sirens are heard.
- RSA Ireland has the "Crashed Lives" series, which features family members, law enforcement, and medical professionals speaking about victims of horrific and often fatal car accidents due to a variety of reasons from drunk driving to falling asleep behind the wheel. Everyone discusses the impact of their lives now and in a couple of instances even include those who survived their crashes, albeit with permanent injuries. Arguably, the saddest ones include a woman who survived as a paraplegic while her young son died and one where a woman named Betty is discussing her daughter, Errin, who was killed in a crash and the sudden reveal at the end that Betty herself passed away sometime after the commercial had initially aired.
- In Germany, there were anti-speeding billboards along the Autobahn that showed sad-looking people holding pictures of loved ones who had died in car accidents. The one with the little girl and her mother with the picture of the dead father was particularly wrenching.
- The 2006 anti-drug ad from Singapore. A middle-aged lady is seen crying as a judge declares her child guilty of taking ketamine. The camera zooms out to reveal her husband, along with a young man, and the lady's son on the stand.
- This Stop The Texts advert hits hard especially if you have a best buddy that you've known since childhood...
- "Kathy Can't Sleep", from the UK Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives campaign. A little girl is awake in the middle of the night, while her mother is heard screaming hysterically at her father because while he was driving intoxicated he killed a little boy.
- From the same campaign, One More, Dave. A woman liquidizing Christmas dinner is narrated over by people in a pub telling their friend to just have another pint. But while the friend is supposed to be the designated driver for them, he gives in and has a pint. The woman is revealed to be liquidizing for her son, a quadriplegic. She uses the same words as the narration, and it's implied that the quadriplegic Dave is the same Dave at the pub. It tragically shows how both the drunk driver and his family are affected by the incident.
- The Icelandic Road Traffic Directorate has a lot of weepies.
- "The Risk Isn't Worth It" campaign broke viewers' hearts in 2005. The TV ads feature shots of cemeteries as family members speak of how their loved ones died in auto accidents. Here's an example.
- The DOE's "Shame" PSA against drunk driving has a soccer player drive while drunk and crash into a backyard, running over a toddler. The driver gets out to see the boy's father (who a few minutes ago was playing with the boy) holding his dead son and wailing, while the narrator asks if you could live with the guilt.
- If that's not bad enough, the boy's sister (who was playing with him and unharmed in the accident) was also present and has to live with the trauma of watching her brother die in front of her.
- This trilogy of TAC Australia ads from Christmastime 1996. A man with a pregnant wife and two small children gets drunk at a party, crashes his car, ends up on life-support, and later dies as his family grieves for him and the wife struggles to tell their children that their father is dead. Adding onto the sadness, while his wife is besides herself with grief and the mother cries out "No, don't take him away", the father says "See you later, son." knowing he'll be joining him soon.
- This Budweiser ad about a loyal dog waiting for his master to return from a party features the poignant line "For some, the waiting never ended." This line, especially for anyone who has been affected by a drunk driving incident, just pulls on the heartstrings. Which is why it becomes a Heartwarming Moment when the owner finally returns in the morning, having stayed over at his friend's house instead of driving home.
- There is an enemy among us... It's significant that a Grandmother steps up to take the keys. This one appeals to pride and tradition to stop the disproportionate number of drunk driving fatalities among Indian people. The idea for these awareness promotions came from New Mexico Tribal DWI Coordinator G. Michelle Brown-Yazzie (Navajo/Oglala Sioux/Salish-Kootenai). Chris Eyre (Cheyenne-Arapaho), who directed Smoke Signals, also directed this, and brought in Gary Farmer (Cayuga) from that film to play the father. All the other actors are from New Mexico pueblos and reservations.
