I first saw this commercial several months ago: probably into last year. I don’t think I’ve seen it much since; and I assumed it had quietly been pulled. But I saw it again yesterday, and was reminded of my reaction on its first viewing. So I looked it up online. On the one hand, I was glad to see that I’m not the only one who was disturbed by its premise (Alexandria, and Pigtail Pals). But on the other hand: not enough of us are. Some love it (Youtube). I’ve seen it happen many times: some commercial was developed and produced that had a quirky little line in it that the marketers thought was sarcastic or humorous or shocking… but it turns out to be more than they had expected, and the commercial is pulled after only a few airings. Recent examples can be seen in articles from The Daily Beast (2013) and Business Insider (2011).
Now I’m the first to admit that I’m usually not “on top” of the latest trends in TV and marketing, since these things move and change much faster than I have the desire to give them attention. But this one was an exception, primarily because of its endurance. It starts out sweet and innocent: after an intense few seconds to contrast the world of the “fast-paced or the futuristic”, the commercial switches to more relaxed and natural and familial core that is the foundation of our lives. It sounds wonderful: except for the text that explains why we want “the everyday power” of Procter and Gamble instilled in our lives. The soft-spoken voice continues,
“… Sometimes change starts a bit closer to home. In bathrooms, and in bedrooms, in backyards and over breakfast.” So far so good. The company’s products can help us to feel comfortable and energized, get enough sleep and eat nutritiously. If that’s what they had said, I would have agreed. But it’s not. They extended their marketing ploy from what they do to what they want you to think they help with. Normal, perhaps; marketers rarely stick to the truth. But in this case it adds to an international propaganda that is consuming our world.
“Where a boy’s clean shirt helps him stand an inch taller, and a girl’s shiny hair tells the world who’s in charge.”
Hmmm. Not when I was a kid. That’s one of the things I loved about childhood. We played and rolled and crawled and spilled. It wasn’t until I got older that I started to worry about how I looked, and I’m not sure I like it. Yes, perhaps I stand “an inch taller” (though on me, at 6’3”, that’s not so significant) when I’m in my cowboy boots, and my Wranglers, and a fresh-pressed shirt: but I’m careful to recognize it for what it is. We should never let our self-confidence or our ability to tell “who’s in charge” rest on physical appearance or which products we can afford. That is the message of the world and the enterprise. It may be “clean” and “shiny”, but it doesn’t have much substance. It quickly fades away.
In their website promoting this commercial (and quoting the very line that most offended me: Procter and Gamble, 2012), the company says: “We know that with the benefits of P&G superior performing brands ordinary actions can have surprising impacts. We call this the Everyday Effect.”
But no. This is the Propaganda Effect; the Materialistic Effect. It has nothing to do with the everyday. “Ordinary actions” can have “surprising impacts”; but they have nothing to do with a person’s shampoo, or their laundry detergent, or their soap. It has to do with who they are, not with what they wear. The statement from P&G is, in fact, the complete opposite of what they claim. It is taking the power of “who’s in charge” and giving it away. It does this not just by allowing others to define how we feel about ourselves, but by giving their products the capacity to achieve those feelings. And that’s why it’s so dangerous. We need to reclaim the capacity for self-confidence and self-love, and to know who we are independently of the products we buy.