On Sunday, July 7 the Women’s Soccer Cup tournament played its final game in France. As never before, the stadium was full, and the game was televised and streamed around the world. During half-time, very interesting commercials tailored to the occasion caught my attention. I will comment today on one in particular, by Volkswagen called Something Big.
The commercial alternates the voices of an adult and a kid, as they each comment on a specific image. “This is something Big”, says a woman over an image of a waterfall. Next, the image of a dripping faucet prompts a child to say “This is something Bigger!” A man comments on a big bite on a chocolate bar, and a child counters with, “not as big as that”, referring to a kid sharing a piece of candy with another one. Next, a very muscular arm of a man working out in a gym is called “big”, and the child’s voice replies “that’s bigger” pointing to a (not so muscular) man running up the steps to help out a woman carrying a baby stroller.
The next image is of an impressive highway crossing with multiple lanes and numerous cars going in all directions, a “big” infrastructure showing the engineering genius of our time. A counterpoint is a person riding a bicycle, connoting “bigger” environmental consciousness. Then there is a “heart” to like a post in social media, and a “bigger” physical tap on the shoulder encouraging a teammate entering a sports game. “Big” is the description of the image of a model getting prepped for a photoshoot: fame and fashion. Bigger? A little girl looking at herself, imperfect and beautiful, in the mirror. Big is a whale leaping up out the ocean; bigger; someone picking up a floating plastic bottle in the water. “Big”, finally, is the family’s Volkswagen van driving on a road. “Bigger”….. the image of a small blue marble floating in an immense black space: our home, Earth.
I watched the commercial several times, awed by the intelligent way of portraying in 60 seconds some of the most critical aspects that make for our un-sustainability, and the simple highlight of values that yes, we can relate to, and those that show us the way out of the mess we have collectively created.
I help professors embed the core elements of a mindset for sustainability into their teaching, and sometimes I also work with students. We do exercises, readings, watch videos, have dialogues, reflect and journal to observe and notice “how we got into this”, and what we can do. In these 60 seconds of advertising, the talented (intuitive?) creators of the ad positioned Nature as something external to enjoy, versus something we are destroying and need to take better care of. They touched on the instant gratification so much a part of our culture and suggested abandoning our self-absorption, to begin caring for others. They addressed the fascination with our looks and the social construct of beauty or strength and contrasted it with an attitude of helping others, or of believing in oneself, making the former look suddenly very superficial. They confronted our addiction to social media and the “connectedness” we feel it brings and proposed a less technological, but more humane connection of a hug or the physical presence to support a friend. They featured the undeniable genius of urban road design to organize transit, and provoked our thought with the simple, silent, low-carbon movement of a bicycle pedal. They made us admire the majesty of a jumping whale and perhaps wonder if we have it on our bucket list, and then they brought us back to reality showing that removing trash from the ocean may be what we need on our bucket list if we really want to make a difference.
And to sum it up brilliantly, they showed their own product, the van, yes, something nice and big for the family – but belittled themselves, comparing it to the Planet Earth, as the one thing that actually deserves attention.
Interestingly, they feature adults representing the values of a culture that were shared throughout the past five or six decades and exported throughout the world: consumption, progress, personal gratification, technology, innovation, automation, eternal youth, muscular power and photoshopped beauty. As the commercial progresses, even children in a choir admire the “big” things. Certainly, children absorb the values we teach them.
But they also brought the little voices of our children showing us what really matters, and what we should be pay attention from now on. Urgently.
Thanks, Volkswagen. I will use your message. It’s really big.
If you haven’t watched the commercial, watch it here.
Isabel Rimanoczy is an author, a contributing blogger and an educator who has made her life purpose to develop change accelerators. She developed the concept of the Sustainability Mindset and is the convener of the PRME Working Group on the Sustainability Mindset, a network of academics promoting a new mindset with their students. www.IsabelRimanoczy.net