Imagine taking a seat in a shelter that feeds the homeless. A lady walks over with a plate of food and gestures like she’s going to set it down in front of you, when all of a sudden she takes you in her free arm and breaks out into a jingle for Green Giant canned vegetables. She finishes, sets the plate down and walks off. If you’re thinking “What the hell?” then you have some idea how I felt after watching Jeep’s Super Bowl ad.
If you’ve not seen it, it’s posted at the end of this article. If you have seen it and liked it, I have a question for you. There were four main elements to that ad. Without watching it again, can you name them all? I’ll help you. The first three elements were Jeep (the product in the ad), Oprah (who narrated the ad), and the experiences of military families.
Before I married my Marine 22 years ago, I learned from my time as a homeless single mother what it feels like to be served down to by those who insist they’re helping everyone but themselves. I also understand why my peers, both military and civilian, think Jeep was paying tribute to military families. There was, after all, about $3.8 million worth of “Aww” in that ad – a lot of which my husband and kids and I can relate to because we’ve lived it, as have millions of military families. But I’d point out that at the homeless shelter where my kids and I were served, we were not exploited by someone’s effort to sell anything (although not all homeless shelters are so lucky).
Military families are not orphaned waifs whose station in life is such that we should be receptive to and grateful for a specifically-orchestrated morsel of attention. The United States Military is over 200 years old. Chrysler has been around for the last 88 of those years. The military has been at war since 2001. Chrysler-owned Jeep comes out with a two-minute tidbit in 2013 and all of sudden they’re the heroes?
Appropriating an experience one has never had to promote something that has nothing to do with those who have actually had that experience is shameful. If Jeep and Oprah were sincere, those to whom they wished to pay tribute should have been the only ones in that multi-million dollar spot. Instead, the portrayal of military families was used as a Pavlovian catalyst for future Jeep sales. I can’t say if or how much Oprah was paid for her time, but if she did volunteer it’d be the first time she was quiet about it.
Jeep combined the right imagery, music, and voiceover to create the fastest path between heartstrings and purse strings. And good on them; that’s what businesses do. But for anyone to insist that there was more going on in that ad than goes on in a loud and obnoxious mattress commercial is deluded. Yeah, great, last Sunday it was military families. Who will it be next year? I ask because it sure as hell wasn’t military families in any previous year (ad rule #1: never repeat).
The civilians who were reminded of military families by that ad are the same civilians who’d forgotten all about them until last Sunday when they turned on their TVs. Do you really think those people are going to remember military families tomorrow? Hell, you saw the ad. Without watching it again, can you even remember its fourth element?
The fourth element was the USO (United Service Organizations). And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how easy it is for advertisers to get you to remember their product without remembering why.
Come along now, Pavlov. I’ve a treat for you.