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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Over-analyzing the Guinness Commercial

I’ve seen numerous Facebook posts praising the Guinness commercial showing a bunch of guys playing wheelchair basketball. Seemingly sad music (my opinion) plays over an obviously competitive game, with at least a couple guys tumbling to the floor. A monotone voice says, “Dedication. Loyalty. Friendship. The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.” Toward the end of the ad all but one guy is revealed to be able-bodied as the rest simply get out of the chairs they were using and leave the gym with the other guy who continues to use the wheelchair. A couple of the players are heard saying, “Gettin’ better at this,” and “Next week, buddy.” The commercial ends with them all sharing a beer together at a bar.

Ok, nice advertisement. In fact, I would put it in the close-to-great category. I’m not sure it comes anywhere near the level of having people “utterly captivated” that the Huffington Post placed on it, but no doubt many people do buy into their suggestion that it offers “some serious heartstring-pulling at the end.

I liked the ad the first time I saw it, and thought it offered a positive message. A bunch of friends find a way to compete with a member of their group who happens to have a disability. The music was a bit dramatic, and I winced just a little at the “buddy” reference, but I fully admit that response may be nitpicking. I have a friend who uses “buddy” all the time with all of his friends, not just me, and, obviously, so do many people. I’ve probably just had a few too many people I just met want to be overly friendly and call me “buddy.”

That said, the response to the ad puzzles me a bit. I’ve seen at least two women, both involved in competitive adaptive sports, post the commercial. Neither gushed, but they were certainly positive about the advertisement. I’m not sure what qualifies as a good showing on Twitter, but the ad seems to have gotten plenty of very positive feedback on the social media site.

I’m just not totally sure why. I mean, I like the ad, and I think it’s a step in the right direction as far as depicting disability on television (or anywhere else). I’m just surprised to see people going to the point of wanting to praise it on social media.

Of course, that’s not exactly a high standard. We’ve all seen people post the fact that they’re bored, eating a sandwich, and God knows what else. Unfortunately, we all know what else because they post it for all the world to see.

But most commercials don’t get posted by individuals on Twitter or Facebook. Perhaps that’s because most of them are unbelievably stupid. If I saw one more car commercial pretending to be a summer movie I was going to swear off TV forever. (OK, not really, but I was seriously considering not watching anything that I hadn’t DVR’d.) And someday someone will have to explain to me why it’s a good idea to depict people as completely stupid until they find some 50 dollar product that’s going to make life so much better. I always wonder if viewers are supposed to watch these ads and think, “Yep, I’m that dumb, I should get that!” Suggesting your potential customers are idiots wouldn’t seem like a good marketing technique.

Certainly, the Guinness commercial is a much smoother display of attempting to attract customers. The beer producer seems to want to tie their product to these guys who find a way to include their friend. There’s a sense of the noble in what they’re doing, according to the commercial.

And that’s where I wince just a little more. Inclusion is obviously a good thing in this context, and, sadly, it’s still far from the norm. But, noble? In fact, anyone paying too much attention to the ad would realize it’s not all that realistic. Unless these guys all work at a rehab, or at least one of them does, the odds are they don’t have easy access to a bunch of wheelchairs made for playing sports. They’re certainly not just getting up and leaving them behind until the next game. Again, that last point might be a nitpick, but when you have lived with the abundance of obstacles to actually participating in sports in the way this ad illustrates, you tend to notice such things.

Finally, I had one other thought the first time I watched this commercial. How come there’s only one guy with a disability in the game? In my experience it may actually be the most realistic part of the commercial that I’m over analyzing. It would be damn difficult for me to get together with just one other person with a disability that was similar to mine for a pick-up game of basketball. There are too many logistics involved to get into here. But clearly Guinness overlooked other potential obstacles to the game they depicted, so it shouldn’t have been too hard to show at least one other guy with an actual disability. A cynic might wonder if the lack of even one other guy with a disability suggests that people with disabilities have no interest in competing with each other; they might question whether the message is that it’s better to be participating with able-bodied players.

I’m really not trying to be a cynic here. This is just a blog post. It’s little more than me thinking aloud. Having recently self-published a book, my putting it in writing on a blog now seems far less substantial knowing that, unlike a book, it can be wiped away with a couple keystrokes. Not that I plan on hitting “delete” any time soon.

Overall, it’s a very good ad. It is a step in the right direction. But if it’s popularity really is based on pulling on the heartstrings and people essentially saying, “Aw, they let the disabled guy play,” it may not be as big of a step as many people seem to think. 

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