- This TAC PSA from 2000 called "Never" starts off innocent enough, with a couple driving a car with lively music playing, but the music abruptly stops as the car crashes into the back of a flat-bed semi-truck. The guy who was driving repeatedly calls out "Julie," as Julie’s lifeless face is shown. This is juxtaposed with scenes of a birthday party, with its occupants drinking. Paramedics then surround the vehicle, asking questions & putting a sheet over Julie, with the driver being hysterical. It then cuts to the driver being with Julie, with her father, with heartbreaking music beginning as the father, in a depressed tone, talking about how he’ll never see her nor hear her voice ever again. It then shows the driver and Julie getting ready to drive & the scene of the accident, with the father continuing that he’ll never hear Julie laugh, nor see her getting married, nor cuddle her children ever, or hear her calling him dad as a hand with 2 big flesh holes is shown. It goes back to the father, stating that he’ll never forget the day that he had to choose Julie's coffin, and then he cries out hysterically, "My beautiful baby..." as he breaks down further. It is very heartbreaking to watch.
- The sequel, which takes place after the PSA shown above, isn’t much better, with the elderly man clutching a photo of (presumably) Julie, with the driver stating that she was a beautiful girl, and that he wonders if their lives will ever be the same again. The driver is then revealed to be disabled and he says that he’s dealing with a lot of cops and that the whole case is coming out. It cuts back to the man wondering if he’ll ever stop thinking about it, as it drives him insane. He starts to break down as the same heartbreaking music starts playing. It then goes back to the driver, as he states that everyone treats him like a criminal, then it shows the elderly man crying. The driver says "He’s saying I killed her." He is shown in a wheelchair, who lost a leg. It cuts back to the elderly man crying, then the tagline is shown.
- In the early 2000s, The New York State Department of Transportation aired a commercial featuring the angry and cautioning wife of a man killed by a drunk driver. While the man should have gotten a stiff sentence, a technicality saved him from more prison time due to him being just below the state's DUI limit. Her one comment really drives the point home:"A little less alcohol didn't make my husband a little less dead."
- This ad from LTSA shows the aftermath of people killed by drunk drivers with images of abandoned homes, empty beds and various family members fading from pictures (mother and daughter, a married couple, a pair of brothers, etc.) Being set to Gary Jules' version of "Mad World" makes it all the more impactful and heartbreaking.
- This road safety PSA from the Philippine Department of Transportation shows a bride getting ready for her big day, as well as two girls having fun in their pick-up truck. All seems well... until the woman driving the truck starts texting. She thus loses her focus and the truck hits the back passenger side of the car where the bride resides. The PSA ends with a shot of the bride all bloodied and lifeless with the message "She will live happily never after" hitting the reminder of not texting while driving home.
- This heartbreaking 2007 ad from MTV shows a grieving mother in the darkly lit bedroom of her daughter, who was killed by a drunk driver. Over the footage, we hear the daughter reciting the monologue she had right before dying: an anti-drink driving poem titled "I Went To A Party, Mom" written by an unknown internet author. As the daughter says her final goodbyes addressed to her mother, the mother lets out an agonizing, grief-stricken cry as she tightly clutches the only belongings she has left of her.
- Every year, the Australian TAC holds a competition to direct and produce one of their commercials. "Yes, Mum" is one of them. A man cries to his mother over the phone inside his car, but his mother just thinks he is speaking dramatically about his late night partying. The inside of the car gets fully submerged as he screams to his mum while drowning, to her confused horror. It is strongly implied that he or a friend drove while drunk into a lake.
Unicef's Cartoons on Children's Rights made by various different animation studios about the various rights that children should have includes some saddening entries.
- Columbia Tri-Star Children's Programming's entry about families starts off with a family of two parents, a child and a dog together. Then it's revealed that it's just an image on one of nine televisions that are in a store display. Watching the display is a young girl with a ragged doll, who cuddles her doll and watches the scene in sorrow, even shedding a tear that falls in the puddle in front of her. Then she tries to get one of the other people to help her, but they all refuse, leaving the girl alone and miserable. However, we're shown that the family she was watching has adopted her, implying this is in the past.
- Italian television company RAI came out with this one, which is about child labor. A young boy and girl are shown playing soccer, when they accidentally kick the ball into a window. The ball gets thrown back out, and we zoom into the building to see a young boy in a sweatshop making hundreds of soccer balls. The shot of tons of children playing soccer at the end clearly shows that the kid won't be getting any sort of break for a long time now. The music doesn't help.
- Hanna-Barbera subsidiary Fil-Cartoons made one about the protection of children during war. It shows a boy thinking of him and his friends going to school and doing fun activities such as fishing and breaking pinatas, only to zoom out from the boy's eye (the Single Tear he sheds and Art Shift to a more realistic style only help) and show that, in reality, the kids are all soldiers, implying that those happy times were all in his imagination.
