I want to open this scathing article with this:
I really think State Farm’s ad agency has really strong, morally sound intentions in producing this commercial.
In saying that, the commercial follows a man around as he plods through his mundane existence. (There’s several different timed versions of this ad, but I’m going to focus on the 2-minute version. Obviously, the 30-second one is the spot most frequently seen on the television, but in portraying the 2-minute version, you’ll get the full effect).
It opens with him on a subway. He peers across the train car and sees a poster for an animal shelter. Suddenly, a battered pooch appears on the seat next to him. It startles the man, and none of the other passengers seem to acknowledge the dog, asserting that the dog is a figment of the man’s imagination. As he gets off the train and ventures into his office building, the dog follows him, and eventually sits next to him at his desk.
As the man opens his Facebook page, he’s greeted with a “Support the Vets” advertisement. Sure enough, suddenly the veteran from the poster appears next to him, nodding.
The scene cuts, and the man makes his way into the hallway. He peers down the aisle and sees the veteran playing with a tennis ball with the dog. Again, both the man and the dog are figments of the man’s imagination.
As the man enjoys a lunch out with his buddies, he peers across the tavern to see a news story running about “teen dropout rates rising” with a particular high school student being interviewed. Surely enough, that child appears in the seat at the bar across from the man. Oh, and then a veteran in a wheelchair moves right by his table.
The scene cuts again to the man walking down a city street. At this point, what was once just the dog following closely has turned into a mini-crowd of veterans, potential high school drop-outs, and dogs alike shadowing this man as he makes his way downtown. They pass a group of homeless people, and sure enough, suddenly one of them joins the group as well.
The man gets back on the subway (presumably to head home) and as he looks up from his seat, there are no other passengers on the train, but rather just that mass of people standing and staring at him from the other side of the train.
Then, the commercial loses me a little, because he gets off the train and heads back up above ground and passes somewhat of a polar bear hut. The polar bear then comes out of the hut to join the group. So, now there’s not just homeless people, veterans, teens, and dogs, but there’s a massive polar bear trailing the pack.
The man, clearly stressed from a tough day at the office, stops at the park to play some rumbling, tumbling, touch football with his pals. He makes a sweet catch over the middle, is tagged down, but between plays, he sees the group staring at him as spectators on the sideline. The man buries his head in shame.
Eventually, the man returns to the confines of his apartment, flips on the tv, but the entire group is standing behind his couch, with the dog sitting right next to him. Eventually, the pressure becomes too much for him to handle, and the next day he heads down to the youth mentoring center. As he approaches the door, the high school kid from the news clip in the tavern puts his hand on his shoulder as if to say “Thank you”.
As the man enters the center, a narrator says “You can lift the weight of caring by doing.”
Ok, so couple thoughts.
First, I really do love the idea of helping the community. Adopting a dog from an animal shelter, volunteering at a youth mentor center, funding different veterans programs, and helping out at homeless shelters are all great ways to spend your time. Kudos for doing all of those things, they are important.
But, fundamentally, I don’t think a great way for State Farm to get people to engage in their “Help A Neighbor” program is to peer pressure them into it. I mean the commercial is actually sometimes creepy and striking. All of a sudden, this poor guy just has a pack of people and dogs popping up behind him at every turn in his everyday life. Hell, there’s even a polar bear in the back of the pack. This doesn’t make me want to help people, this just makes me feel for the guy in the commercial because all these people are pressuring him into doing something and just taking over his life.
I feel like a better way would be to show how great his life is after helping these various groups and organizations. How did it change his life for the better? I get that I’m not an advertising wizard, but I feel as if there’s a way to still make it impactful without creeping me out and making me want to just give this poor average guy a hug.
And then there’s really my main point: they really thought that the NCAA Tournament would be a great time to run this campaign?
This will happen this weekend, mark my words:
*Lonzo Ball buries 30-footer to put UCLA up 72-71 with 14 seconds lefts against Kentucky*
*You accidentally drop your beer and excitedly scream at the television. You high-five your pals and laugh at your friend from Kentucky*
Jim Nantz: “He’s got it! Wow, do we have a doozie here folks! Timeout Coach Cal, we’ll be right back”
*You’re trying to maintain the level of excitement from the Lonzo haymaker, but BOOM. State Farm hits you with that ad.*
You suddenly lose all hope. The NCAA Tournament is your favorite sporting event of the year, and sports are your favorite release from the real world. This week was hard. You failed multiple exams and your girlfriend dumped you. You didn’t get that big internship you wanted and you also lost your wallet on the way over to your pal’s house. But, you thought that UCLA/Kentucky would be just the thing to take your mind off everything shitty, just for a few hours or so. After all, that’s what sports are for! But the State Farm ad changes all of that. Lonzo’s shot had you on cloud 9, but now you’re plummeting into Dante’s Inferno. You don’t ever volunteer, you don’t have a rescue dog, and you never even considered saving the polar bears. Suddenly the game is irrelevant, and instead of just feeling like a piece of shit because of all the terrible things that happened to you this week, you feel like a double piece of shit because you’re also not assisting the community in the slightest. The commercial ends, and you somberly stagger to your friend’s door, only to silently walk home through nature’s meaningless abyss.
That, unfortunately, is the response this commercial probably will induce. I promise you, no one watching the NCAA Tournament is also, at the same exact time, looking for ways to help the community. It just makes people feel really awful for paying attention to a sporting event. We know, sporting events are not nearly as important as volunteering at these important foundations, but there is a niche for sports in our everyday lives.
Sports, like all forms of entertainment, are designed to break us from the monotony. When you go to the movies, you’re not suddenly subjected to a commercial break in the middle explaining how you’re really an awful person because you didn’t rescue a dog yesterday. When you go to a museum, there aren’t giant banners everywhere reminding you that you probably should be spending this time helping a troubled youth.
I get that that’s not what State Farm is trying to do; I would assume they’re just trying to jumpstart this program by getting people to realize that “Hey, if you want to help in the community, we have a way to get you started!” But, this particular commercial for it doesn’t really strike that chord, and instead it sends mindless basketball fans into an inevitable melancholy when they’re trying to just forget about their shitty lives for two hours.
It’s a lose/lose, I think. Basketball fans lose because it reminds them of the very thing they’re trying to forget, while State Farm loses because while it reminds us that there is a better way to spend our time, we’re innately pissed off at them for reminding us of that when we’re just trying to get a break for a bit. No one benefits, the ad during intense basketball action sucks, and I’ve had enough of it.
I promise State Farm, I will volunteer at my local Boys and Girls Club every once in awhile. I will volunteer to coach a youth sport. I will donate money to foundations designed to help veterans. They’re all important things.
But, peer-pressuring me into doing them while I’m trying to escape reality isn’t a winning formula.
But then again, I just wrote this entire piece about your commercial. So, @StateFarm… you win, I guess?