Probably many readers have seen this video of Jessica who is in a good mood and is talking about all the things she likes and how great she is.
It is really cute and uplifting. Whoever was filming her captured one of those family moments that make parenthood worth its hardships. This is an emotive piece; I think most people who watch it will feel uplifted by Jessica’s innocent affirmation, just as the person filming her did.
Then Maxwell House Coffee took that clip and turned it into a TV commercial with the theme of taking an “optimism break” (video after the jump).
Now I am sure that there are many ways in which this commercial benefitted Jessica and her family. I am sure they were well paid for the commercial rights to the video. This money will probably help them in many ways. Further, there is a recent interview with Jessica (see below) and she seems happy with the video, so it does not seem like posting the video to YouTube felt to her like a violation of privacy.
The commercial is also good for Maxwell House, as I am sure that it was a less expensive commercial to make than many, since they did not need to hire a crew to film Jessica all they had to do was add some coffee shots around the original clip. Further, Jessica’s innocent and spontaneous affirmation would be difficult for adult writers to portray realistically. The commercial captures an ordinary affective moment that elicits genuine emotional responses in ways that are difficult for staged commercials to achieve.
So from one perspective this is a great ad. I am sure that many viewers will love the commercial, but it represents one of the forms of advertising that I really dislike.
I dislike this ad because it seeks to emotionally manipulate its audience (as do many ads), and it does so in a particularly insidious way. The commercial appropriates the mundane joys of raising children and then uses our emotional reaction to the sweet innocence of Jessica’s affirmation to create associations between these feelings and Maxwell House coffee. But Maxwell House did nothing to create the original affirmation and so the emotional association is false. This ad is not “false advertising” of the kind that gets legal censure because they are not making any claims about their product in this ad. Nevertheless, they are making a false emotional association between the affirmation and their product which I find very distasteful.
There is also something odd about the editing of the video. If we watch the original, Jessica begins with her like of her school and family (dads, cousins, aunts, Allisons, Moms, sisters), but the Maxwell House ad cuts most of this out. They leave in her like of her dads and cousins, but Jessica’s list of likes then quickly changes to material things (her hair, haircuts, pyjamas, room, whole house). Jessica’s original affirmation is centered on her relationships as well as the material possessions that she has. Maxwell House’s edit centres her affirmation on her things and her appearance. This changes the message that Jessica was originally providing to one that seeks affirmation in the things one has and the way one looks.
ETA: My dad was watching this with me, and he pointed out that the edit centres on “my whole house” and this might sound like “Maxwell house,” so the reason that they chose to edit in that particular place might have more to do with a desire to include the near-homophone to the brand name rather than trying to portray a materialist message. Nevertheless, the edit changes Jessica’s message.
I love the original affirmation, but I find its inclusion in the Maxwell House ad to be emotionally manipulative and sneaky.
Here is the more recent interview:
 In the comments at the bottom of the video Jessica’s parent (I think her father) specifies that she was just pluralizing things at that time. She does not really have more than one father or mother.