Showing posts with label television. Show all posts
Showing posts with label television. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hallmark’s V-Day slogan “I Love Us” was totally copied from (500) Days of Summer

This post originally appeared on my old “Joe Dellosa on Advertising” blog.

Developing story: Hallmark's Valentine's Day slogan, "I love us," appears to have been copied from the film (500) Days of Summer -- in fact, in the film, it's used by a greeting card writer in the context of writing greeting cards. Is it a coincidence or plagiarism?

Update on February 4, 2011 at 4:52 p.m.: Hallmark said via its Twitter account that Leo Burnett, the company's agency of record, is responsible for the "I love us" commercial. I've updated the story to reflect this.
The folks at Hallmark have unveiled their cute little slogan for this year's Valentine's Day: "Valentine's Day is for saying 'I love us.'" Here's their 2011 Valentine's Day commercial, which, according to a tweet from @HallmarkPR sent to me after I asked, was produced by the company's agency of record, the Chicago-based Leo Burnett:

Can't see the ad? Click here to watch it on YouTube.

As the voiceover says:

Valentine's Day is not for saying "I love you." It's for saying, "I love us." I love who we are together, how we've grown -- from our nervous conversations to the one we two have become. Valentine's Day is for taking the time to say, "I love us."

And here's a screenshot of their Valentine's Day promotional webpage:

Adorable stuff! Or, at least, it would be if Valentine's Day hadn't become a crassly artificial holiday that seeks to commodify our emotions and homogenize the way we express our love as a means to boost corporate profits, while fomenting awkward, hurtful feelings among couples and mopey misery among singles. (Why, yes, I am single this Valentine's Day, how'd you know?)

Anyway, I'll save my rantings about why Valentine's Day is Evil and Ruins Everything for another day, but for now, I'll say this about Hallmark's "I love us" campaign -- they totally stole that line from the movie (500) Days of Summer. Check out this screenshot from the movie:

(500) Days of Summer documents the failed relationship -- from start to finish, though not in that order -- between Tom Hansen (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (played by Zooey Deschanel). Tom's a hopeless romantic, Summer's a cynic about love, and they meet at the office where Tom works as a greeting card writer. Hijinks ensue (and by "hijinks," I mean "95 minutes of brutal relationship honesty").

About a quarter into those 500 days, when Tom and Summer's relationship is going swimmingly, Tom is filled with such giddy euphoria about Summer that he becomes a font of greeting card creativity. One of those bursts of creativity that's met with delight from his co-workers? "I love us."

Can't see the video? Click here to watch it on YouTube.
If the YouTube link isn't working, click here to watch it on Bing.

Okay, admittedly, "I love us" isn't exceptionally unique, and it's certainly possible that the ad team behind the slogan didn't pilfer it from the movie. But, c'mon -- (500) Days of Summer is an extremely well-regarded movie about a greeting card writer, and presumably, "folks who work for a sentimental greeting card company" is as about a perfect target audience for the film as I can imagine. I find it very, very hard to believe that nobody thought, "Hey, wait! 'I love us' and greeting cards -- sounds familiar!"

For what it's worth, if you Google search "I love us," a reference to the clip linked above is the third result.

And if anybody on the ad team had bothered to begin typing "I love us" into Google, they'd see Google eagerly suggesting (500) Days of Summer:

I should note that I'm far from the only person to make the (500) Days of Summer connection; searching for "hallmark 500" or "hallmark summer" on Twitter offers dozens of tweets using words like stole, rip-off, unoriginal, and swag jacker.

And as far as I can tell from searching, the first person to make the connection on Twitter was @createajess on Jan. 31. @aaronwill also said the campaign was "very original" #sarcastically on Jan. 31, but it's not clear if he was just saying so because of the movie or just in general.

Anyway, with real news happening, it's more amusing than scandalous, although Leo Burnett probably ought to be at least a little embarrassed that their creative integrity is being thrown into doubt with such a high-profile campaign. And besides, if Leo Burnett -- on behalf of a company like Hallmark whose name is often used pejoratively to refer to shallow, commercialized sentimentalism -- wants to steal from a movie, there are few better films from which to do so than a movie as honest and real as this one.

