By Taylor Cole
I’ve been doing everything I can to avoid commercials.
For a long time.
I’ve upgraded to Spotify Premium. I pay for Netflix. When faced with an ad before a YouTube video, I groan and toss my phone aside, looking for something to distract me from those 15 seconds of commercial time.
And I know I’m not the only one who has lost my patience with advertising. In 2015, the New York Times released an article stating that 11–25% of Millennials (depending on their household situation) had abandoned cable television completely, choosing to rely solely on streaming services for their TV needs.
So why is it that we’re so quick to avert our attention the second we’re faced with a commercial, regardless of how brightly-colored, witty, or full of cute kitties they may be?
We could all probably come up with a handful of reasons for our generation’s ad aversion, but my hunch is this:
We’re tired of the noise.
In our current socio-political climate, we have so much tragedy, so much loss, so much need for change buzzing around in our minds that somehow an ad for the next fad diet just doesn’t seem… relevant. A politician yelling condemnations against her opponent in a campaign? No thanks. The actors with beach blonde hair and pearly whites who tell us to buy their dentist-recommended toothpaste? Not so much.
So we try to avoid it all.
Try to drown out the oh-so-annoying blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.
But what if those messages flooding over us from screens and signs and airwaves could give us hope instead of a headache? At least... some of the time?
You may be wondering how this would be possible - IF this is even possible.
I can practically feel the eyes rolling all around me.
But I’ve been thinking about that Always #LikeAGirl campaign a lot recently—maybe because I keep seeing signs like this at the recent Women’s Marches and the March for Our Lives.
You may remember the three-minute video Always released to promote their #LikeAGirl campaign in 2014. The ad begins with the video’s producers asking teenage girls and boys to run, throw, and fight like a girl. Each of their responses is the same - arms flailing, jello legs fumbling. Next, younger girls are asked the same questions, but unlike their older counterparts, they react confidently with strong, stable movements. Their actions send a message - girls’ lack of self-confidence isn’t innate; they learn it over time through the narratives they hear about women. Watch the video here.
I remember when this ad first started showing up on my social media feeds - it was everywhere, shared widely across platforms. I watched it over three years ago, but mention the video to me now, and I know exactly which ad you’re talking about. With over 65 million views, its impact is pretty remarkable.
Why was the Always campaign video so widely viewed, shared and discussed on social media, and written about on blogs and in academic papers? Because it speaks to what we’re constantly searching for. Hope. Truth. Encouragement to oppose, protest, and defy normative culture. It shows us that sometimes asking a few simple questions is all it takes to reveal the destructive aspects of our thinking and encourage change.
Although most viral videos fade quickly, the message behind the Always ad never really did. Women took phrases from it, “run like a girl,” “fight like a girl,” etc. and used them as their own personal mantras. They painted them on signs, printed them on t-shirts, and marched proudly, showing the world that we will no longer tolerate viewpoints that present women as anything less than strong, capable, and fully human. The #LikeAGirl campaign didn’t just spur temporary conversation - it inspired, and continues to inspire, action.
Another campaign that tried to inspire change was REI’s #optoutside campaign. In 2015, REI closed its stores on Black Friday and encouraged their employees, and the rest of America, to spend the day outdoors instead of at the mall. They promoted the campaign with videos of stunning outdoor scenes and a shareable social media poster displaying their tagline, “Will you go out with me?” The campaign was largely successful; in its first year, 170 organizations and over 1 million people joined REI in its mission to replace the fabricated comfort of consumerism with the real joy of connecting to the outdoors.
I think if more advertising came out of a stronger sense of meaning and purpose, if it provoked us to think critically and to change our perspectives, even some of us Millennials might start getting to the movie theater a little early to catch the ads before the previews. Heck, we might even stop desperately searching for the “Skip Ad” button in the corner of YouTube videos.
I’m so exhausted by our world right now and the often destructive messages that are running rampant through it, but to be completely honest, I spend a whole lot of time simply numbing myself to the negativity. Or sometimes complaining. Or possibly criticizing. But I’m beginning to see that this isn’t helping anyone - including myself.
I recently ran across this quote from the author Richard Rohr which has made me consider another option. “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”
So that’s what I’ve decided to do. Practice the better.
And while it’s true that as a new intern for SmallGood, I’m excited to start using my skills to make a living, I’m even more excited that entering into the world of advertising could give me a voice and a space to start making a difference, promoting change, growing good and spreading hope…maybe even...
Spreading Hope #LikeAGirl.