Yves here. While Adam McKay and Tom Neuburger have a strong case that the Chevron ad they lambaste amounts to extreme and offensive psychological greenwashing (associating the oil major with green fields, babies, pristine nature scenes), it’s not as if only slightly milder versions aren’t a staple of American commercials. My mother had an appetite for “old people” TV. That demographic is too down market to attract fossil fuel behemoth ads. However, the drug company pitches are close to saturation level. They always have good looking people, definitely not fashion model but character-actor-level attractive. And they are all happy. Some giddily happy, even as the narrator reads out side effects like convulsive muscle movements (“which may be permanent”), increased risk of stroke, and death.
By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies
Today’s piece is more exercise than explanation.
I’d like you to take a quick journey with me. I’d like to see if what’s true for me is also true for you. If it is, I think you’ll be as surprised as I was at how striking the realization is.
The exercise goes like this. We’re going to play the video below twice — once without sound, and once with sound. You’ll find the commercial has two separate meanings, depending on whether the sound is on or not, and depending on whether your soundless listen is your first.
Experiencing The Ad in Two Ways
I encountered the ad embedded in the following tweet from Adam McKay, and I took it to be, as he tells us below, a feel-good ad for Chevron.
First, watch with the sound on mute. As the images roll by your eyes, what goes through your mind? How would you describe what you see? (My answers are at the bottom of this piece.)
Has anyone seen this Chevron commercial? pic.twitter.com/o1nkIf0qOS
— Adam McKay (@GhostPanther) September 29, 2022
In particular, ask these questions:
1. Assuming the ad is from Chevron (which you would do the first time through), what are they trying to say explicitly with these images?
2. Assuming the ad is from Chevron, what are they inadvertently telling you?
Now watch with the sound turned on. Since you’ve already seen the text at the end of the ad, you know the twist. But you also know the images. As you it watch again, ask:
- Does the voice-over connect with the images displayed?
- Is the voice-over effective?
Are you finished? My answers from listening in silent mode:
1. What is Chevron openly telling me when it broadcasts ads like these?
Answer: “Look at these beautiful shots of your wonderful world. We’re wonderful too, we caring Chevron people. We’re helping preserve your world, so you can be happy.”
2. What is Chevron inadvertently telling me through ads like these?
It couldn’t have been more obvious, at least to me. I assumed on first listen that this was Chevron propaganda, and this is the message I got:
“Linger and look at the world we’re taking away: Balloons in a happy sky. The bee-filled air. Wind on a young girl’s face as she swings in a yard. A dad who loves her, in a world that cares.
“Say goodbye to it all. We are monsters. After a certain point, after our chief executives are dead, your children will never experience these things again. But thanks for the cash; our own kids will need it to keep your kids in line.”
And then, after listening again with the sound turned up, the ad let me down. It’s a very different experience than the soundless version — almost too on- the-nose — with a less powerful aftermath than the aboriginal rage I felt as I watched the first time.
I was struck, though, by this section of spoken word (emphasis added):
We at Chevron … have billions and billions of dollars to pay for this commercial time. This cheesy footage. And this bullshit music. All so you’ll be lulled into a catatonic state that makes you forget one singular fact. Chevron is actively murdering you. Every day.
They got that right. The modern ad and PR industry is an evil thing: self-righteous, self-deceptive, manipulative. Pathological and deadly. And the worst of it is, their ads almost always work.
Until they don’t and there’s a reckoning.