The exclamation “We did nothing!”, at the end of the commercial, is obviously intended in a sarcastic way, but that’s merely a disguise. What Wendy’s is trying to do is to make it seem like they’re not actually suggesting that you should consume their sandwich for no good reason – by overtly making an over-the-top claim that you should – because they calculate that people will conclude that if that really was what they were suggesting, then they wouldn’t be so open about it. Their sinister motives are “hiding in plain sight”, so to speak.
But that only raises an obvious question: why do they think that such a tactic will work?
People know (if, by nothing else, than through “that little voice in the back of their heads”) …that something as decadent as The Bacon Portabella Melt actually is something that they should earn (ie: it should be the reward for doing something notable, not trivial). This commercial is expected to be funny – and therefore memorable – precisely because it allows people to tell themselves that even though they actually do rationalize indulging in such things in response to such (trivial) things (ie: “nothing”), at least they’re able to acknowledge it and laugh at themselves (and therefore, somehow, they’re better than the caricatures in the commercial).
What makes such a rationalization possible? Low self-esteem (and specifically, the desperate situation that people with low self-esteem find themselves in, which makes them open to virtually anything – no matter how obtuse or contrived – which will make them “esteem” themselves; even if only slightly).
What, philosophically, causes chronically low self-esteem?
Kantian philosophy. Today’s most widespread and dominant philosophy, teaches that while there might actually be an objective reality, man’s senses necessarily distort his perception of it, so for all intents and purposes there might as well not be one. The practical result of this is subjectivism and relativism in morality, politics, and aesthetics. People feel free to do anything, no matter how irrational, since the claim that it’s “wrong” only applies to the individual making the claim, not the one who’s the subject of it (even if his circumstances are identical).
Psychologically, the practical result of moral subjectivism and relativism is low self-esteem (since being merely “expressing oneself”, or being “accepted for who you are” by others – as a matter of philosophical principle, without judgment – can never replace the profound sense of self-respect which comes from actually accomplishing things and proving to oneself one’s fitness for existence).
This commercial exploits that philosophically-induced low self-esteem.
The following is simply a (virtually) verbatim copy of an analysis of an earlier commercial. It seems as though two and a half years later, the same phenomenon still rules the day, unfortunately.
While the existence of this commercial appears to be proof that the American spirit of independence and a hatred of (overbearing, unnecessary) authority is alive and well, it is actually proof of the exact opposite. Many Americans, rightfully, are unhappy with the treatment they receive from airport security, but are any of them doing anything about it? Have there been notable or widespread incidents of civil disobedience? Ballot measures? Articulate criticisms? Pressure on policy makers? (To say nothing of a demand for decisive, ruthless military action against foreign individuals and states that perpetrate violence against Americans – rendering defensive “security measures” against Americans unnecessary?) No, there haven’t been. None of these things have occured.
To date, the best protest Americans have been able to mount against being pushed around by their government and it’s otherwise-unemployable, petty tyrant lackies is to mock them on talk shows and in commercials – while the abuse of their civil liberties by these people continues. This commercial is not a celebration of the American spirit, it is a confession that the American people have lost it.
What this commercial does is appeal to American’s guilt and self-contempt for having let themselves be reduced to this. It allows them to feel, for a moment at least, that they don’t deserve it. It tells them, in effect: “No, you are not a passive, spiritually-defeated person. Even though you don’t do anything about it, and even though you have the power to, you don’t like it – and that’s enough.” The company then holds out buying their product as “doing something about it”, in the hopes of channeling (misdirecting) an appropriate desire to defend one’s freedom and dignity into a petty, trivial act of principled action (the refusal to compromise on quality [or price] in the selection of [razor blades]). It flatters the viewer, and (hopefully) endears the company to him.
It is a disgusting, pernicious way to sell something – and it stinks of desperation. If [Dollar Shave Club] really cared about the fact that every day Americans “put up with alot”, they wouldn’t be willing undermine their incentive to resist putting up with more just to make a buck.
