What do you consider traditional? Thanksgiving dinner? An elderly couple sitting in matching rocking chairs? Graduates lined up in caps and gowns? Whatever you may envision, it’s probably been used to sell you something. Advertisements have often succeeded by appealing to a sense of tradition, especially at times when it seems like core values are being undermined by society in general and popular culture specifically. An example of this is the 1970 Crocker Bank commercial featuring a song later made popular by the Carpenters called “We’ve Only Just Begun” (a song actually written for the aforementioned commercial). This commercial has no dialogue and shows a young couple getting married in an idyllic church. The ceremony is not lavish; the church is simple and the crowd is a small gathering of teary-eyed family members. The couple kisses, then leaves the church. They begin their journey on an open country road, over which, text appears saying: “You’ve got a long way to go. We’d like to help you get there. The Crocker Bank.”
The focus of this advertisement is the traditional American dream and the sense of setting out on one’s adult life. The setting harkens to an ideal of simplicity with grain gently waving in front of a country church and lyrics about “white lace and promises”. This could very well be reactionary to the counterculture ideas of the late 1960s as this commercial was released in 1970. By this time, popular culture was saturated with ideas of alternative lifestyles, hippies, and rejection of traditional values, and the pendulum of cultural ideals was beginning the swing in the other direction.
The commercial and song heavily imply that you haven’t begun living until you take the first step toward commitment (i.e. marriage). Until one begins this process, they haven’t grown up. The ad plays on youthful inexperience and suggests that marriage is only the beginning and there is a long way to go.
The commercial is counting on the association that the next logical step for any traditional couple is to look towards financial responsibility and security: buying a home, having children, saving for college, and building a future. These actions should be second nature as implied by the lyrics “Start out walking and learn to run”. This relates to Barthes’ version of ideology that attempts “to pass off that which is cultural (i.e. humanly made) as something which is natural (i.e. just existing).” The idea is that this process and pursuit of consumer happiness is universal and expected.
The ad’s creators rely so much on the traditional ideology suggested in the commercial to appeal to customers that they do not promote any services or aspects of the bank as a business. They briefly show the name of the business at the very end of the commercial after the viewers have had time to contemplate the images without being biased by heavy advertising. The only hint of services offered is “We’d like to help you get there”. The simplicity of their message underlines the simplicity suggested in the commercial and imagines a bank not interested in profits or the bottom line, but just helping folks get to where they’re going a little easier.
This commercial is also a great example of advertisements becoming part of popular culture as mass-produced commercial culture. Few people are likely to know this commercial, but many will be familiar with the Carpenters’ version of the song written for the commercial. The song has become embedded in popular culture and has seen frequent use in real-life weddings. I feel like the romanticism would be somewhat removed if more people knew the origins of the song were to acquire bank customers.
This was only the beginning of the advertisements that call us back to traditional ideals. As society moves away from conventional ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I believe there will be more appeals to return to what many consider a simpler way of life. The fact that these appeals will be selling bank services, car insurance, or political candidates will only be a footnote to the strong imagery they present.