A good commercial can make you laugh, cry, call your mom or even occasionally buy something you hadn’t intended. But a new ad by Pedigree dog food asks another question: Can a commercial make you get over racism?
Pedigree recently launched an ad campaign that ostensibly is about walking your dog, but is actually promoting a kind of racial harmony and togetherness that we don’t often see in commercials. The ad, titled “The Walk,” features a curmudgeonly old man walking his dog in a neighborhood. He kind of reminds you of Sean Connery’s character in Finding Forrester, the last old white guy in a neighborhood that’s changed right under his nose. He scowls at his new black neighbors, but suddenly, when his dog and the dog of a young black man connect, a bond is formed, ice is broken and suddenly, everything seems like it might be OK.
Whether this inspires an “Awwww” from you or a groan of cynicism (or vacillating between the two), it speaks to a new form of advertising that has moved from the diversity of yesteryear to the political commentary of today. Having a racially diverse cast in a commercial is one thing; that can be about purely cynical marketing to a demographic group. However, placing your ad in the midst of culture wars, class conflicts and racial strife is something else entirely. And increasingly, advertisers are fond of targeting red-state vs. blue-state America, which is quite a change from the simple diversity of the past.
The 1980s brought us the ubiquitous Benetton ads: diverse people, all proudly displaying their differences. Benetton’s print ads actually caused a lot more stir than the televised ones, but again, progress was made. You began to see racial diversity not just as a prop for white main characters, but representative of actual potential consumers of a product.
So while these commercials may gloss over the harsh realities of race, class and gender that still affect this country, selling the “image” of diversity is something that companies and consumers want to be associated with. Now, will all companies make a leap like Pedigree dog food? It all depends on how valuable politically themed advertising turns out to be. Pedigree is tackling racism, classism and gentrification all while peddling dog food, which is a pretty tall order. If showing that your soda is environmentally conscious, or that your company is OK with multiracial kids or gay marriage, places you in the middle of the culture wars but also ensconces you in the pockets of progressives with disposable income, it’s a fair gamble for big business.
In the meantime, get ready for even more explicitly political commercials in the near future. If Chick-fil-A can be anti-gay marriage on one hand but offer a vegan-friendly menu on the other, the gender-swapping, racially ambiguous and politically conscious crowd must be big money.
This article originally appeared online at TheRoot.com.