From the Couch Commando: Commercials

by Sarah Withrow King

As much as I love television, I really hate television advertising: the volume (both auditory and quantitative), the predictability, the messaging. Though there are a few commercials that are clever, most every part of the vast majority of television advertising makes me feel sad to be human.

So, at great personal sacrifice, I sifted through a few “Best and Worst Commercials of 2013” lists just to see what was panned and praised. Skipping the commercials that rely on the same old schtick (sex, envy, cheap laughs), here are a few notables:

Actually Kind of Cool
Goldieblox “Girls” shows a trio of elementary-school-aged girls, uninspired by pink-princess-themed toys, who create a Rube Goldberg machine in this entertaining commercial for a company that encourages girls to engineer, invent, and innovate.

Skype “Stay Together” tells the story of two young women, each born with one partial arm, who develop a friendship over e-mail and Skype, despite never meeting face-to-face. Warning: this commercial will make you feel all the feelings. But it’s quite a beautiful testament to the power of friendship.

Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Dove “Real Beauty Sketches”
The marketers over at Dove, owned by Unilever, maker of Axe body spray (the best at scummy adverts preying on body insecurity), must think consumers are pretty shallow and stupid. Sadly, given that the YouTube version of this commercial has been viewed well over 61 million times, they might be right. The ad’s message is insidious and racist. Out of more than six minutes of video, women of color are on the screen a scant few seconds. The ad strongly implies that “beautiful” means thin, young, and pale, and it outright says that beauty is critically important to happiness. It’s the worst kind of damaging message, masquerading itself as a public service for women.

Chipotle “Scarecrow”
It really gets my goat when big companies try to pass themselves off as the mom-and-pop-shop-next-door. The Funny or Die parody  of Chipotle’s original ad does a nice job pointing out the underlying messages of Scarecrow, and Mother Jones’ “Behind the Burrito” article expands the critique. Bottom line: if you want healthy food, and if you want to advocate for healthy foods in your community, you’re not going to find an ally in a national fast food chain.

Sarah Withrow King is the deputy director of ESA.

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