A mixed message

Earlier this year, one of the big auto insurance companies released an ad that is part of a major effort to promote safer driving. That’s a good thing. Given the tragedies that occur while texting, talking and driving, many other businesses connected to the auto industry also are doing their part to get people to realize the dangers involved when we take our eyes off the road even for a split second. But this ad in particular sends a mixed message.

The commercial at first makes the viewer feel somewhat warm and fuzzy. After all, it’s the image of an all-American family taking the important issue of road safety seriously. The dad is behind the wheel with his wife next to him, and his two adorable children are in the back seat. Everyone also is buckled in properly. It’s a lovely day, and all is well because dad is paying close attention to the road, his cellphone is nowhere to be found. Soon we see and hear dad talking out loud to himself. He is bragging about all the savings the family is earning through their insurance company by practicing good habits behind the wheel. The point being, of course, in addition to not risking life and limb by trying to do two things at once while driving, taking precautions pays off in other ways as well. We can all drive safely home now and live happily ever after.

Not so fast.

If you haven’t seen this commercial yet, you might be wondering why the dad is talking out loud to himself with his entire family only inches away. Well this is where the mixed message — a sad message, indeed — comes in to view. Dad has no one to hear him because everyone else is wearing headsets. Mom is listening to music on her phone. The children also are connected to electronics and appear to be watching a movie or playing a video game. Not one family member is engaged in conversation outside of dad’s lonely mumbling. They’re certainly “safe” in the physical sense of the word. But they’re also putting themselves in harm’s way emotionally and spiritually by being so obviously disconnected. And while the father appears to be extremely pleased with himself because the extra money earned has apparently helped him buy a new set of golf clubs, if you’re really listening, you can sense some frustration in his voice. He seems annoyed, insulted even, but not because he’s being ignored by his wife and two children. Instead, he is annoyed because he can’t pick up his own favorite piece of technology.

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Scenes like the one portrayed in this auto insurance commercial are not at all far-fetched. They’re a glimpse of real life. The producers of the commercial are to be commended for being concerned about a very serious problem that’s causing accidents as well as taking lives. At the same time, I wonder if those producers realize the dual or mixed messages they were sending by having the rest of that very attractive family oblivious to one another. Wouldn’t it have been even more effective to have everyone put down the phones and actually have a conversation? How about using that time in the car as some quality family time, catching up on the day and talking about events or activities on the horizon? What about mom telling a story? Could it be that this didn’t even occur to the creators of the TV ad because their own family time looks very similar to what was portrayed in the ad; everyone together but alone, tied to technology instead of talking to each other? Something to think about as we are on the verge of entering into the holiday season — the season that is supposed to be all about family — the Holy Family in particular, as well as our own families.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and SiriusXM Channel 130.