The first time I saw the commercial I laughed a little. Well, I did not laugh out loud, but I did chuckle on the inside. At first glance, the commercial appeared cute. Frankly, it would be difficult for a commercial featuring an elementary school-aged boy with shaggy blond hair not to be cute. Where Toyota messed up was in airing the commercial of their Highlander too many times in one ballgame. Before Monday Night Football was over, I had seen it four times. By the fourth time, I was no longer chuckling on the inside.
Four times I had heard the cute little elementary school-aged boy explain that in spite of his low tolerance for “dorkiness” his parents insist on transporting him in a vehicle that screams “geek.” Four times I watched him climb into the neighbor’s Toyota Highlander, after which he pointed out to his audience that just because you are a parent, does not mean that you have to be lame. You get the picture. If your parents will or can not buy a Toyota Highlander, then they are lame, dorky, geeks.
I have seen an untold number of commercials in my lifetime. Why did this hit me the wrong way? Maybe it was because our church had just completed our Family Promise host week. This is a ministry that networks local congregations together to provide shelter for homeless families. We hosted three families, each with their own stories of how difficult it can be to keep a family together. When I looked at the parents in those three families, I did not see dorky, lame, geeks, but parents who were working and hoping as hard as they knew how that they would be able to take care of their children. I saw parents who were facing challenges head on and in need of assistance, not a manipulative commercial designed to make them feel worse than they already did.
In fact, when I see parents doing what they have to do to keep their families together, I don’t see lame, dorky, geeks. I see heroes. What the cute little boy in the commercial may not be aware of is that not all parents provide for their children. For the almost half a million children in the United States who live in foster homes, whatever vehicle their parents could provide for the family would be inconsequential compared to the immense satisfaction of being able to be with parents who are doing their best to be good parents.
What is glaringly absent from this commercial is civility and gratitude. The elementary school-aged boy walks out of a house, past a minivan, and at least one of his parents, without a hint of gratitude. He may not have a Toyota Highlander, but neither does he have any appreciation for what he does have. While we might be surprised to hear words like lame, dorky, and geek from an elementary school-age boy, their use in this commercial takes on a sinister hue when we realize that they were put in his mouth and directed at his parents by the advertising department of a multinational corporation that usually tries to portray itself as responsible. Responsible adults should not have to resort to such childish language to sell their products.
The bottom line is that cars don’t make families; time spent together does. Lots of time spent together on special days, and on ordinary days, make families. In cars and out of them, at home and at parks, families become stronger and richer when parents invest themselves in their children. That may sound lame, geeky or dorky, but that is what it takes to build strong families.
What I don’t understand is why does Toyota need this sort of manipulative and demeaning advertising? They make great vehicles that last forever and have great resale value. Why isn’t that enough to sell their product?