This Commercial Gets It So Wrong

The other night, we were watching the Winter Olympics with Chelsea’s grandma and this commercial played. Check it out – it’s only one minute long, and then I can start ranting.

Done? This commercial is the worst thing I have watched in as long as I can remember. Sure, it’s intended to polarize opinions. Mission accomplished: I barely kept down my dinner while choking back anger.

For me, it represents so many of the anachronistic, GDP-worshiping ideals that skewed our sense of work/life balance so badly in the past, lingering aspects to which our society is still chained. While it’s an electric vehicle and a step in the right direction, Cadillac is selling the expensive car via a patriotic slant to a wealthy clientele who work hard and want to show it off.

To be clear, I don’t dislike wealthy, driven people. I realize, as the ad points out, that Bill Gates, Les Paul and the Wright Brothers created great things for the world. Many of them inspire me, and Ted Turner and Warren Buffet are two of my favorite people to read about, though Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia and his “let my people go surfing” mentality is how I try to pattern my business practices.

However, it makes me livid that Cadillac actually thinks people will buy more of their vehicles by pointing out that the French work LESS than us. “I may only get two weeks off per year, but my big house, expensive car, long commute and obedient, well-clothed family are worth the stressful hours as a C-suite executive at my chemical byproducts company!”

Perhaps we should just break it down, word by word, just so we don’t miss anything. I’ll have a conversation with our main character. Let’s call him Mr. Ass Hat – he’s in bold.

“Why do we work so hard? For what? For this? For stuff?” Hey, a commercial that gets it! I like it already. Thanks for changing things up a bit.

Other countries, they work, they stroll home, they stop by the café. They take August off. OFF. Why aren’t you like that? Why aren’t we like that? Juuuust a second…Is this a quiz about the evolution of the American work place? Geez, I better re-read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History! Well Mr. AH, I believe our society is currently on the mend and we are trying to refocus our lives so that we have time for ourselves, friends, families, and a little break from the grind without feeling guilty about it striving to earn the gold retirement watch. Give it time, it is coming.

“Because we’re crazy-driven, hard-working believers. Those other countries think we’re nuts. Whatever. Were the Wright brothers insane? Bill Gates? Les Paul? Ali?” You fucker, you tricked me! Everyone I know WANTS to have more time off to relax and regroup. You’re telling me we can’t do that and create positive change in the world at the same time? Curses. And what do we believe in? The Dream of GDP over anything else, including happiness and personal fulfillment? I wasn’t aware that other countries think we’re nuts – where’s the Wikipedia link? Perhaps they just wonder how we work so hard, with so few breaks, and feel sorry for us? I certainly feel sorry for us. (And sad for your ignored kids and wife, for the record.)

“Were we nuts when we pointed to the moon? That’s right. We went up there and you know what we got? Bored. So we left. Got a car up there, left the keys in there. You know why? Because we’re the only ones going up there, that’s why.” Captain Pompous (I mean, Mr. Ass Hat), I appreciate your point here – the moon landing was a great accomplishment and inspired young engineers all over to create amazing things. I’m an engineer by degree myself and love the innovative American spirit. BUT, we didn’t “get bored” on the moon. And innovation doesn’t only live in a 60 hour work week tied to a long commute in a shiny new payment…err, car.

And there were countries from around the world that contributed know-how and products to help get our rockets and astronauts to the moon. And now we’re even more connected trade-wise across the world. Yes, we need to bring back real manufacturing to our country, and buy local, and support produce grown close to home, but we aren’t decoupling ourselves from international trade.

“But I digress. It’s pretty simple: You work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible.” Two in a row! I actually agree with you on all these points, and believe luck is not to be confused with skill. But a commercial flaunting a $75k electric car that no middle class American family can afford can certainly be confused with Ass Hattery! You gotta BELIEVE you can lease a car for $900 per month because that load of crap doesn’t make sense any way you slice it. Believe, don’t question. Wait, isn’t that what cults teach their inductees?!

“As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of only taking two weeks off in August.” Mr. Ass Hat, you are wrong. Trading your life for possessions is so 20th century. As far as I can tell, most kids crave more time and attention from their parents. Time is a non-renewable resource! Books, movies and death bed quotes point out what should be obvious: Time spent with family and friends doing things you love is the most important thing in life.

There must be a reason so many surveys find “working too much” is a top regret for most people at the end of their lives. Take a long vacation and leave the smart phone off for once. Once you fulfill that, you are recharged and ready to go back to the office, whatever form that takes, and create amazing work that benefits the world. Running on a treadmill to accumulate possessions  is a ticket to suffering, dear sir.