- The National Film Board of Canada's contribution, a short about the right to survival and full development, shows a group of children under a crown watching a sad, starving African family's struggle to harvest their food in a television. While they initially look on in awe, they realize how hard it is for the elder child to find food and visit a conference (presumably one of the United Nations themselves) and use their remote control to show them the scene they watched earlier.
- While Cinar's animation advocating against landmines is mostly just Nightmare Fuel, the drawings of child victims of landmines shown at the end definitely qualifies as this, especially the fearful faces some of them have.
- Toonz Animation India's spot begins with an Indian boy who is seen among several adults working in labor. Some school buses pass by and he eagerly waves at the students packed in, who wave back. Unfortunately, the bus leaves as he chases it, and he sadly goes back to work.note
- This animated video called The Bitter Bond from the Born Free Organization follows a lion cub being born and raised in captivity alongside being photographed by tourists who flash peace signs while the song "Born Free" by Matt Monro plays. Eventually, the lion cub is released back into the wild when he gets older. He eventually reunites with his keeper, who he runs towards to in excitement. But then the keeper gets up right before the lion gets shot by a poacher. He realizes that he was sold into canned hunting by his keeper who even takes the poacher's picture in front of the dying lion while flashing a peace sign. The screen fades to black and the following text appears as the poacher drags the lion's dead body into his jeep:Most lions aren't born free.
They're Raised In Captivity.
Cuddled for cash.
Then sold to hunters.
End the great betrayal.
* Many campaigns for World Animal Protection are upsetting, but this one, featuring orphaned young animals whose families were slaughtered, is particularly tearjerking. The haunting song "Farewell" by Rosie Thomas overlaying the footage, does NOT help at all.
- A good chunk of PETA's campaigns are BOUND to get the tears flowing, but to select a few examples:
- This 2016 ad featuring a chimpanzee living at a roadside zoo in Michigan; Andy Serkis narrates as the "voice" of the chimp, sounding utterly broken, as he describes the poor animal's horrifying living conditions; the plaintive, piano music in the background does NOT help AT ALL.
- On the subject of great apes, this PSA fronted by Anjelica Huston, as she describes the suffering of chimps and orangutans used in the entertainment industry; Huston sounds like she's about to break down crying as she narrates, overlaid with clips of commercials featuring chimpanzees, as well as shots of the apes being abused by trainers, and living in disgusting roadside zoos when they are "retired".
- This ad fronted by Alec Baldwin about circus elephants; the visuals of the elephants being beaten with sticks and poles is particularly tearjerking.
- Inspire Her Mind, a 2015 Verizon commercial about a little girl who was discouraged from following her dreams.
- Here's a PSA from True Move, Thailand's third-largest mobile operator and a testament to the power of a simple good deed.
- A Dutch organization named Tolerance Unlimited came out with this ad, "Icons", in 1999. It features actors portraying several legendary public figures (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Anne Frank, Steve Biko, and President John F. Kennedy) speaking amount their hopes and beliefs and how old they would have been at the time with a lasting statement that was translated into English as "In a tolerant world, these people would have never been killed". It then features a young man named Joes Kloppenburg, who also shares the same beliefs as the leaders and mentions that he was killed whilst trying to break up a fight.
- The "My Heroes" PSA, where a little boy wants to be Wonder Woman for Halloween while his sister wants to be Batman. While it's more of the Heartwarming variety, it contains some forms of Tear Jerker. The parents were anxious at first and considering how some people react to gender nonconformity, it's easy to see why. No parent wants their kid to be teased or bullied for expressing themselves. Also, the creators of the PSA said they made it specifically for children who may want to wear clothes meant for the other gender, but don't have supportive parents like the ones in the ad.
- This PSA about online antisemitism shows a father and his teenage son parked in front of a synagogue. Through dialogue, it’s revealed that the son posted the phrase “Hitler was right” on social media. The disappointed father then tells his son to say that to the Jewish people exiting the synagogue, which of course he can’t do. The PSA then tells us that the phrase was posted thousands of times in the last year (2023).