I sent an email to Hallmark through its media inquiry form asking for comment, but I haven't received a response yet. To the credit of whoever operates Hallmark's Twitter account, I received a reply a mere seven minutes after asking them via Twitter what ad agency did their commercial.

You can email me at or tweet me @JoeDellosa. And yes, this might be a sign that I've seen this movie way too many times.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Some of Allstate’s “Mayhem” ads are strangely sexist, misogynistic

This post originally appeared on my old “Joe Dellosa on Advertising” blog.

► Allstate is trying to step away from its more traditional advertising to be more “evocative” with its “Mayhem” ad campaign, but the insurance company produced a couple of commercials that are strangely contemptuous of young women.

Update on Sept. 29, 2010 at 4:21 PM: This article was republished on Jezebel today; apparently, a friend who said that she was going to email the link to Jezebel wasn't kidding. In any case, welcome to Jezebel readers! I'm enjoying reading all the comments, including the ones that disagree with the analysis (of which there's plenty).

Just one note: A commenter asked why I was using the phrase "typical teenage girl" when the "Pink SUV" ad doesn't say that; while the :30 spot doesn't use the phrase, the :15 spot does. (The :15 spot is linked within the article.)

Update on Oct. 17, 2010 at 6:30 PM: Allstate has released a new TV spot in its "Mayhem" ad campaign that mocks teenage boys. The commercial, "Lawn Game," was posted on Allstate's YouTube channel on Oct. 14. Please click here for my placeholder update while I work on posting a full follow-up.

In July, Allstate launched its “Mayhem” series of advertisements. Dean Winters, known for his role as Ryan O’Reilly on the HBO prison drama Oz, plays Mayhem, a sort of personification of all that can go wrong for a car owner— a “random windstorm” that causes a branch to fall onto your car, a “filthy rich executive” who sues you after he slams on his brakes and you rear-end him, and so on.

Can't see the ad? Click here to watch it on YouTube.

The message, as the disembodied voice of Dennis Haysbert tells us at the end of each commercial? Mayhem is supposedly everywhere and takes all different forms, and Allstate can protect you from mayhem.

They’re mildly amusing ads that probably wouldn’t register too strongly on anybody’s radar—except that, in two of the commercials (“Pink SUV” and “Jogger”), Allstate and its ad agency, the Chicago-based Leo Burnett, decided to take strangely mean-spirited, contemptuous swipes at young women. To put it plainly, the ads are misogynistic—or, at least, strikingly disrespectful of young women.

That a company treats women with disdain in its advertising isn’t particularly noteworthy; tons of commercials for beer and body sprays belong to the “women are stupid sluts with big breasts” school of copywriting. (And yes, it’s totally a safety school.) However, that a company as benign as Allstate, selling a product as insipid as car insurance, feels comfortable taking cheap shots at young women in a national ad campaign suggests a normalization of sexism that is noteworthy. And it’s worth exploring—even for those who are, at this very moment, rolling their eyes and muttering about oversensitivity and the PC police.

 Pink SUVs and stereotypes

Here’s the first TV spot, “Pink SUV,” in which Mayhem is a “typical teenage girl” driving the titular pink SUV. See if you can spot all the teenage girl stereotypes!

Can't see the ad? Click here to watch it on YouTube.

Here are the ones I found:

  1. Girls are materialistic (pink SUV, pink sunglasses, shiny cell phone).
  2. Girls are chatterboxes who gossip all the time.
  3. Girls can’t concentrate on driving and will text while behind the wheel.
  4. Girls’ conversations are stupid and vapid.
  5. Girls bastardize the English language with their dumb slang (“BFF,” “OMG”).
  6. Girls have no loyalty to each other (Becky kissed Mayhem’s crush).
  7. Girls are easily “emotionally compromised.”
  8. Girls hate other girls (“OMG, Becky’s not even hot”), and their friendships with each other are shallow and transient.
  9. Girls can’t drive and will hit parked cars.
  10. Girls have no sense of responsibility or ethics and have no qualms about hitting and running.

