It is a cultural stereotype that the owners of minivans are “old.” That is, their passion for youthful things is gone and they are completely immersed in the rigidity and conformity of “adult life.” These commercials acknowledge that stereotype, and in doing so hope to make potential customers who are hesitant to buy a minivan precisely because of fear of falling into that stereotype feel more at ease. The reason why they should feel more at ease? The Honda Odyssey “beckons like no van before.” It’s “technology-packed”, so even if your ambition to be on the cutting edge of art has waned you can at least challenge yourself with the cutting edge of technology – and it’s also “enchanting”, so even if everything else in your life has become so stale that you’ve forgotten how valuable those things are you will be so charmed by this van that you will come to appreciate them again.
In other words: this van doesn’t meet your adult life’s practical needs (the actual reason why anyone would buy a minivan – which is even understood by the stereotype), it is actually an extension of your youthful passion for life (just like any other vehicle you might want to own). Honda, somehow, has found a way for a contradiction terms – terms the company itself concedes are valid – to be true. Or, at least, appear true long enough for a would-be buyer to commit himself to purchasing Honda’s product. But a contradiction cannot exist. It cannot be both. Either the minivan is a concession to the “tyrannical” need for practicality “imposed” by adult life, or it is not – and further, either life as an adult necessarily excludes passion or it does not.
In the first commercial Honda is relying on it’s viewers implicitly holding the notion that passion and adulthood are mutually exclusive in order to grab their attention, and then telling them that they are now free of that dilemma (if and only if they purchase an Odyssey – which, somehow, is not itself a “tyrannical imposition”). In the second, Honda is relying on the notion that the two are not mutually exclusive in order to grab attention by complimenting their viewer’s fidelity to (ie: passion for) values (ie: marriage), and then suggesting to them that an “enchanting” way for them to proudly express that conviction would be by owning an Odyssey (as if the reason for buying a vehicle should be to make a social statement).
The way to resolve all of this is simple: first of all, plainly state that a person’s leftover desire to be a rock star is not admirable because rock stars, by definition, are not actually “cutting edge”, but merely appear to be because they exploit (ie: make fashionable) misconceptions about just what “progressive” actually means. And secondly, proclaim loudly and proudly that making practical decisions (ie: decisions which actually serve important values) can only be done by those who actually have a passion for life. Ironically, a good way to do that would be to poke fun at rock stars who are “anti-minivan” precisely because minivans are a reproach to their passion-less, directionless, ultimately meaningless life styles. Life styles that couldn’t produce one ounce of technology, let alone true love. This might inspire the type of person who admires rock stars and resents his “minivan self” to reexamine the value of his “adult life”, and it would truly compliment those who already have theirs figured out. Neither type of consumer is going to be immediately willing to buy a Honda Odyssey (as opposed to a competing brand of minivan) – nor should they be – but they will at least now be in the correct frame of mind be able to listen to the facts about the product and make an informed, rational, “practical” decision. After all, that is the real purpose of advertising: efficient information conveyance.
Why isn’t any of this considered? Honda is a major corporation operating in a complex, modern economy. The answer is that for all of the great things this economy offers, long-term certainty is not one of them. At least not on the level Honda is operating on, where the difference between survival and bankruptcy is often razor thin. Instead, everything is subject to the whim of whatever politically-motivated economic distortion comes down the pike – today or tomorrow or next week or next month. Companies do not have the luxury of appealing exclusively to their customer’s rationality in order to make a sale; they have to make sales now. There’s no point in going off on some mental odyssey about the long-term strategy of the company when you don’t have any idea what kind of massive changes might fall upon you between now and then. Why fixate on tomorrow and let your less scrupulous competitor get today’s profits when those are really all that you know you can relish?
“When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production [communication] is punished and looting [manipulation] rewarded. – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged