Ford's attempt at edgy advertising prompts debate.

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Aug. 31 2006 4:47 PM

Focus on the Family

Ford's attempt at edgy advertising prompts debate.

TV commercials, more so than any object of media criticism here at Slate, seem to become emotionally charged occasions for reader self-reflection and projection. Seth Stevenson's review of Ford's new spot for its SUV featuring a divorced family is no exception.

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Perhaps because we assume that commercials represent prevailing social norms and mirror the demographics of their viewing public, the impulse is to judge ourselves against the subjects and scenarios depicted in them. (In a jab to fellow fraysters, 2divorceskid attacks exactly this impulse.)

While there were those who criticize Ford for treading down a slippery moral slope ("What's next? A minivan for polygamists?" asksoman1), most readers applaud a company willing to acknowledge the statistical and social realities of divorce—and, more important, provide a role model for divorced couples who engage with one another in a civil manner, as jmsr attests:

Ford did a great job showing people that divorcees can get along. I'm a happily remarried women and my husband and I have a great relationship with my ex. He visits, we socialize and are always courteous to his feelings about not being around the the kids on regular basis. He is a great Dad, we just didn't work as a romantic couple but do as friends - the great Dad is what I recognize him for not the ex husband. If more ex spouses would attempt a friendship the world, and our kids, would be MUCH happier!!!!

JBC013 goes further in her optimism, dubbing the ad "30 seconds of hopefulness":

I love this ad. First, it's far more representative of modern families than just about any other ad on TV. It took forever for advertisers to use non-white models, and it took even longer for them to use mixed-race couples. VW ads presented gay couples, and now Ford is using one example of a modern, nuclear family - and it does it in a positive, uplifting way. Just about every other media channel uses the absolute most explicit, exploitative images available because they are sensational. I think the Ford ad builds brand equity because it's memorable, and you remember Ford, if not the model. It leaves the viewer with a sense of hopefulness, whether they identify personally with the story or know someone who would. Besides, who cares where dad slept? The kids are just glad he was along for the ride.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mr_Clean finds the underlying social message far from positive or uplifting:

Having spent thousands of dollars and years dealing with the courts and legal system simply to get my right to spend time with my children recognized and upheld, I am sick to death of what seems to be the prevailing attitude that fathers are good for nothing more than mailing a monthly check, and actually spending time with his children is a secondary (if not tertiary) consideration that should be left completely to the prevailing attitude of the mother. Perhaps Ford should have spent a little more time considering how it might alienate single fathers who are tired of being treated like second-class citizens in the lives of their own children before coming out with this ridiculous "bold moves" commercial. For continuing to perpetrate this ridiculous stereotype, I will certainly never purchase a Ford product again.

In Luchese's estimation, Ford's ad makes palpable a sense of social alienation more than it offers up the hope of post-divorce civility:

The commercial is for a form of transportation not a venue for negotiating the conundrum of father absence. Pursuing both in the same context is a bit nauseating if not revolting. I view that SUV as more of a reason for divorce rather than some conciliator. It consumes too much fuel, has the aura of a combat vehicle and distances those who are occupants. Hence our oil dependence, the triumph of aggression as our dominant means of social discourse and the social isolation that now prevents successful interpersonal relationships. We have become much better at fighting wars, fighting each other and retreating into our boxes than establishing successful marriages or families. That is the real theme of the commercial.