Thursday, December 16, 2021

In an anxious time, ads tug at our heartstrings -- Dec. 16, 2021 column


Time magazine picked Elon Musk as its 2021 Person of the Year – the individual “who most shaped the previous 12 months, for better or for worse.”

Musk, with his Tesla and SpaceX companies, emerged this year “not just as the world’s richest person but also as perhaps the richest example of a massive shift in our society,” Time fawned. “Like it or not we are now in Musk’s world.”

Well, maybe. I’ve never ridden in a Tesla, nor do I plan to any trips into space, although I know someone who loves playing Solitaire while letting his Tesla maneuver through highway traffic.

Even if the car is amazing, I can’t imagine a Tesla exerting the emotional pull of a restored 1966 Chevy Impala convertible like the one in “Holiday Ride,” Chevrolet’s new commercial. The four-minute version is a movie unto itself about grief, love and the power of memories.

With so many of us on edge in year two of a merciless pandemic, the Chevy ad is one of several holiday commercials that tug at our heart strings and show us our humanity.

Spoiler alert – I will be telling the stories of these ads. The Chevy commercial features a grieving widower in rural America who visits the dusty, dilapidated Impala in the barn, fighting tears as he holds a photo of a smiling young woman, presumably his late wife, in happy times with the new car.

His daughter sees him putting holiday wreaths on the barn door and secretly enlists local mechanics for “night work.” They painstakingly restore the car to its former glory for a surprise reveal.

It’s “the best Christmas gift I could ever have,” dad tells daughter, and they and their dog hop in for a spin.  If you don’t tear up watching, you may have left your heart in 2020.

“Kindness, the Greatest Gift,” set to Adele’s new song “Hold On,” features the kindness of strangers during the pandemic. In this Amazon global holiday campaign ad, we see a young woman university student alone, struggling to return to near-normal life. 

In a park, an older woman neighbor, feeding birds from her palm, notices the younger woman sitting alone, seemingly downcast.

Back in her apartment, the older woman hears a news report about young people being anxious during the pandemic. She orders something on her cell phone from, of course, Amazon. The younger woman receives the surprise gift of a bird feeder and is touched by the kind gesture. The ad fades out with the two talking and sharing a park bench.

“The past 18 months have been challenging for people across the globe, including many young adults,” Ed Smith, an executive at Amazon European Union, said in a statement. “So this year, whilst the world will not be totally back to normal, opportunities for kindness and connection will take on a newfound importance.”

Another European commercial available to watch online comes from Posten, the postal service of Norway. The heartwarming, adult-themed “When Harry Met Santa” imagines brief, Christmas Eve encounters that evolve over years into a romance. The ad celebrates the 50th anniversary in 2022 of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Norway and the postal service’s commitment to diversity.

Closer to home and more traditional is a Wegmans Food Markets broadcast ad, which features a young boy energetically and enthusiastically doing chores – raking leaves, pushing a heavy trash bin to the curb, delivering huge pots of mums, shoveling snow and putting up holiday lights.

As his family celebrates with a big holiday dinner, presumably from Wegmans, the boy dishes up a plate of food and takes it next door. Viewers realize then he has been doing the chores not for his own family but for his neighbor, an elderly woman. She comes to the door and is touched and surprised by the gift of food.

The ad is one of three in a campaign Wegmans calls “Back to Happy.” They use as a theme the children’s song, “The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.”

And, so, may we all be happier on Earth this holiday season – even if we must steer our own cars through the traffic to get together with family and friends.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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