This commercial is just another tired – if particularly poignant – example of the “get out in front of it” tactic of marketing which has been written about extensively elsewhere on this blog. It is, unfortunately, one of the most prevalent forms of advertising in today’s unpredictable, desperate macroeconomic environment.
Obviously, the claim that Miller Lite is the reason for a person’s existence is absurd. This commercial’s means of getting the consumer’s attention is the humor of such an outlandish claim. But why is the claim considered funny?
On some level, people recognize that what defines an alcoholic is not the amount of alcohol he consumes, or even when, but rather why he consumes it. Obviously an alcoholic consumes alcohol (or at least too much alcohol) when when shouldn’t, but the reason he does this is because he convinces himself that it’s appropriate (ie: he can’t deal with real life and/or his feelings about it, so he seeks to distort his awareness and/or mood – which begins not with the drink itself, but rather a with an initial, distorted thought). A defining characteristic of an alcoholic is the habitual creation of dubious reasons to drink (or at least to drink too much).
This commercial is considered funny because, in the minds of most people, “only an alcoholic would actually believe that one of the positive benefits of beer is that it’s a necessary ingredient in the creation of people.” It allows people who actually do concoct dubious reasons to (over)indulge in alcohol to believe that they don’t – and therefore that they (somehow) are not alcoholics (ie: that their reasons to drink are valid). It allows such people to tell themselves “if I were an alcoholic, that is the kind of rationalization I would be creating. I’m not thinking anything that crazy, so therefore I must not be an alcoholic.” At that point, in that moment, whatever hesitation the person feels goes away, and he is free to once again capriciously indulge in alcohol once again.
As disgusting as it is to recognize, this commercial is targeted at alcoholics – but that’s par for the course in today’s over-taxed, over-regulated – and therefore short-sighted – mixed economy (which most consider to be capitalism – and therefore declare predatory, zero-sum behavior like this advertisement to be intrinsic to capitalism – and therefore continue to call for more of the same statism which made it necessary to begin with).
The purpose of insurance is risk management. A person buys insurance because she believes that the risk of paying premiums without ever having to file a claim (ie: “wasting money”) is less than the risk of having an incident and, not having insurance, having to pay the costs entirely out of pocket. Simultaneously, an insurance company agrees to sell a person an insurance policy because it believes that the risk of having to pay a claim filed by that person is less than the sum total of the money it will collect from her via premiums. It’s a text book case of quid pro quo – but why is it a quid pro quo? Precisely because the level of risk is measured correctly. How, exactly, is it measured correctly? By turning to the only thing anyone has to use as a predictor of future behavior: past behavior.
Why, then, does this commercial denigrate (ie: smear as unfair) the practice of insurance companies factoring in past behavior when they determine premium prices? It is because Liberty Mutual knows that most of the culture believes in altruism. The company is attempting to capitalize on the false dichotomy created by that moral code (ie: the belief that any action is either altruistic in nature or predatory in nature, but never mutually-beneficial; or even mutually-harmful). Because of that false-dichotomy, many people would regard an increase in their insurance premiums not as a legitimate response to the increase in risk that their behavior indicates, but simply an arbitrary act of “greed” by the party with greater leverage in a relationship. This is why the slogan “Hey insurance companies, news flash: nobody’s perfect” is expected to resonate, despite the fact that the very act of selling an insurance policies and charging premiums is acknowledgement that no one is perfect! (ie: if anything, the act of not raising someone’s rates after she causes an accident, or having an a priori policy of “accident forgiveness”, would be an evasion of that fact).
“The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve “the common good.” It is true that capitalism does — if that catch-phrase has any meaning — but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.” -Ayn Rand
Although this commercial will be interpreted by most to be a glorification of altruism (even though what’s on display is actually benevolence), it is nevertheless a beautiful dramatization of the value of capitalism. Walmart’s message is that it (a capitalist, for-profit organization) plays not just an optional, but an essential role in “altruistic” (read: benevolent) acts. In other words: without selfishness preceding it, there is no “common good” of the type on display here. It’s sad (and worrying) that capitalist organizations have to appeal to the popular reverence for self-sacrifice in order to be (begrudgingly) accepted, but it’s heartening to see that they’re at least not yet completely ashamed of the fact that they deserve just as much credit (if not more) than the “altruists” who use their products in order to do their good deeds.
