How do we learn to be ashamed of our desires? How do we learn to follow a tired, uninteresting narrative? And what does this have to do with a commercial for the Chevy Equinox?
The first time I saw this commercial, I didn't give it much thought. I'm not in the market for this car, and most ads I ignore unless they're really clever.
The second time I saw this commerical, however, I was irritated.
Before you read my full take on it, watch the ad.
The Chevy Equinox Commercial
A man and a woman are in the front seat of a car. The man is driving, and he asks his phone to play back his voicemail. Siri, the voice-activated assistant on the iPhone, reads his messages which, in very few words, hint at the night before. The woman, presumably his wife or girlfriend, is annoyed at him, while he's ashamed of his "epic" night out.
The ad's creators are very smart. Relying on narrative bias along with our propensity to either identify with a) the man's shame or b) his partner's irritation, they paint a picture with few words, in just thirty seconds.
How does this work? As the viewer, you will naturally fill in the story, based on your own bias towards familar narratives: the wayward boyfriend, the angry girlfriend, "you're going to sleep on the couch tonight," etc. The point is: the story feels familiar. It pushes buttons in a clever but predictable way.
Selling cars with shame
The old adage in advertising is "sex sells." This is why Hooters restaurant is so popular. Do you really eat there for the food? It's a wink-wink, nudge-nudge business that trades on sex appeal to sell chicken wings and beer. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but let's be clear exactly what it is.
The Chevy Equinox ad, by contrast, sells cars by playing on the shame of the male character. While the ad makes no direct reference to sex, its genius comes from our tendency to fill in the story—"Dude, did you ever find your pants?" What, exactly, is he ashamed of?
Why this is a problem
The ad is just a reflection of negative aspects of our culture:
- That we're not entitled to privacy in our communications (the ad wouldn't work if the man kept his messages to himself);
- That we should be ashamed of our behavior and hide it from intimate partners;
- That we should be passive-aggressive instead of communicating directly what we're upset about ("Yeah, thanks, Siri.")
Create your own narrative
In dating, intimate relationships, and friendships, it's very easy to follow the narrative that's set by our culture. You can't pretend you're immune. It can be hard to rewrite the script, to create your own narrative. This is all part of creating an intentional life—taking ownerships of your beliefs, your attitudes, your best and worst attributes, and working towards what you want instead of what our culture dictates you should want.
I'm not suggesting people should mislead their partners or behave irresponsibly, but that's not the subject of this ad—it's shame, plain and simple.