The other day I watched the commercial for the new Cadillac ELR on Youtube. It begins with a shot of a man standing with his back to the camera, facing his swimming pool. He opens with the question, “Why do we work so hard? For this? For stuff?” He then goes on to describe the way Americans live life versus “other countries,” who finish work, stroll home, stop at the cafe and take August off. Off! He wonders why we aren’t like that. His answer is because we’re “crazy, driven, hard-working believers. That’s why!” He then goes on to mention some of America’s greatest innovators, building a case for why the American way is the right way. In the end, he says, it’s simple: “You work hard, you make your own luck and you gotta believe that anything is possible. As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of only taking two weeks off in August.”
There are so many things wrong with this commercial that I don’t even really know where to begin, but let me start with the tone. When the actor, who we will call Larry, asks the opening question, it seems like the commercial’s going to be a joke. I mean, he can’t possibly expect us to say that the reason we work so hard is for stuff. But, that’s exactly how he expects us to respond. This commercial isn’t the witty, clever, poking-fun-at-itself type that has been so popular with brands like Old Spice and Coors Light. Although there are certainly some funny lines, ultimately it’s not a comedy. Larry’s serious! And that just doesn’t fit with the tone of the ad.
However, it’s not the tone that’s the biggest problem. It’s the content. The first time I watched it, I had to hit the replay button. I couldn’t believe that Cadillac was actually marketing their first ever electric-hybrid on a pathetic appeal to our desire for more stuff. Maybe they think they’re being clever by making explicit what’s only implicit in most other advertising. Perhaps we should even thank them for advertising that’s finally honest about its intentions: We want you to work hard so that you can buy more meaningless stuff. But I’m not thankful. I’m just mad.
We should dream and build and explore not for the sake of making our own name great, but to make Jesus’ name beautiful in the world.
Larry pitches a vision of the (North) American dream that includes not strolling home, not stopping at the cafe, not taking a month off in the summer and not sitting down to talk with his wife and children. He just gives them a high five as he puts on his suit and heads back out the door to work. And why? For stuff? Yes! Oh, and because we’re “crazy, driven, hard-working believers”. This is precisely everything that’s wrong with North America! It’s not something we should be celebrating.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t dream and explore and build. We absolutely should! But not to the neglect of our families and for the accumulation of more useless stuff. We should dream and build and explore in order to ease suffering and pain, to inject life with more beauty and meaning and to lessen the isolation of those around us. We should dream and build and explore not for the sake of making our own name great, but to make Jesus’ name beautiful in the world.
I want to be part of a community that knows how to work, but also knows how to rest. I want to be part of community that does stroll home, enjoying the gift that this city is and does make time to stop at the cafe to meet a friend. And I definitely want to be part of a community that knows the importance of family and works not to give them a better pool or a new Cadillac, but in order to give them more of myself.