Over the last year, I have read too many press releases, white papers and studies to count chronicling the difficulty in selling individual life in the U.S. marketplace. Last year’s dismal numbers from LIMRA surely confirm that, but more recent numbers suggest that at last, life sales are back on the rise. That’s all well and good, but the fact remains that according to the Insurance Information Institute, life sales in general still were outperformed in 2010 by health and disability insurance, and by annuities (by a large margin).

This is nothing new to folks who market and sell life. And while I have seen a number of innovative efforts to spur life sales – such as re-branding it as a kind of safe investment or pairing it with annuities to hedge against the notion of longevity risk – I have to wonder if maybe individual life isn’t selling better because the industry simply isn’t trying hard enough to make its case.

Don’t get me wrong – the life industry is hardly a confederation of slackers. And it has been interesting to see the proliferation of television ad campaigns from major life and annuity companies these days. But how effective are these campaigns, really? And what are these advertisers expectations?

I bring all of this up because just yesterday I came across this absolutely shattering ad for a Thai life insurance company. Give it a watch, and if you don’t have something stuck in your eye by the end of it, then you’re a more resilient person than I am. Or you’re a robot.

The Thais don’t kid around, do they? This is not just a one-off thing, either. Apparently, this is how you sell life insurance in southeast Asia: by taking the old “widows and orphans” angle and taking it to its most heart-wrenching extreme.

Most Americans are just not used to this degree of hard sell. Heck, there was practically a nationwide run on Kleenex when people saw the first few minutes of Pixar’s Up. And when Canada tried getting hardcore with a series of workers safety ads, all it did was frighten people off message. So it would be easy to imagine why ads like these might not do well on the small screen, where folks don’t have the attention span for a 2- or 3-minute commercial or can simply change the channel as soon as they sense where the ad is taking them.

That said, though, these ads are masterpieces of emotional engineering. Maybe there is something about Thai culture that makes their storytelling traditions especially effective on a Western audience. Or maybe they are more open about what they’re willing to consider fair game for making a point, so while some of their ads are downright weird (if funny), others, when selling against heartache, make you feel like you were born under a black cloud.

When I see these, though, I wonder, could they work here? They are unfit for TV as I already said, but you know where they might do really well? In movie theatres. I find those advertisements in front of the trailers as annoying as you do, but I watch them because I have no other choice, and I have never walked out on one. Moreover, movie ads are perfectly suited for a three-minute long treatment, which is the length of an average trailer. Just imagine what kind of numbers you might pull down if you run an ad like one of these before a romantic comedy or something, where you’re already likely to be there with your loved one. I’ll tell you what: if I saw one of these ads before my wife and I had kids, we’d be at our insurance agent before the movie we went to see on date night ever reached the closing credits.