Allstate Ad / “Good Life Anthem”


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 Deep down we know that all the bad things that happen in life can’t stop us from making our lives… good.

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A few weeks ago on Mad Men, Don Draper spent a long amphetamine weekend at the office with his entire staff trying to come up with something original for their new Chevrolet account. In the middle of the night in a kind of dream-like haze, he stumbles on the Answer, and the answer he stumbles onto isn’t just the advertising answer for Chevy, it is the formula for Everything. But it is a tantalizing and fleeting vision. By the time he shakes off the druggy confusion and tries to explain it to Peggy and the others, there’s nothing left. The Answer is gone. Something about a mother and a child and, and, and… gone.

Well, this is the advertisement that Don Draper was trying to remember.

It presents a sequence of environments with narrated examples of their attendant risk. And, against each arena of risk, the voice of a young girl reminds us of the joy that we still find there: there are sharks in the ocean, but you can go swimming; you can die in a car, but you can go for a drive; your home can crumble around you, but your children can bounce happily into the garage on their bicycles. Over the visual montage we hear the girl’s voice speaking slowly and dreamily, almost hypnotically.

The montage of images, the use of light, and the alternating visual rhythm have an obvious Terrence Malick inspiration. There is a primal initial image where the camera emerges from the ocean to show a human swimming in a turbulent sea. There’s a sudden, exhilarating rush of speed on a skateboard and then another along a coastal highway, a fish caught and touched by a small pair of children running in a stream, a father and son on a motorbike doing a wheelie in a desert, college kids playing on a makeshift mud water slide and embracing in the rain, two girls dancing in the back of a car.

And then at the end of the advertisement we see a small girl sitting on the front porch of her home. She raises her head slowly and deliberately, and looks directly into camera. For a micro-beat there is something almost alarming in the way she looks up without expression. You can’t help but be reminded of the countless possessed children in decades of scary films.

But then the girl intones the word “good.” And at the very same moment that we realize that the girl on the porch is the narrator, there is a spiking power surge on the goodness of our lives acted out in a theater of risk.

 Deep down we know that all the bad things that happen in life can’t stop us from making our lives… good.

This is a worthy little poem, a small work of art, a film in miniature, and one of my favorite advertisements of the last few years. I am moved by its core observation – and it is, mercifully, an observation more than an advertiser’s message. It asks us to do nothing with its content besides observe. Human beings continue to take risks in the face of unending uncertainty because the very thing that we want out of life can only be found in the space of unfathomable risk. There is no safe world where what we love can be born and nurtured in protection.

An insurance company is, of course, an absurd messenger for this idea. They can do nothing to alter the paradox that our lives are fundamentally fragile and finite and all the more beautiful because of it. What can be lost in each of the vignettes is nothing less than life itself. An Allstate check in the mail won’t alter life’s equation for any of us. They have the good sense and grace to point out that they are in the same boat.

It’s a great ad.

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I first saw it a few nights ago with my family. My daughter, my wife, and my son, only recently home from boarding school, were in our very own “house that can crumble.” We were watching The Voice on an Xfinity on demand rebroadcast. Marketers have vexingly taken to playing the same ad repeatedly now in rebroadcast content during the ad breaks. So we saw the “Good Life Anthem” ad about eight consecutive times during singing breaks on the one hour show. By the end we were all doing impressions of the girl’s voice from memory and comparing which of the montaged images we liked the best.

And we all got to talking about the ad and I said there was one image I didn’t like and felt didn’t belong with the rest. The image shows a father with a newborn child right before the very last sequence where the girl looks up from her spot on the front porch and addresses us. I said that it felt gratuitous, the Hallmark heartwarming dad with an infant child in the pastel bedroom, played for sentiment outside the logic of the risk/reward theme that had been presented in the ad to that point. But thinking about it later, and remembering the last shot of the little girl walking out into the world and closing the fence behind her with a small click, I realized how mistaken I was.

That image of the new parent and the child is the whole game. It’s the idea at its core, the Don Draper, lost weekend realization, the universal message:

Life is fragile and finite but that doesn’t stop us from having children and sending them out into the world to play.

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Twitter: @adambnathan

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