What Advertising Should Be
These are two excellent, beautifully-produced, distinctively-styled examples of what a commercial should be. There are countless examples of commercials inappropriately attempting to emotionally manipulate the viewer (many of them have been documented on this website), but these are two instances of appropriate manipulation (and yes, while the word “manipulation” has a negative connotation, it is just a connotation and therefore shouldn’t preclude the objective use of that word where appropriate). Succinctly, the theme of both commercials is the direct connection between the quality of one’s work and one’s philosophical values. In the case of the Allstate commercial, this is done through an emphasis on the benevolent universe premise, and in the case of Barbasol’s through the dramatization of pride. By promoting good (ie: correct) philosophical values in the process of the promotion of material values, they are showing the consumer how the two do not exist separate from one another, or contradict one other, but in fact require and strengthen each another.
Both companies are assuming that that theme – as well as the particular themes of their respective commercials – don’t need to be stated openly – in academic philosophical terms – since each commercial is clearly just a reminder of a well-known (and therefore well-understood, because of many previous advertisements) brand (which, in that context, is itself a legitimate “informing of the consumer” and therefore satisfies advertising’s primary purpose). While it is true that these commercials lack any directly useful, particular information about the companies’ products and services, and therefore do qualify as emotional manipulation – it is appropriate emotional manipulation because unlike commercials which attempt to get the viewer to reach the wrong conclusion, these hope that he reaches the right one.
What Allstate and Barbasol expect to happen – why they expect these commercials to be successful – is that they will directly touch the emotion which was produced by the thought that any other, previous, directly-informative Allstate or Barbasol created – even if that thought was never identified, organized, and consciously retained as an explicit belief. What both companies hope to do is to validate that emotion by giving it acknowledgment (the psychological term would be “visibility”), and thereby induce the viewer to more seriously investigate the cause of it – and thereby form that conscious belief to compliment the emotion. To possess a conscious and emotional – as opposed to merely an emotional – affinity for the Allstate and Barbasol brands (as opposed to just one of their particular products featured in a more informative advertisement).
While, technically, it is true that what these commercials are selling is not “Allstate insurance policies” or “Barbasol shaving cream” as much as “Allstate the company” and “Barbasol the company” (a tactic employed, for example, by Jack in the Box some time ago, which this blog criticized), because of the context in which it is being done (both are widely-known and familiar brands), in this case there is nothing wrong with that. The reason why is because there actually is a direct connection between having the correct philosophical values and producing a good product or service. The customer can be reasonably certain that if these are the types of people he’s dealing with, even if he isn’t completely informed inside and out about the nature of what he’s considering purchasing, his cursory judgment will be sufficient and that he will be getting his money’s worth. Provided that Allstate and Barbasol then lives up to the philosophical standards each company professes to have (which they must, in order to produce a good product), having a philosophically-healthy – and therefore rational decision-making – consuming public would definitely be good for business over the long-term.
The tactic employed in these commercials is distinctly different from what Jack in the Box in it’s commercial where they were asking the viewer to prefer Jack in the Box’s products not because the “people of Jack in the Box” (as exposed through their twisted sense of humor) were actually likeable, but merely because the (equally twisted) viewer found them likable when he shouldn’t have. Jack in the Box was attempting to capitalize on the viewer’s need to fill the emotional void documented in this website’s criticism, whereas Allstate and Barbasol are here capitalizing upon the assumption that the viewer is already emotionally full (and both companies are willing to risk having him remain indifferent to, or even become hostile to, their companies should he not be). It is an exceptionally bold and noble outlook in today’s cultural landscape, and it should be recognized and applauded.