By Thomas Neuburger
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 me. 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 meaning, depending on whether the sound is on or not, and depending on whether your soundless listen is your first.
Experiencing This Ad
First, let’s listen with the sound on mute. 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.
As you watch just the images roll by, what goes through your mind? How to you find yourself describing what’s in front of you? (My answers are at the bottom of this piece.)
Have you absorbed it, the experience? Have you processed what you’re watching?
1. What is Chevron telling you with these images (assuming the ad is indeed a Chevron ad)?
2. What is Chevron inadvertently telling you with these same images?
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 when it broadcasts ads like these?
It couldn’t have been more obvious, at least to me. My first time through the ad, I assumed it was Chevron propaganda. With the sound turned down, I immediately got this message:
“Linger and look at what our greed destroys: 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 all this. We are monsters. After a certain point, after we’re dead, your children will never experience these things again. But thanks for the cash. Thanks for enriching our kids; they're are happy to have it.”
And then, after listening again with the sound turned up, the ad let me down. It’s a very different experience than the soundless ad — almost too on the nose, at least for me. And an almost less powerful feeling afterward than the boiling aboriginal rage that rose in my brain as I watched the silent version.
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. Deadly. And the worst of it is, their ads almost always work.
Until they don’t, and there’s a reckoning.