Ford to Cadillac: There's Another America Out There

N'est-ce pas?

Remember this guy?

Let's just say he wasn't everybody's favorite.

The ad, which aired incessantly throughout the Olympics, provoked an outpouring of criticism: Elizabeth Weiss, writing in the New Yorker, said the character seemed "vaguely sociopathic." In The Washington Post, Brigid Schulte condemned his celebration of a work culture that, she argued, is driving us to be "sick," "stressed," and "stupid." Adam Gopnik, also in the New Yorker, called it, "the single most obnoxious television ad ever made."

Where Cadillac stumbled, Ford saw opportunity. Today, Ford released an ad playing off the Cadillac spot, twisting the original message to resonate with a totally different set of consumers.

The ads run against each other like counterpoint: He is a middle-aged, rich, white, suburban guy. She is a black woman living in a small urban apartment. He praises America for being harder working than "other countries." She presents herself and "more and more" Americans as a citizens of the globe, "crazy entrepreneurs trying to make the world better." Oh, and one more detail: Cadillac man is an actor, an impression of an American. Ford lady? She's real. Her name (fittingly) is Pashon Murray, and she's the founder of Detroit Dirt. These are starkly different messages, crafted to appeal to starkly different demographics.

And yet, the ads share a core value: work, and work hard. After all, they both begin with essentially the same lines: "Why do we/I work so hard? For what?" For Cadillac, the answer to that question is "all that stuff." For Ford, it's "to make the world better." The justifications for a hard-working life are night and day, but neither ad disparages the slog itself. (This is intriguing on its own. For decades cars have been presented to Americans as recreational vehicles: Pop in your cassetteor, these days, plug in your iPhonehit the road, and leave all your worries behind.)

Some of that overlap may be due to the nature of a satire. Ford, of course, is playing off of Cadillac. To do so, it must retain some of the original, or the joke would be lost. But even in the small bit of wiggle room Ford allowed itself for toying with Cadillac's message, we see a different vision of America—one that values its idealists, not its crass materialists. As long as they buy cars, that is.

Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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