In The Atlantic, Rebecca J. Rosen directs our attention to Ford’s response to Cadillac’s much-discussed “Why do we work so hard?” commercial. Rosen writes that while the two ads share a high view of work, they present two radically different reasons for working hard.

Here are the two ads:



Rosen: “For Cadillac, the answer to that question [ ‘Why do we work so hard?’] is ‘all that stuff.’ For Ford, it’s ‘to make the world better.’ The justifications for a hard-working life are night and day, but neither ad disparages the slog itself.”

Well, no. The reason why Americans work so hard, according to the Cadillac ad, is not “all that stuff,” it is to do something great—fly, box, go to the moon. The “stuff” is just the cherry on top–though, granted, it’s a pretty visible cherry.

As brazen as the Cadillac ad is, the two commercials are not all that different. They do differ in how they define excellence. In the Cadillac spot, it’s innovation in something—anything. In the Ford, it’s doing something our culture considers morally laudable—saving the planet. (Though it’s worth noting that both are advertisements for electric cars—the innovation subtly pushed in the Cadillac commercial is their use of “green” technology.)

But both share the view that what makes a person better than another is his or her work in the service of doing something great in this life. Americans in the Cadillac commercial are better than the French because they’ve gone to the moon. The woman in the Ford commercial is better than the Cadillac guy because she buys local food and recycles.

Both are good ads, but I think the Cadillac one is better. Its blunt honesty about our unabashed materialism and arrogance may be many things, but it’s not boring, as Rod noted a few weeks ago. By contrast, the Ford ad tells us that we are all good people (or should be!, tsk, tsk) because we make the world a better place–unlike those crass materialists. All this while trying to sell us a new car. Other than the fact that it’s a response to Caddy, it’s like most commercials these days.