Congratulations! Your Uplifting, Unifying Ads Have Succeeded!

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Social commentary from Nike.
Social commentary from Nike. Credit: Nike

Have I told you what's been going on with my friend Ted? No? Oh, well, let me tell you about it, because it's pretty amazing.

So, Ted used to be kind of a jerk. Don't get me wrong, I love the guy, but how can I put this gently? He tended to hold certain views that you might call ... old-fashioned.

Like, he used to be pretty xenophobic and he was a total hardliner about immigration policy. But then something happened: He saw an ad for a building materials supply company that told the powerful, inspiring and harrowing story of some courageous immigrants, and just like that, Ted had a change of heart. Now he understands that immigrants are just like you and me -- except with better backstories -- and they aren't coming here to steal our jobs, they're here to pursue the American dream and contribute to our country's rich, diverse cultural tapestry.

Ted also used to be kind of sexist. But then he saw a car commercial featuring a dad and his little girl, and the girl was engaging in a nontraditional activity for her gender -- she was racing in a soapbox car -- which, that right there, already got Ted thinking, and then what the dad had to say about how society values his little girl less than little boys ... well, that totally got to Ted.

In fact, a tear formed in a corner of his eye, which I know because I happened to be with him when he saw that commercial. At the end of it, he quietly put his beer down, turned to me and said, "I get it now. Equal pay for equal work."

Ted also used to be a little bit racist. (Honestly, I'm not entirely sure why I was even friends with the guy in the first place.) But then he saw an ad from a sports apparel company starring some famous athletes, and it had shots of people of all races playing together on courts and fields, and it had voiceover lines such as "The ball should bounce the same for everyone," plus it was shot in moody black-and-white.

I was also with Ted when he saw that spot. When it finished, he grabbed the remote, put the TV on mute and paused for several seconds before he said, with an air of revelation, "Black and white -- together."

* * *

Have I told you about my friend Trish? Trish, Ted and I used to all be friends. Though Trish is what you might call a bleeding-heart liberal, and she had a general sense of Ted's views, we wisely tended to avoid discussions about politics when we got together. Until she found out Ted voted for Trump -- and then she stopped talking to him.

Trish, Ted and I all happened to all be at the same Oscars viewing party. They avoided each other, as they've being doing since November.

But then a car commercial came on and, over scenes of angry protests, an announcer said, "We are a nation divided. That's what they tell us, right?" The ad quickly started to undermine that premise, with images of rescue workers helping flood victims, smiling cops and people carrying "Free Hugs" signs. I looked at Trish, who happened to be standing nearby with a group of her friends. She was rapt.

The announcer said something about how cars carry people (I'd never really thought about that, but it's true!) and added, "But maybe what we carry isn't just people. It's an idea. That while we're not the same, we can be one. And all it takes is the willingness to dare."

I heard what sounded like a stifled sob. It was Trish, who was now standing right next to me. Her eyes were welling with tears. "Maybe I've been wrong about Ted," she said.

"Maybe you're right," I replied. "You know, he's right over there," I said, pointing. "Maybe you should dare to go talk to him." She grabbed a cocktail napkin, dabbed the corners of her eyes and then weaved her way through the crowd. She got to Ted, gently put her left hand on his shoulder and with her right hand pulled him into the sweetest, softest embrace.

* * *

Have I told you about my friend Kate? She's an economist. Don't get her going on the GNP, the GDP or the trade deficit, because she won't stop!

Anyway, the other day Kate told me that sales of building supplies, cars and sports apparel have been going through the roof lately. "Consumers have been flocking to those product categories, and particularly to specific brands within those categories." She named them and I had an aha moment of my own. These were the brands whose commercials had so moved Ted and Trish!

I was too gobsmacked to say anything as Kate continued: "The support for those product categories and brands has been happening across all regions and demographics. It's mystifying -- it's almost as if the country has somehow suddenly been unified in its buying patterns."

* * *

Did I tell you about my friend Father Bob? Father Bob is a theologian. He has rather stark views about ethics, morality and the afterlife. Years ago, when I told him I write for Advertising Age, he said, "For ad people?! Those people lie for a living! They're all going to hell!" He said it with a laugh in his voice, like he was just kidding, but I'm not entirely sure that he was.

As it happens, I saw Father Bob last week and I told him about Ted and Trish and the commercials, and because Father Bob hadn't seen them, I pulled out my phone and played each one for him.

He seemed genuinely moved. "There might be a place in heaven for some ad people," he said.

And then I asked him about the brands behind the ads. After all, it was the executives at those brands who commissioned the ad agencies to create such uplifting, unifying, effective ads. Surely the prospects for their heavenly reward had increased too?

"I think you're right," Father Bob said, solemnly.

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