Google Maps taps into hope, reunion and the power of emotional marketing

When he was five years old, an impoverished boy named Saroo boarded the wrong train while begging and ended up a thousand miles from his village. A quarter-century later, through detective work enabled by Google Maps, Saroo – now known as Saroo Brierley – located his old village and reunited with his mother, who’d long believed him lost.

Saroo’s amazing story made worldwide headlines last summer, and now Google is using it as the centerpiece of a new marketing campaign touting the value of its Maps. It’s the latest in an increasingly crowded field: advertisements that bypass the head and go straight for the heart with sentimental, tear-jerking and highly share-able stories.

Saroo’s story fits that mold. In 1992, he was a youthful beggar who spent his days seeking spare change. His life changed forever when he accidentally boarded the wrong train and ended up in Calcutta. Unable to speak the local language, he was declared a “lost child” and later adopted by a family in Australia. After observing his Indian home via Google Maps’ satellites, Saroo worked from scraps of childhood memories to track down his home and, eventually, reunite with his mother.

The Google Maps ad is reminiscent of a British Airways ad campaign that flew a young man home to India for the first time in years:

There’s also this well-known man-and-his-pony Budweiser ad from the 2013 Super Bowl, which will make the room get a bit dusty:

And another Google product, this one for Gmail, that shows the heartwarming ways in which a father and daughter use technology to remain connected:

What these ads are selling is, of course, emotion: family, connection, hope, reunion. The product itself is secondary, piggybacking on the wave of good feeling. And the fact that you see this and want to call your parents, or share on Facebook, means these ads will be coming your way for a long time to come. Get your heartstrings ready.

Contact Jay Busbee at or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.