Dr Seuss and Asda

September is (horribly, perilously) upon us, so it’s time for parents everywhere to start forking out for stationery, bags and awful grey trousers once again. George at Asda recently launched their new back to school campaign:


The ad follows a young girl going through the process of getting ready in the morning, while showcasing the sort of heavy-handedness that school uniform has to be able to endure. Meanwhile the voiceover narrates a section from Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”, underlining the sense of excitement and adventure that naturally comes with the prospect of the first day of school.

Using childhood properties to inject some whimsy into proceedings for otherwise mundane products is a well-worn strategy, with classic examples including Irn Bru’s ‘Snowman’ and Sainsbury’s ‘Mog’.

The approach makes sense tactically, as it provides a common cultural touchstone that people relate to.  It adheres to same principle as Hollywood reboot/remake culture – by referencing established characters or ideas, you can press the nostalgia button in order to tap into the pre-existing feelings and attitudes of your audience. Essentially, it functions as emotional shorthand.

Dr. Seuss is perfect for this sort of thing, with his slightly bizarre and fundamentally silly tone belying a profound understanding of the wonders of youth alongside a delicate sense of humanity. It’s ideal for an instant boost of character and personality for even the most bland propositions. What’s perhaps surprising that he’s not drawn on more often, but then again, maybe his work doesn’t quite have the same cultural capital in the culture in the UK.

Beyond this, though, the creative is pretty unremarkable. The film-making is fairly rote and the cinematography hardly attention grabbing. It’s functional rather than fulfilling.

What makes this ad noteworthy is something far more subtle, something that’s easy to skim over if you’re not paying attention – the family dynamic on display.

The ad opens on a shot of the girl’s pile of new clothes with a note on top of them saying “Happy First Day, Love Mummy” and then ends with her Dad coming makes sure she’s ready before school.

It might appear insignificant but the implication seems to be that her Mum’s not around in the morning (perhaps had an early start at work?), so her Dad is dealing with the school run. It quietly inverts traditional gender roles and reinforces the idea that both men and women have important parental roles to play.

It’s understated and goes entirely unmentioned – which is why it’s worth mentioning. It doesn’t allow itself to indulge in its own progressiveness, nor is gender equality the idea it’s selling (unlike, say, Dove’s “Real Beauty” or Axe’s “Find Your Magic” campaigns); it simply presents the way this family operates as a reality.

And that’s important. When ideas like this are assimilated and presented in popular cultural artifacts (like advertising) as a matter of fact, you know that they’ve started to gain a foothold and a level of broad acceptance. It’s the next stage and other side of the coin to louder cultural shifts: it’s evolution rather than revolution.

And advertising, as an industry with well-documented diversity problems, needs to start better reflecting the society it is selling to in its output.More overly, advertising and other mass market communications media doesn’t have to limit itself to reflecting; it can lead the conversation. Little details like those in this Asda ad may seem insignificant but they communicate a lot.


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