What parent hasn’t feared the incessant “why’s” of childhood? Like many great ads, this one from Google captures multiple meanings and motives in just 30 seconds. Watch, and then read the Reversal Theory perspective below.
“You’re so smart, Dad”
This is one impressive Dad! A few seconds in, and we admire how easily this father responds to his inquisitive son. In Reversal Theory terms, the Mastery state is front and center: a father demonstrating his deep knowledge about Mars, and teaching that knowledge to his young son. Only at the end, do we see that confident Dad has a little help from Google.
While Mastery is the grounding force, the power of the ad is in how it draws in the other states in as well. There is an undercurrent of the Sympathy state supporting and being served by the Mastery; the setting is not at a desk or kitchen table doing homework for school, but rather, a cozy bedroom where knowledge development also serves relationship building and love (Sympathy) between father and son.
There is also an underlying interplay of the Conforming and Rebellious states. Dad is doing all the right things in spending time with his son and answering a myriad of questions correctly (Conforming). And yet, while some may claim that dad is “cheating,” others will point to Dad’s creativity and originality: the best of the Rebellious state. The ad takes the traditional scene and adds a modern reframe and twist. This also points to how what once was seen as Rebellious may ultimately trigger Conforming. This is not cheating at all – this is how “today’s dad” gets it done.
There is duality between Self and Other states as well here – it is a great reminder that Reversal Theory is about meaning, not behavior. Is Dad more focused on feeling smart in front of his son (Mastery Self) or more focused on making his son feel smart by having his questions answered (Mastery Other)? This ambiguity adds to the ad’s nuance in a particularly charming way, because sometimes, knowing whether we are being smart for ourselves – or for someone else – is an open question for us, too.
As noted in other examples on this site, many of the best ads support tension between the Serious and Playful states. As soon as we realize that Dad is getting some help from Google, we laugh with a bit of relief. (After all, did YOU know how far Mars is away from the sun!?) Google’s greatest gift in this ad is the protective frame: the safety net that allows us to enjoy the moment in the Playful state. Dad can be fully in the moment with his son because he has Google at his side……
Of course, if you aren’t already the modern dad, the deeper intent is to trigger in you a reversal to the Serious state, so that you will take action in the way the sponsor wants. This is a Playful ad that also points to bad consequences if you don’t use the product or service at hand. How, after all, are YOU going to answer all these life questions without Google at your side? Better get started…..