Now, the first thing that should be pointed out is the man-hate (the idea that men are perpetual children) of this commercial, but because that’s become such a common theme in advertising in recent years, pointing it out should suffice. It could be analyzed all by itself, but something else – something more broad – is worth noting here.
Man or not, the customer in this commercial is portrayed as taken in by something which has nothing directly to do with the product (the break dancers). Sears manipulates the customer by putting him or her into a good mood with something non-essential and, once that’s been achieved, Sears’ item looks better and the sale is more likely to happen. That’s the theory, anyways.
It’s an insidious tactic – one which, if the consumer finds out about it, makes him or her dislike the company for using it. So what is Sears’ solution? To employ it, but employ it indirectly. The man and the woman in this commercial serve as foils, meant to distract the viewer’s attention just enough from the fact that Sears is using dancers to sell a washing machine (a complete non sequitor), but not quite enough that once they realize later on that they’ve fallen for it, they’ll be angry with Sears. The consumer is able to recall the dialog between the customers and the sales person and think “no, I’m just imagining things. Sears wouldn’t ever exploit my silly weaknesses. They’re on the same page as I am when it comes to profane sales gimmicks. They’re a good company populated by down to earth people.”
In other words, Sears gets to have it both ways.
Why increasing numbers of advertisers, including such storied and mainstream companies such as Sears, have had to resort to this kind crude psychological manipulation is a complex subject. It has much to do with the irrational and precarious structure of America’s financial situation – where tomorrow’s sale dwarfs the importance of next year’s – but it also has a cultural component. As has been noted on this blog before – particularly in regards to beer commercials, but also with others – American culture has grown increasingly irrational, superficial, and impressionable in recent generations. This tactic of “pointing it out before it’s unable to be ignored” is seen by many as a way of staving off the fact that it’s true for as long as that excuse will suffice. If a man’s self-control is lacking, at least being aware of it, some how makes for it. It’s passed off as progress – as men being increasingly aware of their emotions – but what it really is is something much worse.
What? From the arch-villian Ellsworth Toohey in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”:
Then there’s another way [to kill man’s soul]. Kill by laughter. Laughter is an instrument of human joy. Learn to use it as a weapon of destruction. Turn it into a sneer. It’s simple. Tell them to laugh at everything. Tell them that a sense of humour is an unlimited virtue. Don’t let anything remain sacred in a man’s soul – and his soul won’t be sacred to him. Kill reverence and you’ve killed the hero in man. One doesn’t reverence with a giggle. He’ll obey and he’ll set no limits to obedience – anything goes – nothing is too serious.