Allstate is particularly proud of this spot. On the official Facebook fan page for Mayhem, Allstate notes that Mayhem is, emphasis mine, “everything from a moody teenage girl to a wild deer out chewing on leaves.”

I’m not interested in debating whether or not these stereotypes are true, mostly because it’s pointless to try to prove or disprove stereotypes. Stereotypes are stereotypes usually because they happened to ring true to some people, and I don’t deny that there are some girls who do hate other girls or drive poorly.

But nobody who’s not a jackass would seriously assert that every single girl in the world is materialistic, gossipy, or awful at driving (unless you’ve met every single girl in the world, you wouldn’t know), so usually anecdotal evidence is trotted out to “prove” that these stereotypes are true for “most” girls—in other words, evidence in the form of, “Every girl I know is x, so while I’m not saying all girls are x, you have to admit, it’s the norm.” But if you take that seriously (and let’s be honest—even if we don’t admit it, we all tend to weigh our own anecdotal evidence heavily in our minds), there are two problems.

First, there’s sampling bias—bias that occurs when the people on which you’re basing your conclusions about a group aren’t representative of that group. If you’re the sort of person who’s inclined to believe that all girls are materialistic, you’re more likely—consciously or unconsciously—to be drawn to girls who are materialistic. People are drawn to those who prove their assumptions correct, after all; dealing with challenges to one’s assumptions can be taxing.

And second, there’s confirmation bias—selectively looking at evidence that proves our beliefs, while ignoring evidence that doesn’t. In other words, if you’re inclined to believe that girls are bad drivers, you’ll remember every time a girl nearly hits you, but you’ll ignore all the times a guy nearly hit you—or, at the very least, not hold it against guys in general. Although I’m hesitant to cite the webcomic xkcd (which has its own issues), this strip, titled “How It Works,” is particularly illustrative:

Again, I’m not saying that there isn’t a single girl who’s a bad driver or materialistic or easily emotionally compromised; indeed, I’ve known girls who are all those things. But I’ve known guys who are all those things, too, and so have most people.

I asked Raleigh Floyd, a spokesman for Allstate, about the stereotypes used in the Pink SUV ad. He said that he couldn’t comment specifically on the stereotypes being used because he wasn’t on the creative team, but he defended using stereotypes in general.

“I know that, for the majority for the campaign as a whole, the goal was to portray scenarios that the viewing public would recognize,” Floyd said. “And to some extent, that would rely on some stereotypes, perhaps, or else how else do they recognize them?”

How else? Probably with copywriting that isn’t lazy and doesn’t needlessly marginalize an entire group of people with well-worn clich├ęs that help justify disrespect and contempt towards them. But sure, if you’re going for a cheap laugh and you can’t be bothered to do your job well, by all means, do the whole “pick on girls” thing.

(I called and emailed Leo Burnett several times to try to arrange an interview with someone at the agency about the campaign. The calls went unreturned, and after being sent some friendly yet ultimately unhelpful emails, I stopped getting responses.)

 Acceptable targets

The truth is, young women—and particularly teenage girls—are more or less “acceptable targets” in our culture and particularly in advertising. That is to say, you can pick on teenage girls and mock them in a way that doesn’t register the same instant, universal disapproval as mocking most other groups.

For example, could Allstate run an ad with Mayhem saying he’s a “typical black driver” who gets distracted by someone selling fried chicken and watermelons? Or an ad in which Mayhem is a “typical Asian driver” who is congenitally incapable of operating a car? Absolutely not—the ads would be correctly labeled as racist, and Allstate would fear blowback from consumers.

And yet, Allstate doesn’t fear blowback when it takes a shot at young women. Why? Ostensibly because it’s culturally okay to mock them. (You might be tempted to argue that Allstate wouldn’t fear blowback from mocking men, but that’s an apples-to-oranges argument. Men haven’t faced the same historical discrimination as women, and men have more institutional power and influence in our culture than women.)

