As I sit here working, I am listening to my beloved Pandora station honoring the amazing staples of 90’s rap and r&b. Yet it’s this commercial that comes on every once in a while that always grabs my attention. It’s this voice over advertising the 2013 Ford C-Max. It must be that the advertising company behind the ad is trying desperately to attract my demographic, a 20-30something environmentally friendly, quirky-saying using, smart minded female, because the woman in the ad prides herself in purchasing her car due to its ability to make her feel “new and relevant”. I’m not really sure about you, but I don’t usually go about my day feeling such adjectives such as ‘relevant’. I’m a human living on earth, in a culture, a society, a community, and a family, so I don’t necessarily strive to think of myself as obsolete, but does that require me to prove I’m relevant?
It makes me think of the times I’ve spent as a copywriter: framing tone and message with a hand so nuanced you’d think my world, and by immediate extension everyone everywhere in it, lived and died between the pages of a thesaurus… but new and relevant?
I can’t help but feel that my occupation is at least on some level, responsible for the lackadaisical way we handle these messages. I mean branding is all about the building and perpetrating conceptual ‘narratives’ for companies to take on and speak through, and here in 2013 we have a national crisis about what’s true and what’s manipulated through the lens of the media. Talk about guilt.
Another ad that’s been gelling along the weird message train is the Dodge ‘Farmer’ Super Bowl Ad. I understand what’s being communicated here, it’s a slice of nostalgia served up in a warm patriotic blanket of good times past, but I also can’t help but see the danger in the missed opportunities to mix up the culture of who the “farmer” is in America.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been living in Southern California for the past 2 years, but I cannot for the life of me think of the last time I saw a white face doing any amount of agriculture, landscaping, general lawn care, or actual farming. I understand that there is still a mass of farmers that check Caucasian on their census forms, but there are also a huge amount of farmers that do not.
The first time I watched the ad, I did not remember seeing a single person of color shown during the photo montage. As I’ve rewatched it, I have to take that back. There is one photo of an African-American man, and one photo showing a Latino woman and her latino male worker, and a slew of pale faces carrying the heavy imagery load. Oh, and please do not let me forget the ONE image of a woman, and the one photo of a young girl. They are necessary so that people like me cannot go on their blog and say how there aren’t ANY pictures of people of color, and aren’t ANY pictures of women. Yes, thank you for placing one. That sure solves the problem!
It is 2013, and as a country and a culture, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice by perpetrating these false narratives to sell products. What harm could it possibly do to begin to branch the idea of who a farmer could be, completely legitimately steeped within the values and mores of the sweeping speech, but attributed to an Asian man or woman? Or maybe a latino team of farmers picking strawberries? Would it really negatively affect the sales of Dodge so greatly to include other races, ethnicities and markets and embrace them, thus communicating not just an America of Anglo-Saxon faces, but showcase the true reality of this country. An unending source of variety in the racial and cultural respect, true, but also showcasing an amazing solidarity in the soul and ethical structure of this country as well. Could that not act as just as patriotic? And is that not EXACTLY what “Being American” is conceptually based on?
I may never act as conceptual art or copy director for any of these campaigns, but I truly hope that the ones who do serve to use their mindset and thought capabilities to strengthen the tones behind the work, and not just sell the products through “a cool (or perhaps overly tired) idea”. Can’t think of anything more relevant than that.