The purpose of sports heroes – the value that they trade in exchange for the fortunes they earn – is to provide the public with inspiration. Their feats are supposed to be a supplement to the average person’s every day life. A way of helping the average person live his own life more heroically. The problem, however, is that in recent decades (due to the stagnating economy and disintegrating culture), the inspiration of sports heroes has transformed from a supplement to a substitute source of inspiration and pride. People are more and more quite literally living vicariously through famous athletes – and instead of the past time of paying attention to them being a net gain, it is often now a net loss (ie: a way to evade one’s problems, instead of an inspiration to face them and solve them). That is what this commercial exploits.
Usain Bolt, by illegally enjoying himself in what turns out to be someone else’s hot tub, is symbolically (albeit likely unknowingly) communicating his status in the culture, and the source of his (relatively greater) wealth (as compared to previous eras). His presence there is an acknowledgement of the fact that he doesn’t have what a man of similar accomplishments, decades ago, failed to have simply because he is better than that predecessor, but precisely because people are willing to now give a man like him more than they were before.
Of course, this is a dramatic, absurdly unrealistic expression of these facts – and that is precisely why it is expected to work to sell Puma brand merchandise.
The commercial provides the viewer with a means of rationalizing away his (subconscious) awareness of his inappropriately high interest in the sporting activity of other people. He is able to tell himself that if he were really giving the likes of Bolt more attention than they deserve, then that (ie: the use of his hot tub, and the affections of the women in his life) is what would be taken from him. He isn’t allowing that much to be intruded upon, so therefore he must not be over-valuing the athletic achievements of others.
The rationalization provides a moment’s reprieve from the anxiety which comes from having a disorganized or arbitrary value structure. The memory of that reprieve remains in the viewer’s mind, ready to prompt a recitation of the rationalization whenever the anxiety returns or becomes too much to bear (which it will, since the only thing which can ensure that it doesn’t return and grow is actually reducing one’s interest in sports figures to rational levels). That reoccurred rationalization, Puma hopes, will be closely associated (in the viewer’s mind) with Puma the brand, and then – hopefully – if the person happens to be in the market for sports apparel, he will consider taking a closer look at their products, and perhaps making a purchase.
This is the kind of manipulative, destructive, fundamentally non-capitalist behavior that capitalist organizations have to engage in when they’re mired in the unpredictable flux of a mixed economy, where only the short-term is certain.
The commercial works as follows: America’s moral – and thus financial – integrity, stability, and potential are at all-time lows, Americans (inexorably) are constantly aware of it, but only emotionally. They’re plagued by fear (because they can’t understand why, nor how to fix it), as well as by guilt (because they vaguely grasp that they’re partially responsible for it). They don’t like this feeling, so anything which (temporarily) alleviates it will be valued more than it otherwise would be. This commercial allows for the following rationalization: “Things are not that bad, so therefore my fears are – somehow – unfounded. That is the kind of thing I would see going on around me if things were truly as bad as I constantly feel like they are.” Taco Bell knows that because this is only a rationalization – that things are tantamount to as bad as this – that such precious heirlooms are being compromised, albeit not with such willful blatancy) – people will inevitably have their fear and their guilt return. When they do, Taco Bell hopes that such people will remember the feeling produced when first seeing this commercial (in order to make the uncomfortable feelings go away yet again), remember that they’re hungry, or need to pick food up for the family, or whatever and then decide to visit Taco Bell.
If Taco Bell – a company that is quite literally a luxury of an economy with a strong capitalist foundation – suffers or even disappears as a result of the very things they’re trying to get people to evade (so that they can capitalize in the short-term), they will have deserved their fate.