I know this is sounding dangerously close to White Knighting, but it’s not. (At least, I don’t think it is, though you’re more than welcome to call me out if you disagree.) I don’t think girls or women are fragile little flowers that need perpetual care and rescuing, and they’re fully capable of taking care of themselves.

But consider this: What does being a “typical teenage boy” mean? Only one negative stereotype—horniness—comes to mind, right? And it’s not even that negative; there’s a sort of an “atta boy!” playfulness implied. But a whole range of criticisms—shallow, stupid, petty, emotional—spring up when you think of a “typical teenage girl.”

When girls are told, over and over again (in real life, in the media), that being a “typical teenage girl” means being shallow, stupid, petty, and emotional, what does that do to a girl’s self-respect? How does that affect how society treats girls? How does that affect how girls treat themselves? There’s something messed up about telling girls that they’re supposed to be bitchy, and then complaining when you run into bitchy girls.

In the Mayhem ad campaign, Mayhem personifies either non-humans (a poorly-secured satellite disha wild deer) or narrowly-defined, absurdist caricatures (a rich CEOa navigationally-challenged fourth-string quarterback). But “young women” aren’t non-humans, nor are they narrowly-defined as a group. Allstate is then saying, without any qualification, that women, by virtue of their inherent womanness, are mayhem when they’re near a car.

Raleigh Floyd said Allstate has received feedback about sexism in the ads but wouldn’t comment as to whether or not Allstate is planning to pull the ads. When I asked Floyd if he thought the concerns over sexism in the ads were reasonable, he said, “I don’t think it’s the company’s place to decide whether someone else’s opinion is reasonable or not”—which, by the way, isn’t a we disagree, but they’re reasonable, or at least a yes, we understand the concerns.

“I think the bigger point here is, while we are certainly trying to evoke, we aren’t trying to offend,” Floyd said. But regardless of whether or not Allstate was trying to offend, did they seriously not see how people might view this as pretty messed up?

(By the way, I’ve heard kind of a half-assed defense of the ad in the form of, “They’re not making fun of all teenage girls, just the shallow ones.” First of all, no—the ad clearly says “teenage girl” with no caveats. Second, I doubt “They’re not making fun of all Asians, just the ones that can’t drive” would be a legitimate excuse. But maybe most importantly, girls should be allowed to like so-called girly things—the color pink, boys, BFFs—without being dismissed out of hand, and without having to feel the onus of “defending your sex” on their shoulders.)

 No body’s perfect

Here’s the other TV spot, “Jogger,”  in which Mayhem is “a hot babe out jogging.”

Can't see the ad? Click here to watch it on YouTube.

Mayhem, decked out in pink once again, says she’s jogging to “make sure this”—pointing to her body—“stays a ten.”A guy drives by and is so distracted by the jogger that he crashes into a lamppost.

First, nice touch implying the only reason young women go out jogging is to make sure she can maintain a hot body. Could she be jogging for her health? Or maybe she wants to stay in shape because she’s into sports? Nah—it must be because she’s vain.

But more importantly, why is the jogger “mayhem” in this case? Isn’t the real “mayhem” the guy who’s so easily distracted and so creepy that he leers at a woman long enough to crash into a lamppost? It would seem that that ad isn’t just more logical; the copy practically writes itself (“I’m a desperate teenage boy who gets off on spandex,” Dean Winters could snarl). But no, for whatever reason, Allstate and Leo Burnett went out of its way to, once again, make a young woman at fault for causing an accident.

Or more precisely, in this ad, it’s the young woman’s body that’s at fault. It’s actually an interesting switch-up; usually in advertising, young women are told that they should feel bad for not having an attractive body. In this ad, young women should feel bad for having a body that’s too attractive—look too hot and you cause accidents, and some poor innocent guy’s cut-rate insurance won’t cover it. In conclusion, all young women should be ashamed of their bodies. Or something.

