Friday, December 23, 2016


You've probably seen these two dueling phones ads by now. (Especially if you go to the Nickelodeon as often as I do.)

The first is unabashedly holiday-oriented, and because I'm such an easy mark, I always tear up. An old guy in shabby clothes with an aura of Frankenstein's monster about him shuffles into a village square populated by holiday revelers.

It's nighttime, and he pulls out two light bulbs, one red, one green, and screws them into the bolts in his neck.

When they light up, he hits a button on his iPhone to start the music, and begins to tentatively warble the first line of "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays."

But then, one of the bulbs goes out, and he flounders to a halt with embarrassment.

Until — a small, delicate, utterly adorable little girl, a live-action Cindy Lou Who, stretches up to screw the errant bulb back in, and then sings the second line of  the song. Then the entire square full of people join in to complete the verse.

The old guy is not quite homeless; we see him receiving the bulbs in a mailbox at his remote shack in the snow. But it's understood he's some kind of outcast or at least an outsider; parents sweep up their kids and back away slightly at his approach. But when he gets there, he's not panhandling. He's just trying to share a little holiday spirit.

That they not only "let" him participate, but join in with such warmth and gusto sends a very affecting message — especially in these dark and cold political times. The tagline is "Open your heart to everyone."

The sponsor is the Apple iPhone, of course. But what they're really selling is a narrative about community and inclusiveness.

The other spot begins well, with an image of hats viewed from above. In the middle, a yellow beret with a black puff ball tilts up to reveal the face of the woman wearing it. She sings one note and lowers her face again; other hats tilt up to reveal other faces singing more notes in an intricate, a cappella pattern.

The image gradually expands into a phone-shaped rectangle, which tilts up on end, with the Google logo below it. Who's the sponsor? The Google Pixel phone. What are they singing? "Just The Two Of Us."

Wait, what? Although the tagline reads "Together by you." ("Phone by Google"), what they really seem to be selling is isolation and exclusiveness. Me and my phone, just the two of us. Who needs real-life interaction? It's us against the world.

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