Volkswagen, We Need to Talk

GoldieBlox, meet Volkswagen.  I think you have a lot to talk about.  Specifically, Volkswagen, don’t speak.  Listen.  You see, GoldieBlox is a toy company that markets engineering toys to little girls.  It asks them to summon their inner engineer and not their inner princess.  As a company, it takes seriously the intellects and aspirations of little girls and encourages them to grow up to be scientists or engineers or just full human beings with brains.

GoldieBlox won Intuit’s small business competition and secured the opportunity to air their celebration of young girls’ potential during the Super Bowl, an evening that is usually dedicated to demeaning and degrading images of women (yes, I’m talking to you, GoDaddy).  Their ad showed little girls collecting all of their sickly pink toys and launching them off into space in a rocket they built themselves.  “So come on ditch your toys… girls build like all the boys” plays in the background to the tune of Quiet Riot’s “Come on Feel the Noise.”

This is where you come in, Volkswagen. You see, you also aired an advertisement during the Super Bowl, and you are also interested in engineering.  Your farcical ad imagined that every time a Volkswagen reaches 100,000 miles an engineer gets his wings. Yes, somehow in 2014 you managed not to show any female engineers gaining their wings.

Wait, what do you say, Volkswagen.  You say that in your defense there was a female engineer in the ad.

I am glad you mentioned that because I was going to.  I assume you were referring to the lovely white coated be-speckled brunette in the elevator (we know she is smart because she is wearing glasses!!!).  Yes, the brunette who slaps the male engineer for what she deems to be inappropriate touching as a result of him sprouting his wings.

You see, that’s kind of the problem.  You think she counts.  But in your ad about engineers, your female engineer is still just a sexual object. You don’t take women seriously, which is foolish for many reasons, including the fact that we buy automobiles.

So, please, sit down.  Have a chat with GoldieBlox here.  They may be able to help you to see women as more than objects, and perhaps even hire a few.

When you’re done, GoldieBlox, I’d like to talk to you about visiting some schools.

Life Lessons Brought to You by Super Bowl Ads

I love watching Super Bowl commercials (especially when my team isn’t playing). I think commercials are well produced stories about our society and I enjoy watching (and critiquing) those stories. I can’t say I was impressed with all the ads last night, but there were two that spoke to me as a coach.

The first ad was the Radio Shack ad in which celebrities and characters from the eighties stormed a lonely dilapidated Radio Shack demanding they get their store back… (the eighties called, they want their store back.) It’s a funny ad. I sat up when I saw it because, well, I have been to Radio Shack in the last couple years and had the same thought. Many people had. The ad is effective because it is an acknowledgment of a real problem for the brand and a bold repositioning of the business as a result.

The second ad that spoke to me was the Cheerios ad where a little girl bargains with her father for a puppy after learning that she has a baby brother on the way. The commercial features the same family that appeared in their controversial 2013 ad. Why was the ad controversial? Because the beautiful family featured is biracial. The advertisement received praise for spotlighting a family that looks like so many American families do today, yet at the same time, General Mills discontinued the comments on the youtube video after the forums became locations for airing racist attacks.

Why do I like the ad? First of all, because the ad is adorable- but also because Cheerios doubled down. They heard the criticism and they rejected it. They proudly declared “this is who we are.” They took a stand for what they believe in and what they stand for.

In thinking about the ads, I realized that they are related. Both companies were criticized. Both companies responded to their critics. Radio Shack heard the criticism, recognized its validity, and pivoted as a result. They listened, learned and acted. Cheerios similarly heard the criticism, and they rejected it. They didn’t accept the vision of the world or of their brand that their critics had. They used the criticism as an opportunity to confirm and celebrate their identity.

So why do these two ads speak to me as a coach? One of the most enduring truths is that taking criticism is hard. No one likes it (no matter what they say). But criticism always represents an opportunity. These two brands faced criticism and responded in diametrically opposed ways. But it is clear that they both heard their critics. One accepted the critique and the other rejected it. But the criticism gave them the opportunity to reflect.

For individuals (and not mega corporations) the same holds true. Listening to criticism gives you the opportunity to reflect and grow. Not all criticism is valid, but it has the advantage of making you stop and assess its validity. You can stop and define who you are. The judgments of others should not rule your life, but this does not mean that you should ignore them altogether. Criticism can represent opportunities to learn about yourself, your values and your goals and take powerful stands in honor of those things.