Mar 18 2017

Subverting Solipsism

Watching TV several weeks ago, I happened to see AT&T’s ‘Everywhere’ commercial. It features a guy glued to his phone screen (figuratively) as he walks through his city. As he swipes through various shows, the people around him change to match what he’s watching. I would have written off this commercial as another hyperconsumerism attempt to valorize solipsism (or perhaps egocentrism) (“Entertainment your way” goes the tagline) except for one small scene.
Watch the ad and see if you spot it as well.

All the action/references is/are cued off the main character except one. Briefly at 0:25, our view shifts to another screen, a family watching Sesame Street. The jarring part for me was the choice of audio to reference: “Who are the people in your neighborhood?.”

Now, Slashfilm1 and Adweek both wrote articles about the ad and specifically mention the Big Bird scene, but only as another example of the exciting range of references. I couldn’t find any article who read the commercial the way I did, so I decided to write this one.

From Adweek:

“We wanted to use shows and movies across the entertainment spectrum, from modern to classic, to really give the viewer the sense that everything is at your fingertips,” says BBDO New York executive creative director Steven Fogel. “At the same time, it was important that the music be very recognizable and iconic, and that each piece work well as a part of the music track.”

The commercial could have used any of dozens of memorable Sesame Street songs, but it chose those words and used the most distinct visual cut to someone else’s real-world perspective. To me that was jarring. Here’s a brief scene within a story that says everyone around you is just scenery for your choices, and it asks you to think about your neighbors. I don’t think it was the express intent of the ad and ad writers as a whole, but I have to believe that someone was trying to cleverly subvert the solipsistic overtones of the commercial.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

I much prefer the way AT&T handles the intertextual2 references in their “Quotes” and “Quotes 2” ads. They are still trying to sell the same product/service, but they center human interaction and media as a shared experience.

Footnotes:
1. Slashfilm features this ironic opener before gushing over the ad’s use of so many references.
“Not many people pay attention to commercials on TV anymore, mostly because we’re either streaming content with limited to no commercials, or we’re just watching stuff on our DVR that just allows us to fast forward through them.”
I consider it ironic because of the self-absorbtion of the main character who has ‘everything at [his] fingertips.’

2. For a thoughtful consideration of cheap versus rich references: check out this video. And for an example of what I estimate as a pretty cheap use of intertextuality, see this. After seeing this, I partially wondered if an algorithm wrote the screenplay after crawling the internet for positive media responses.