Saturday, May 12, 2007

United Airlines, the means-end chain, and theory of mind

My all time favorite advertisement is the United Airlines black-and-white cartoon ad featuring a man flying out for a job interview, leaving behind his dog while he goes. It has been posted on Youtube at . (A close second is the Wausau Insurance ad featuring Fred Fox, the very concise "world renowned expert on efficiency and effectiveness.")

The United Ad is illustrative of important issues for both marketing and autism. It is interesting how these illustrations are related.

In terms of marketing, this is the strongest illustration I have seen yet of the means-end chain. It is made clear that the passenger flies not for the purpose of flying, but rather to get to a destination to undertake activities. This illustrated in the closing comment: "Where you go in life is up to you. There is one airline that can take you there: United."

In terms of autism, this is a splendid illustration of the idea of theory of mind. People on the autism spectrum often have difficulty relating to what other people are thinking, and sometimes even to the idea that others have ideas and thoughts different from one's own. In this ad, we trace a man's experience with some interesting cues to his thoughts and feelings. The only spoken words are the closing comment mentioned above. It is apparent, however, that the man is quite overwhelmed with the large building in which his job interview takes place. It appears that he is asked tough questions in the interview. On the way down from the elevator, the man clearly looks exhausted, dejected, and unoptimistic. As he walks on the street, however, the man's cell phone suddenly rings. Seeing the man's jump with joy, it appears he got the job.


mcewen said...

Hi. Interesting piece. I checked your profile and I'm intrigued as to why your are interested [?] in the subject of Autism? [not that it's any of my business of course] I wasn't aware that people are familiar with the Theory of Mind [one of my pet peeves].
Best wishes

ima442 said...

It's funny how advertising works. It can sometimes backfire, as well--- and sometimes in a most funny way. There is this commercial on TV where this man is dressed up as a giant "zero", but the zero is white so it looks as if he's wrapped in a giant roll of toilet paper. I found this to be funny, but I had ( and still don't, really) no clue as to what was the product being sold. All i could see was a man in a roll of toilet paper that was supposed to be a zero. It might have been a cell phone or a car commercial. Or not.

polipe said...

That is, as you note, an excellent example of relying on inferences about mental life to convey a message. Thanks for pointing it out.

Lars Perner, Ph.D. said...

For information on the origin of my interest in autism, please see .