What’s even more disconcerting about the ad is that it stealthily (and, giving Allstate and Leo Burnett the benefit of the doubt, unintentionally) perpetuates the idea that women should be instinctively blamed for bad things happening because of how they’re dressed. After all, implied in the ad is the idea of, “It’s not my fault, look at what she’s wearing!”—an excuse that’s been used to justify all manner of sexual harassment and assault.

 Why this matters

I’m not saying Allstate is singlehandedly making the world a harder place for young women, or that the company is some sort of champion of misogyny. Indeed, sexism is a complicated problem with countless factors at play. But these ads for Allstate aren’t helping.

And the fact that they’re coming from Allstate isn’t helping, either. As mentioned earlier, you sort of expect this from ads for beer or body sprays, and it’s received accordingly—oh, it’s coming from Axe or Miller Light, of course they’re being asses. It’s not that it’s okay when it comes from Axe or Miller Light; it’s just that it’s understood that their advertising shouldn’t be interpreted as an indication of what’s acceptable.

Allstate, on the other hand, is an insurance company. Car insurance is boring, Allstate isn’t edgy, and this is more or less a general audience campaign. Accordingly, when Allstate says that young women are dumb and vain in an ad campaign, it carries a lot more weight in terms of indicating what reflects mainstream thought. It’s the difference between Maxim magazine running a cover that says “Slutty girls are great!,” and People magazine running it.

Raleigh Floyd said that the Mayhem campaign was intended to try to reach specifically young adults, aged 25 to 34. Considering that everybody needs car insurance, it’s a strange strategy to run ads that mock such a broad group (young women), especially when that group is a part of your target demographic.

And the weird thing is, it’s not as if Allstate is a company that’s known for sexism. The company’s charitable arm, the Allstate Foundation, even has a domestic violence program among its core concerns. How can a company that demonstrably cares about domestic violence—a problem that stems in part from a heinously warped view of women—run ads that help warp views towards women? (I’m not saying that seeing an ad that makes fun of a teenage girl will indisputably lead to domestic violence; that’s ridiculous. Again, though—it doesn’t really help either.)

This criticism isn’t unique; indeed, several feminist blogs have criticized Allstate for the ads, and rightfully so. The ads are lazy, cheap shots that join countless more lazy, cheap shots. It’s not healthy for girls and women to be constant targets for this stuff, and it’s not healthy for us as a society to be okay with it. Allstate and Leo Burnett should be embarrassed.

 About your writer

Feministy critiques of advertising seem to invite questions about the author’s intentions, so I’ll be upfront with you all, and you can decide for yourself. You can skip this if you don’t care.

I’m a straight guy (and pro-LGBT rights). I consider myself a feminist (though I don’t make a habit of loudly announcing it because doing so is reminiscent of the guys who minor in Women’s Studies in a ill-conceived attempt to get laid). I think of myself as a feminist of the “feminism is the radical notion that women are people” mold; accordingly, I don’t think that women are more special, enlightened, or otherwise better than men (although that’s kind of a straw man, because I don’t know any feminist, male or female, who does). A pessimist might frame this as “women are just as bad as men”-style feminism.

I think girls’ and women’s body images, intelligence, and worth are specifically and pervasively questioned and attacked in the media (and particularly advertising), and I think that has to have some sort of cumulative effect. Thus, it’s worth calling out whenever it happens. On the other hand, one of my favorite movies is (500) Days of Summer, which I’ve heard totally blows my feminist cred. I also love Juno, but I don’t know what that does with said cred. (Though my friends have said I love Juno because I think “Ellen Page is hot,” which, well yeah, but it’s a good movie and she’s talented, damn it.)

Also, hypocrisy alert: I arguably used a teenage girl stereotype in this op-ed I wrote for my college paper last June with the line about BFF charm bracelets. Oops.

So there you go—feel free to write in with accusations of White Knighting or oversensitivity or faux feminism, or if you think I have bad taste in movies. Other comments are welcome, too.

You can email me at And for what it’s worth, I minored in education, so there.