“N’est-ce pas.” I’ll let you interpret this French phrase. If you read this far, we’re on the same page anyway!

I feel like this ad perfectly demonstrates the dichotomy happening in the U.S. between many in my generation and the old beliefs of business owners and executives from a bygone era. Reading through the YouTube comments, I see a mix of “Wow, that’s a hot car,” “GO AMERICA” and then the occasional “Doesn’t this BS infuriate you too?” I can only hope it offends more people than it spurs into buying a new car.

My generation, those born after 1980 – the next power brokers in corner offices around the world – are instead interested in creating B Corps and non-profits that better the world, not just their pocket books. Beyond that, some of us are into reinventing the workplace, DIY hobbies, remote working arrangements, car sharing, rightsizing our lives, decluttering, staycations, and flexibility or time off over salary and health insurance. Selling prestige and power to Millennials is hawking a ketchup Popsicle to a woman in white gloves – mistimed, dumb as hell, and missing the mark entirely.

America, we are smarter than to buy into this commercial, and doing so won’t crush the stock market. We can work hard creating positive change in the world and still aspire to take a month off in the summer. We can create amazing companies and still be around for love and connection with those we cherish.

Don’t look back in 30 years and have the same regrets as so many before you. Mr. Ass Hat, I’m choosing to take a different path, and there are many like me.  We’d love to have you along for the ride.

19 replies
  1. Cameron
    Cameron says:

    I watched the commercial and was floored. It seems like a joke. “Are these assholes trying to sell me this car, or reminding me I should move to Europe?”, I was asking myself.

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Exactly! Isn’t it just terrible? So infuriating.

      I vote for moving to Europe if everything turns into this and the US turns into something out of “A Sound of Thunder” at the end of Bradbury’s short story.

  2. Michael Knouse
    Michael Knouse says:

    This commercial is the best example of mainstream brainwashing and ignorance that I’ve seen in a long time. Come on! It’s time to redefine what success looks like. And there’s not just one option. I guess Cadillac’s definition would have us believe that unless we are toiling away at the office 60 hours a week, climbing the corporate ladder, driving brand new cars, and living in giant houses that resemble a Pottery Barn show room, then we’re lazy Euro-trash!

    Or…how about this option. Simplify your life so that you have zero debt and more time for your family and friends while doing work that’s creative and fulfilling. Leverage technology and efficiency to minimize repetition and distractions so that you get your work done in 25 hours a week. Then use the remainder of your time to pursue other creative endeavors, spend time with your husband or wife, cook healthy meals, make time for travel, yoga, or whatever you enjoy, and do things that generally make you feel alive!

    Oh wait…I’m not sure that last one fits the mindset that consumer driven companies need us to have in order to sell us (which really means finance or lease) a 2014 Cadillac.

    Well done Dakota! And thank you Mr. Ass Hat! I think I’ll hang onto my 2002 Subaru Outback a little longer.

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      As one of my readers pointed out, this ad seems to encourage us to move to Europe! I’d rather be Euro-trash than live in a Pottery Barn, debt-funded haze.

      Cadillac should probably take note that many of their target market of 25-45 year olds do NOT give a hoot about what they are pushing in that ad.

  3. Kaylin Lydia
    Kaylin Lydia says:

    I couldn’t agree more! My profession is actually as a hospice social worker so I can tell you from personal experience that the stuff does not matter. And the people who are more resentful and angry at the end of their lives are the ones who lived it with the “stuff” mentality – especially those who waited to live and enjoy their life until retirement but did not live that long. I think they feel cheated because they espoused to this mainstream ideology to only learn too late that it is a lie. Living with intention and focusing on meaningful experiences and relationships are the ingredients to a joyful life… in my opinion at least.

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      So great to get perspective from someone like you! Sad to think of people resentful and angry like that, yet I could see it happening. I’ve had weeks of work as an engineer (and my current profession…been awhile, luckily) where I couldn’t see doing it for another week, let alone the rest of my life.

      Props to you for living with intention and focusing on the good stuff in life. Life with no regrets!

  4. jlcollinsnh
    jlcollinsnh says:

    Thanks for bring this commercial to my attention, Dakota. Somehow I missed it.

    What is remarkable to me is that evidently the trend to want/need less stuff has grown to the point it has come to Cadillac’s attention. More remarkable still, they feel the need to address it.

    Maybe the trend to simplicity has gained more traction over the decades than I had noticed?

    In any event, stopping off at the cafe while walking home and taking the summer off works for me. 🙂

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Perhaps you missed it because T.V. is a waste of time? 🙂

      I really like your viewpoint that simplicity and down/right sizing have become such a movement that advertisers have to not just sell things, but openly criticize those doing something different. We can own nice things and not hate the French! I certainly operate in a bubble most of the time where it seems like most people I interact with are on the same page as me, but I hope the “movement,” if you will, is spreading.

