Finding Truth in Advertising

 Most of the books I have loved best have evoked a strong emotional response from me. I have cried, felt triumphant or despondent, but never indifferent. Those are the books that stay with me. To Kill a Mockingbird, Mystic River, Angela’s Ashes and so many more. As a writer, I long to create that emotional connection with a reader. But how?            I’ve started a silly little experiment, which will require that I confess what an emotional SAP I am. I adore good romantic comedies and am fanatic about Cinderella stories. I’ve noticed since I stopped teaching evening classes and watch more television that I occasionally react emotionally to commercials. Yes, I know they’re contrived. I am the daughter of a man who worked in television advertising. I am still not immune to the ploys of Mad Men.            Take the Sebastian Gets Into College McDonald’s commercial. I’m smart enough to know how phony it is and have read the scathing criticism about McDonald’s corporate practices and horrible food, neither of which McDonald’s college scholarship program fully mitigates. I can understand why people may think it is a racial insult to see a young African American male bring his college acceptance letter to his white boss. But there is something very appealing to me in Sebastian’s expression when his boss reads the letter aloud to his burger-flipping colleagues who shout with joy for him. The look on Sebastian’s face vacillates between joy and apprehension. I may not be inspired to run out and buy a Big Mac, but the commercial reaches a level in me that wants to see underprivileged young people succeed and be encouraged by a community of workers. I want to live in a world where we have a sense of community and celebrate Sebastian on the brink of a new world that will also celebrate and welcome him. You go, Sebastian!            The TD Ameritrade commercials are harder to explain. They feature a man with a beard and glasses conversing with everyday folks about their lives and finances in a room with a very green couch and green walls.  In one ad, the bearded man learns his client would like to run with the bulls. These ads have inspired some viewers to want to punch the guy-in-the beard. But I am as captivated as I am confounded by how they draw me in. I like that a professional trained to give financial advice cares about the lives of the people whose money he is trying to manage. I guess I’m looking for a world where someone can make a living without compromising principles. The guy-in-the-beard seems honest and earnest. I like that. I’ve become aware that his voice is soothing and that the room where he has these conversations is tranquil and green. It reminds the writer in me that you can’t underestimate the value of tone and the impact of setting.            I’m entertained by many of the Subaru ads, particularly the one where the dogs driving a Subaru have it washed by a team of other dogs. But the one that reaches me most on an emotional level is the one where Grandma tells Grandpa to have fun as he sets off in his ancient Subaru for a fishing trip, while his grandson is on a parallel road trip in his new Crosstrek. Their paths converge at the ocean as they head into the water with their surfboards and Grandson conspiratorially gets Grandpa to admit Grandma thinks he’s gone fishing. It’s a sweet moment that bridges generations and celebrates family. I already own a Subaru or I might go out and buy one.  I picture Grandma, who left home in her own Subaru shortly after she got rid of Grandpa. She’s heading for the mountains where she’s going rock climbing. Don’t worry, she’ll be back before Grandpa ever knows.            Inexplicably, each of these commercials seemed to have unlocked a longing in me. That’s what I’m looking to do for my readers.            Do ads ever reach you at an emotional level? What can you learn from those that do?  

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