Tuesday, March 30, 2010

E.T. Phone Home

Sometimes I see a commercial on TV and wonder, what message are they really sending?

There's one for AT&T that's been running recently in which mom, dad, and very young son are at a restaurant. Mom gets up to go to the ladies room and the child immediately starts to cry. The father takes out his keys and starts to jingle them to amuse his son. The camera slides over to show spokesman Luke Wilson connecting to a video on his cell phone, which he then hands over to the dad to amuse the son. Of course, this works immediately.

Sure, the point they're trying to make is how quickly you can connect to the Internet and find something using AT&T. But the subliminal message is that Dad is incapable of taking care of his son and, rather than even trying, should just plug him in to a cartoon. But Mom does not have that problem; as soon as she returns, junior is happy again without the cartoon.


Another commercial, which ran about fifteen times during the shows I was watching last night, has Mom and young teenage daughter at the mall. It's the daughter's first day of "shopping on her own" and the commercial asks who you would trust her safety to? In this case, it's that great 3G coverage of Verizon and, particularly, something called "Family Finder."

Though they don't explain it, one can only surmise that rather than following her daughter around the mall, Mom is going to be somewhere tracking her movements on her cellphone. And then what? "Oh, dear, she's buying some too-revealing top at the Sluttique!" Or "Uh-oh, she's at the food court. I better swoop in and stop her before she eats something loaded with trans fats."

Or is it so dangerous at the mall that Mom needs to worry about her daughter being abducted by terrorists and has to be able to track her down when it happens?


Both AT&T and Verizon make a big deal about their maps and their 3G coverage. Well, unless you happen to be running all over the country all the time, why should you care?

I live on Long Island, I work five miles from home, and, other than an occasional visit to friends or family and my summer stint at CTY in Maryland, I'm always in the same few places using my cell phone. Does it matter to me which of them has better coverage in Butte, Boise, or Biloxi? No, all I care about is whether I can get a signal in my office, the house and the road in between.


Finally, let's not leave Sprint out of the mix. Their current commercial says that "very few people use their cell phone just for making phone calls." Well, call me old-fashioned, but that's exactly what I use mine for. It's a telephone!

If there's an urgent message you have for me, don't text me or send me an email. Call me on the phone. That way, we can actually have a conversation.
If a question comes up that requires an Internet search for the answer, it can wait till I get to a computer, either at home or the office.
And, frankly, if I missed my favorite TV show, the last thing I want to do is try to watch it on a 2-inch screen!


  1. Mom and daughter at the mall - you'd think differently if you knew their father was John McClain. :)

    See, they HAVE to offer various apps for the cell phones, because nobody uses a cell phone to talk anymore; they use BlueTooths and wander around the way crazy people did when I was a young man.

  2. I also find the first two ads you mention disquieting for the reasons you mention, but I also find them very realistic. I know plenty of folks who have used their smart phones to keep kids occupied (the making-daddy-look-like-a-doofus aspect is ridiculous, but it's a common enough meme that I can't hold it against this commercial too too much.) And I'm sure the child-tracking capability resonates with many smart-phone wielding parents as well. Those two commercials at least do a good job of showing off features that parents are likely to appreciate--even if those some of their ramifications are a little disturbing.