A mixed message

By Teresa Tomeo
Eye on Culture

One of the big auto insurance companies released an ad which was part of a major effort to promote safer driving. That’s a good thing. Given all the tragedies that occur while texting, talking and driving, many other businesses connected to the auto industry are also doing their part to get people to realize the dangers involved when we take our eyes off the road even for a split second.

But this ad, in particular, sends a mixed message.

The commercial at first makes the viewer feel somewhat warm and fuzzy. After all, it’s the image of an all-American family taking the important issue of road safety seriously. The dad is behind the driver’s seat with his wife next to him and his two adorable children are in the back seat. Everyone is also buckled in properly. It’s a lovely day and all is well because Dad is paying close attention to the road and his cell phone is nowhere to be found.

Soon, we see and hear Dad talking out loud to himself. He is bragging about all the savings the family is earning through their insurance company by practicing good habits behind the wheel. The point of course being, in addition to not risking life and limb by trying to do two things at once while driving, taking precautions pays off in other ways as well. We can all drive safely home now and live happily ever after.

Not so fast.

If you haven’t seen this commercial yet, you might be wondering why Dad is talking out loud to himself with his entire family only inches away. Well, this is where the mixed message is – a sad message indeed comes into view.

Dad has no one to hear him because everyone else is wearing headsets. Mom is listening to music on her phone. The children are also connected to electronics and appear to be watching a movie or playing a video game. Not one family member is engaged in conversation outside of Dad’s lonely mumbling.

They’re certainly “safe” in the physical sense of the word. But they’re also putting themselves in harm’s way emotionally and spiritually by being so obviously disconnected. And while the father appears to be extremely pleased with himself because the extra money earned has apparently helped him buy a new set of golf clubs, if you’re really listening, you can sense some frustration in his voice. He seems annoyed, insulted even, but not because he’s being ignored by his wife and two children. Instead, he is annoyed but because he can’t pick up his own favorite piece of technology.

Scenes like the one portrayed in this auto insurance commercial are not at all far-fetched. They’re a glimpse of real-life. The producers of the commercial are to be commended again, of course, for being concerned about a very serious problem that’s causing accidents as well as taking lives.

At the same time, I wonder if those producers realize the dual or mixed message they were sending by having the rest of that very attractive family oblivious to one another. Wouldn’t it have been even more effective to have everyone put down the phones and actually have a conversation? How about using that time in the car as some quality family time, catching up on the day and talking about events or activities on the horizon? What about Mom telling a story? Could it be that this didn’t even occur to the creators of the TV ad, because their own family time looks very similar to what was portrayed in the ad – everyone together, but alone, tied to technology instead of talking to each other?

Something to think about as just “wrapped up” the holiday season – the season that is supposed to be all about family, the Holy Family in particular, as well as our own families.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, Sirius Channel 130, and Channel 88.1 FM KFHC, Sioux City and KOIA, Storm Lake.

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