      Thanks for the great insight.

  5. Wayward P
    Wayward P says:

    AND! Working hard & being successful isn’t in opposition to vacations or leisure. Being happy, turns out, makes you more successful. A relaxed brain is a good brain. Bill Gates specifically takes multiple “think-weeks” each year and this is in addition to any vacation. I also deeply dislike the emphasis on more stuff and implication that stuff makes you happy ‘ cause as it turns out stuff has a better chance of making you less, not more, happy. Argh! Thank you for ranting though 🙂

  6. Wayward P
    Wayward P says:

    Gretchen Rubin writes a lot about happiness and I’ve read the first part of her book The Happiness Project. Her more recent book, Happier at Home, has a chapter on Possessions that you can read here:

    I haven’t gotten through the whole excerpt yet but she takes a very close look at possessions and talks through how possessions and money can contribute to happiness when chosen/used wisely. She is a very thoughtful writer and handles the nuances of the issues nicely.

    I cherish simplifying and getting rid of clutter but I also very very very much miss the boxes of college textbooks and high school/college photos that were stolen at one point from the back of a friend’s car.

    Let me know if you get a chance to read it and what you think if you do!

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Thanks for the great comment! I enjoyed The Happiness Project. Haven’t read Happier at Home…perhaps that isn’t very fitting given our current trip? 🙂

      I’m totally with Gretchen on how carefully curated possessions add to quality of life. We do that with bikes, our van, our house, our Vitamix, travel, nice jackets that let us get outside when it’s nasty out…and then we keep those things forever! No use suffering using sub-par equipment for activities we do all the time!

      I am pretty sure you guys do the same with your possessions. Keep high-quality equipment around that inspires you to use it, rather than junk that sits abandoned in some corner of the garage because it’s sub-standard.

      For yearbooks and stuff like that, I tend to be extremist and don’t keep any of it. I like photos and take a lot of them, but have realized I may as well just keep 20-30 per month since I rarely look back. More of a “this moment forward” kind of person I guess. Chelsea helps balance that out, in a good way.

      Thanks for the thoughts!

  7. Sam
    Sam says:

    I saw it too during the Olympics. I was stunned. I was sure there was going to be some message about enjoying life, whilst still being mindful. Between that garbage and the commercial for the Captain America movie showing footage of lame ass actors indespersed with real athletes and I instantly think “gosh, those actors are just like those athletes who train at their sport for 10000 hours+ whilst not getting paid. I absolutely must watch that movie when it comes out – 2 MONTHS FROM NOW! Go Captain America!” Shameful. Almost as crass as the Ralph Lauren outfits those poor Olympians have to parade around in.

    On a separate note, hope you’re still enjoying the Cali weather 🙂

  8. Johnny B.
    Johnny B. says:

    I’m glad I spent most of the Super Bowl time working in the garage! Also glad you pointed this ad out and put it in a better perspective. This guy isn’t too different from a certain former boss of ours who thinks you’re lazy for not jumping into the hamster wheel. Screw the hamster wheel! You’re forging a better, more rewarding path and inspiring others to do the same.

  9. Jim Thomsen
    Jim Thomsen says:

    You did a good job on all the points, but I want to focus on the “month off” part. I have run good size companies in the USA and in Europe. In the USA people seldom took off even 2 weeks in a row. While they were gone we sort of let things wait until they returned. No problem. But in Europe it was very common for important managers to take off 3-4 weeks. Completely. No call in. No email. They were on holiday. So we had to have others take over their jobs. This created a group of trained employees that made filling jobs internally and promoting people easier. So, I believe, from a pure business point of view the long vacations are not only good for the employees but great for the company

  10. Dakota
    Dakota says:

    Now that’s an intriguing perspective! I’ve always hated the dynamic for US vacations because it seems like it generates MORE work and stress than just staying at work. Took me a long time to figure out how to avoid that, and it still is a pain to turn it entirely off, even if we’re traveling as I work. Perfect example of trusting people to get things done. They usually will if you give them the reigns to accomplish something. Thanks for the input.

  11. Wayne W Walls
    Wayne W Walls says:

    The link to the video is pointing at a missing file. I still really enjoyed what you had to say about the video. I get the gist of what it was. It is frustrating to think they would convince people that they should work more hours doing something that doesn’t bring them joy just to afford a more expensive car. That is a foolish decision. I am glad people are instead choosing to form b-corps and non-profits.


    Wayne Walls
    Wayne W Walls recently posted…Aesop Rock ReviewMy Profile


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