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.