Tuesday, March 15, 2016


"You really overthink this stuff"

So DirecTV has an ad campaign out now trying to get people to swap over to their product.  The idea behind this is that people who don't get DirecTV are settling for less - that their product is so superior to cable that anyone who doesn't take it "settles."
So, they have this family who are "settlers" that have cable.  And the ad company has them dressed and living like pioneers in some old frontier land, wearing home spun clothes, etc.  Now, putting aside the bizarre incongruity of someone having electricity and technology only for their television, because ha, ha, its for comedic effect, this ad is very interesting to me, because it is a statement on modern culture.
Let me explain.  The "Settlers" only settle on their television choice, not any other aspect of their life.  In one ad, a neighbor brings their son home from visiting, and says that he sure loves their superior DirecTV (a claim I dispute) over cable.
Except, look at how the family is.  They "only" have cable TV, but have fresh milk from a cow, can make their own clothing, and have their own meat they salted away for storage instead of from a store.  In another ad, it features a woman who killed a grizzly bear on her own and made slippers out of the thing.  Another ad mentions the son churning butter, and he's not just able, he's willing and polite about it.
There's only one ad that makes their life seem poorer, and that's the one that has the children happy with and enjoying very simple toys (a doll, a hoop and a stick).
Interestingly, the comparison is between a self-sufficient, happy, capable, strong family... and one with wireless TV.  The one with a purportedly superior entertainment option is considered and portrayed as the better family.
This ad campaign is winning awards and getting lots of Youtube accolades, although I doubt may people are being convinced to get DirecTV.  But it doesn't really say what they're trying to say.  If you're 15 and hate having to go mow the lawn when you'd rather watch TV, it probably hits you right in the feels but for people who actually own homes and will be paying for this?  I'm not sure its very potent.
But perhaps it is.  This is where we are as a culture: what gives you superior entertainment and satisfaction or pleasure is considered the superior choice.  By all objective standards the "settlers" are far better off and capable than the family next door.  But my modern standards the winner is the one who works less, enjoys more, has greater pleasure, comfort, and personal ease than the neighbor.
So you have a cultural statement here: accomplishment vs ease, ability vs comfort, skill vs pleasure.  The "settlers" are seen as the poorer and worse in this comparison because they have inferior entertainment.  And someone thought this was so universal and so plainly shared by the culture that it would not just succeed in selling products, but be appreciated and enjoyed by all.
Another way of putting this is that the settlers are the makers.  They create, craft, and build.  Their home, their clothes, their food, their entertainment, all made by themselves from what they can manage to capture, gather, find, and buy.
The other neighbor is a taker: all he does is consume the entertainment delivered to him.  He's baffled and dismayed by the settlers and their creativity.  He takes what is done by others, and is portrayed as superior for it.
Am I taking this too far?  Well the creators of the ad didn't mean to say any of this, that wasn't their goal.  They just thought it would be funny to go to an EXTREME!!!! with the idea of someone who settles for cable instead of taking advantage of the purportedly superior dish.  I'm just taking the portrayal and its unexamined assumptions and noting something about society.
Not all that long ago, people would have viewed the settlers as objectively more laudable and respectable for their skills, abilities, and attitude.  Now they're a running joke.  And I think that says something significant about our culture.


JoelAT said...

I was one of the original DirecTV subscribers, still have the dish on my roof, but as the neighborhood grew, the trees in the area gained in height and girth, my signal dropped continuously, there were parts of the year we had zero reception at all. Cable is always on (barring very short outages).

Zesko said...

Perhaps most importantly, if you think about it, "The Settlers" could survive and thrive in the event that our fragile electronic infrastructure collapsed, while the helpless DirecTV customers would likely starve to death in a matter of weeks. I think that DirecTV is starting to realize that this campaign is sending just the opposite of the intended message, in that the self-sufficient "Settlers" are becoming minor celebrities, while the DirecTV customers portrayed in the commercials are entirely forgettable. I wouldn't be surprised if DirecTV revamps this campaign to make "The Settlers" more profoundly negative. Which will be a mistake, in my opinion.