Monday, December 05, 2005

Amazing TV Commercial from the "Friendly" Skies

Normally, I am not one to praise United Airlines, but a recent TV commercial that this airline has released is quite amazing. Maybe this is more touching to a marketing professor than to most "normal" people, but this commercial is an excellent demonstration of the "means-end chain"--the idea that product attributes--and sometimes products themselves--are used as a means to an end rather than as an end goal.

In this predominantly black-and-white cartoon format--with color as needed--a man gets up in the morning and stuggles to select an appropriate tie. He then flies to a black city--presumably New York--enters a building, takes the escalator, and then notices that his shoes do not match. (This, again, probably strikes a more receptive cord with absent minded professors than it does with normal people). He then enters a conference room and hands over his resume. He goes through tough questioning, and and his disappointment is clear as he heads down the elevator. This is where the usually more upbeat Gershwin tunes turn melancholic. As the man walks the street, however, he receives a cell phone call and jumps for joy. On the flight back, the flight attendant walks the "friendly aisles" (my term--not the commercial's), but the man has now fallen into peaceful sleep with his top shirt button opened.

There is saying that humor can be explained but the amusement tends to die during the dissection. Perhaps it is with same with this kind of a touching story. It is almost a shame to "invade" this beautiful ad, but here are my comments. The ties, shoes, and the cell phone are all means to an end--as is the travel by implication. To this list of means to ends, we can also add less notable elements such as the elevator. It is clear that the event of the interview is an important one in the man's life and that the job appears to offer opportunities to advance toward the man's ultimate goals. Ironically, these are unspoken.

Given my interest in autism, it is interesting just how much this ad depends on empathy and theory of mind. If one did not understand what the job applicant was going through, the ad probably would not make much sense. It would definitely not be as captivating.

This post has made several allusions to "normal" people. It is interesting to note that the ad probably would make a considerable impression on this group, too. However, if most "normal" people do not find the ad as captivating as I do, this provides reassurance in my view that I really would not want to be normal.