01/02/2014 01:49 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Exploiting Familial Ideals for a Car


Is anyone else more than a little crushed when images of gooey, familial perfection splash dazzlingly across the screen to a backdrop of dramatic music swelling to an emotional climax, only to have this scene culminate in an advertisement for the latest, greatest luxury vehicle?

These ads have left me brokenhearted enough times to where no commercial really moves me (as a cynical self-aware consumer, I can still be moved by powerful filmography, even when it comes to advertising). Who wants to become emotionally attached to a beautiful happy family, something seen so rarely in the "real world," only to find out it's all a ruse, a sale's pitch for something distinctly non-familial? Families travel together in cars, but that's about where it ends. Car commercials are not alone in exploiting the happy family for marketing purposes, but somehow they are the most disappointing and shameless.

No one is expected to believe the ruse, you say. It's just something we accept about our society. Or, perhaps, it's something more subliminal at work. I won't claim to understand the ins and outs of good marketing, but I know it doesn't feel good to be let down time and again by the powerful and overwhelming images of familial warmth and connectivity that are so painfully false.

First of all, we have the obvious fact that it's all a farce -- there's nothing sentimental and domestically traditional about purchasing a car. It's a transaction. The commercial features a haphazard team of good-looking actors each of whom likely comes from a home life as dysfunctional as any other. Why not instead dramatically highlight the car's optimal features? I can only imagine the awkward filming process: an assembly of actors awkwardly holding one another under the guise of tenderness for the express purpose of making a car look like something that can bring families together.

Unfortunately, no material item will ever be capable of bringing families together unless this item is literally shackles. Some of these poor child actors will likely suffer lives peppered with narcissism and drug abuse after having "peaked" so early in life.

This brings me to my next point: these commercials reinforce unrealistic expectations that are damaging to society. Gay marriage isn't ruining the institution of marriage -- unrealistic expectations are ruining the institution of marriage and always have. Marriages founded on the understanding that releases of oxytocin can carry you through anything under the sun have another thing coming. Commercials don't need to expound on the unfortunate realities of the experience of living, but I wonder to what extent these over-the-top advertisements actually sell cars (I'm assuming by this point they help a lot).

Unfortunately, no matter how many cars these ads sell, they're still bolstering unrealistic expectations about the average family and toying with our emotions in the process. Ironically, the let down is harder, more disillusioning and longer lasting when something is built up so much in the first place.