ASPCA Commercial

The commercials that I have decided to focus on this week are Sarah Mclachlan’s ASPCA commercials. These commercials bother me so much that I actually wrote about them on my Facebook last month.

Dear Sarah Mclachlan, I am an excellent pet owner to two dogs and 9 hermit crabs. Please stop trying to guilt me with your ultra sad commercials. I have shed enough tears over those pathetic animals that you parade across the screen. I donated at Petsmart. I feed my neighbor’s cats on a regular basis. I don’t need to hear any more of your beautifully moving “In the Arms of an Angel” while I weep and cling to Tug. There is no need for your commercials to be so ridiculously long that I have to change the channel out of discomfort. There is no need for you to show me sickly thin animals either. My beagle is the size of an adult groundhog. Message received.
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These commercials show videos of animals who are being taken care of by the ASPCA. They all have the saddest looks possible on their faces and their eyes all scream pathetic. Softly playing in the background is Mclachlan’s “In the Arms of an Angel”. The commercial lingers on each animal and uses the zoom in and zoom out technique for what seems like forever. Intermittently a black screen pops up with white writing (again using the fade in/fade out technique) that gives a few depressing facts about animal cruelty. It happens every day. Even though some were rescued many more are still suffering. It drags on and on. Then when you are thoroughly guilt stricken and wondering why the box of tissues is so far out of reach  Mclachlan pops up on the screen with two dogs by her side. She explains what viewers can do to help by donating to the ASPCA and what that donation goes toward. You even get a free t-shirt if you donate right then and there.
I think what the creators of the commercial were trying to do with the ultra lingering shots of the animals mixed with startling facts was to create a feeling of guilt and panic in viewers. Sort of a Oh my God what can we do? They are out there right now? Having Mclachlan at the end of the seemingly endless two minute commercial seals the deal on getting donation. You have people hooked. They are ready to donate. I myself have been tempted to sign up for a monthly donation until I remember I am a broke graduate student and the best I can do is donate a dollar when I check out at Petsmart. It’s a blessing my laptop is usually not within reach when these commercials come on or I would be giving out my credit card information in between sobbing and desperately searching to make sure my dogs are comfortable on the couch.
Mclachlan even has a Christmas themed depressing commercial in which her rendition of “Silent Night” plays in the background. The commercial starts the guilt train with the statement “Every hour an animal is beaten or abused” and follows with more lingering videos of suffering animals.
It should say something about how effective the commercial is when I have to change the channel because it makes so physically uncomfortable that the guilt follows me for several minutes afterwards.
The ASPCA isn’t the only one who has latched onto this guilt technique either. The Shelter Pet Project is doing its best to make people feel guilty about the idea that there are animals out there who are disappointed on a daily basis when they are not chosen for adoption. Just check out its cartoon featuring two cartoon cats.
The cats are adorable. Their story is utterly depressing. I want to adopt these fictional creatures (maybe the fact that they are made of paper and ink will deter from my cat allergies).
Needless to say the commercials are all effective and though I feel absolutely horrible after watching them it’s worth it. Maybe someone will donate. Maybe someone will choose adoption rather buying from a puppy store. The amount of animals that have been abandoned since the recession is staggering. Pets are expensive and with all the layoffs many owners were forced to abandon their pets because they couldn’t afford to take care of them. It’s not the animal’s fault. There are sweet loving animals that are waiting to be adopted. I don’t care how many tissue boxes I go through. I hope they continue to keep producing the commercials.
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This entry was written by Diana Riker and published on February 16, 2012 at 5:14 pm. It’s filed under Diana Riker's Posts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “ASPCA Commercial

  1. I can’t stand the ASPCA commercials for a number of reasons.

    I find it hard to tolerate the combination of images, music, and text. Taken separately, I can handle each one. The images, while said, convey to me a feeling of sadness, and remind me that one day I’ll adopt a pet through a shelter, not a breeder. The music has a completely different meaning for me outside of the commercial. With “In the Arms of an Angel,” I think of the movie City of Angels. “Silent Night” brings obvious connections to Christmas and maybe memories of singing it in high school. And the text? They’re just statistics. I can ignore them alone.

    But what this commercial does is pull together these different types of media (and more I’m not mentioning, such as the video of Sarah McLachlan) to create something that has a much more powerful message. Each one informs the other and they develop into a cunningly sorrowful commercial.

    Besides, my sister’s dog, Nahla, reminds me that I can’t always take what I see as truth. Not because she was in a shelter or she has a hard life (neither are true), but I swear the dog has a perpetual look of sadness and gloom on her face. I just find it frustrating that they photograph/film these suffering dogs when I know perfectly happy dogs can look that way too.

  2. Great descriptions and literal reading of this commercials that are just dripping with sentimentality. I wonder, though, what your discussion might have looked like if you had done a semiotic reading of the commercials. Perhaps your future posts about commercials can focus on the theory, as well.

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