Generally I’m not a big fan of television commercials. It frustrates me when they interrupt a favorite show or ball game. However, some catch my attention because they have a subtle or not so subtle message embedded in them relative to issues in our culture. Last year I wrote an article entitled “Not Your Father’s Buick”, a take-off on a General Motors commercial attempting to sell Buicks to a new generation of automobile buyers. In the article, I made their hip and updated sales pitch analogous to what we in the education and prevention fields should be doing to increase the chance that young people will pay attention to healthy messages and approaches and hopefully internalize them. Today’s generation doesn’t want their father’s Buick and today’s youth find that our old prevention methods and educational strategies often don’t resonate with them. The more recent commercial that has grabbed my interest is put out by Hyundai and features an 11-12 year old boy figuring out how to get his football back from older and larger boys who challenge him to “come back when you have a team!”
The boy, with his mother driving the family van with purpose and conviction, is shown traveling throughout the neighborhood putting his friends on notice that he is need of their assistance. They all oblige and are soon gathered in the van en route to the park and the forthcoming football game. Once there, they all have their game-faces on and we are left to imagine (quite assuredly) that the football will be returned to the rightful owner!
There are several features that intrigue me about this commercial. First, all of us can relate to a similar situation in life where we faced a challenge and we either were going to be up for it or we would retreat ( and likely endure countless regrets). The boy, who is deserving of a name so let’s call him Jack, exudes body language that implies that he has been here before but this time is committed to righting a wrong that has been perpetrated upon him. Observation #1: Jack does not burst into tears, beg, whine or run away. Instead he assesses the situation and says with resolve, “Ok.”
In the next scene, Jack and his mother exchange meaningful glances in the van while rounding up his crew. Mom’s face clearly sends a message that, “This ends here, today!” One gets the impression that this scenario may have occurred before in Jack’s life and that he and his mom have discussed it. Observation #2: Jack’s mom doesn’t rush out to fix Jack’s problem for him. She does not deprive him of the opportunity to learn a life-long lesson. Perhaps she has phoned the other boys’ parents after earlier episodes, attempting to interject a parental solution. Maybe she and Jack had sat on the porch swing and discussed how angry that made him and what his choices were, we just don’t know. We do know that this time she is a supportive parent doing for Jack what he can’t do for himself—drive the van. I give her credit for doing what she can to facilitate Jack handling his own business.
Observation #3: Jack organizes, empowers and mobilizes his crew with an action plan designed to not only get his football back but to send a message that this kind of behavior will no longer be tolerated. This is when we know we are watching television; Jack’s crew includes two weight- lifting brothers, an 11 year old welder and firefighter and another winning a wrestling match with a bear! Granted, Jack has some powerful middle school buddies who probably aren’t afraid to mix it up a bit. This is often how preteen boys view their friends; understanding, loyal and there for each other. In that context, these boys agree to face a fear and solve a problem collectively that they may had previously faced individually.
Observation #4: When Jack and friends roll out of the van, they are focused and united on the task ahead of them; they are single minded. They have no guarantee that they will win back the football but they are committed to making every effort possible to change the culture of the park and perhaps set a new trajectory for future interactions between these dozen or so middle school students. They are empowered by each other’s resolve and believe that they can change things.
Observation #5: I don’t know if this commercial helped Hyundai sell more cars or not but I think it’s a cool commercial! Granted, I take a lot of liberties in dissecting this 30 second spot. Not all children feel strong enough to take on their fears. Not all have learned how to advocate for themselves. Many lack friends they can turn to or have a supportive adult in their life who will be there for them in times of need. I am not advocating an old macho model of duking it out on the playground to solve our problems. I am not suggesting that there are not other non-physical ways for boys (as well as men and nations) to resolve differences. However, like many aspects of our culture, public thought and conventional wisdom seems to swing from one pole to another, always seeking ways to establish harmony and lessen discourse between people. It is, nevertheless, interesting to note that some of the most active educational blogs and Linked In discussions consistently include topics related to whether or not our children are overly praised, how and why so many of our children feel entitled and if one subscribes to the “everybody gets a ribbon” mentality.
My fascination with this commercial, as with the work we do, is that it encourages organic solutions for many of the daily issues that stress us. Most people, including children, have within them the capacity to cope with life, especially if a little guidance and supportive encouragement is mixed in. Having previously been an 11 year old boy, I envision the rest of the commercial this way; a spirited game ensues, the winner and loser not as important as a new-found respect gained for each other. Torn pants are dusted off and skinned knees wiped clean and a huge deposit of positive self-esteem is made into the psyches of each boy.