If you live outside the New York area, then you may not know that there’s currently a small furor erupting over a proposed “soda tax” that would charge one penny per ounce on sugary beverages. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that furor is coming mostly from the beverage industry, which is trying to argue that cheap Mountain Dew is fundamental to America’s values.
Take a look at this commercial, which is basically playing around the clock on local stations. Even if you don’t live in a community that could be affected by the soda tax, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the hysteria bubbling just beneath this ad…
I mean… right? It’s like a primer on how to create a biased political commercial. Let’s break down its tactics one by one…
(1) When In Doubt, Shriek It Out
Based on the tone of this ad, I’m guessing that the folks at the American Beverage Association, who paid for the spot, know that sugar-added drinks aren’t really essential to anyone’s life. In fact, I’ll wager they know that Pepsi and Coke and Country Time Lemondae, despite their tastiness, actually make life a little bit worse, since they blast nutrient-free calories into our veins like diabetes cannons.
I mean, they must know, right? Why else would this ad try so hard to convince us we should be angry? As the actress moves around her bright and sunny kitchen, you can practically hear her director shouting, “Shriller! Whinier! Shriekier!” Since her words don’t hold any real power, she has to convince us with her voice and her silent-movie-sized facial expressions.
(2) Use Ambiguity to Pander to As Many Demographics As Possible
Economically, this ad is trying to have it all.
If you’re well-off, for instance, then you might identify with this woman’s enormous kitchen. Along with the blurry view of the yard that we see through the window, the cavernous space suggests a family that lives in a cozy suburb, hidden away from problems like roaches, stalled F trains, and poverty. The goal is to have wealthy and middle-class families see this tableau and say, “Why, that woman could be my neighbor! If she hates this tax, then so do I! Let’s go buy some Kool-Aid and add some extra sugar before we give it to the kids. That’ll show ‘em!”
But what if you’re living in, oh, government housing in the Bronx? Have no fear! This woman keeps insisting she’s on a budget, and she makes a big stink about the extra five dollars on her grocery bill after she buys powdered lemonade. You know who doesn’t care about an extra five dollars here or there? Well-to-do suburbanites who might live in a kitchen like this. But a poor family? They might care. And the ad has to hit that base.
(Also… think how different this ad would be if it were set in a cramped, low-income apartment. It would risk alienating wealthier viewers, which just wouldn’t do. But what happens when a poorer viewer sees an obviously comfortable woman arguing on their behalf? What does the ad hope will happen?)
Meanwhile, this ad is as carefully ambiguous about race as it is abotu economics. It is no accident that this actress is vaguely ethnic, in that Hollywood way that says Benjamin Bratt can play a Native American. And if you’ll notice, her kid appears to be of a different ethnicity. This is another strategy for making the ad seem universally applicable.
(3) Stay Casual With Facts
Did you notice that the actress says Governor Paterson wants to add a tax on juice? I’ll admit, the first time I heard that, it got my attention. I don’t drink soda, but I do drink juice… so I wondered if this tax might even affect me, as a person who tries to drink healthier beverages.
However, I haven’t been able to find the “juice fact” stated by anything except vehement anti-tax websites. I’ve read that the tax will apply to fruit juice with sugar added, yes, but that’s not the same thing. Of course, splitting those hairs would make the rage in the commercial seem less pure, and it would only underline the fact that this tax would only be levied against beverages that have little to no nutritional value.