My Favorite Commercial

Despite being a self-avowed capitalist, I can understand why most people hate commercials.

Commercials interrupt television programs — always at the best parts. Overly emphatic announcers hawk their products in cheesy, fake voices. Catchy, repetitive theme music, which is often louder than the volume of the interrupted program, worms its way into the recesses of our brains. We catch ourselves humming, "ba da ba ba ba, I’m lovin’ it!" on the drive to work, and then wonder, "how did that get in my head, anyway?" Worst of all, so much advertising lately is hackneyed and unoriginal.

Even if we choose to mute the TV or change the channel during a commercial, it’s admittedly a bit of a hassle to have to do so (television viewing is the epitome of laziness — who wants to reach for the remote?). The success of programs like TiVo reveals just how passionately people dislike viewing commercials.

Anti-capitalists use the irritating properties of many commercials to support their claims that advertising "brainwashes" consumers into buying products they don’t really want. Furthermore, they say, it maliciously preys on children.

In my opinion, the idea that commercial viewers are mindless automatons who can be influenced against their will to buy valueless products is ludicrous. Additionally, I believe that parents are responsible for setting guidelines as to what (if anything) their children watch on television. I can, however, understand how some people come to embrace these anti-advertising diatribes. The rants of "consumer advocates" are unfortunate catalysts; they transform the negative feelings that many people get from watching vapid, obnoxious, and unremarkable commercials into a hatred of capitalism itself.

We make our own choices about what to buy. Ads are just supposed to provide us with information about products that might interest us. If it weren’t for advertising, very few people would even know that many of their favorite products exist. We can choose to tune in or to tune out; we can choose to buy or not to buy. Admittedly, though, commercials can be unpleasant.

But occasionally a great commercial comes along that provides a glimmer of hope. I refer particularly to a well-done series of advertisements for United Airlines.

The ads employ fresh styles of animation, presenting inspirational stories set to classic musical themes. My favorite is "Interview," animated by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis. It depicts a businessman character who is about to go on an important job interview. He apprehensively gets dressed, hops a plane to a far off city and then takes a ride in a taxi. Arriving at a tall building, he rides up the elevator with a mixed expression of nervousness and hope. Then, he looks down at his shoes, only to realize that they don’t match. He completes the interview. Afterward, we see the businessman walking down the street, sporting a look of complete despair and staring wistfully at his mismatched shoes. Suddenly, his cell phone rings — he has gotten the job, and his woebegone expression changes to one of glee as he excitedly jumps up in the air. "Where you go in life," a voice-over (Robert Redford) gently says — the only words in the entire commercial — "Is up to you. There’s one airline that can take you there. United — it’s time to fly."

The UAL commercials stand out for several reasons. They are very different from most commercials out there — pleasant music; very few words; no loud, jarring voices or blaring colors. They manage to get the point across in a subtle and engaging way. They tell a story. To communicate their point quickly, most other commercials rely on stereotypes or try to cram in as many words and images as possible. The UAL commercials convey their messages subtly, but with amazing clarity. We are drawn into the story. We relate to the characters. We actually want to watch.

These spots are not just commercials for UAL — they promote capitalism itself. All of the stories presented in the ads embrace the common theme that UAL services make it possible to do business, spend time with family, and travel easily to anywhere one chooses. The ability to do these things grants us the power to greatly improve our lives. The UAL commercials emphasize the interrelated network of products and services that empower people to accomplish their goals and dreams.

If you’ll pardon the pun, I find these ads quite uplifting.