Have you noticed the changes being made to commercials lately?
Marketing during COVID-19
In response to the virus, companies seem to be clambering to update their message for the times. Instead of running old commercials while marketing agencies are shut down, they?re running newer, cheaper, homemade commercials that target what they think we want in this moment.
USAA has been making the biggest push into my regular YouTube viewing content lately.
Every day I have to watch a slideshow of stock image soldiers and veterans shuffle over jangly music as a voiceover talks about veterans being exceptional at social distancing and pandemic response.
While I?m sure this information is accurate, I?m annoyed by the tone. Why are all the soldiers in the photos so mad? Is this voiceover insinuating that I?m not doing my part to social distance myself?
The other big player in the corona-marketing space is State Farm.
I?ve watched a lot of State Farm?s new commercials in which ?Jake from State Farm? touts his marketing message over a Zoom-style video while I eagerly wait to press the ?Skip? button, but it was only yesterday during a particularly boring State Farm commercial that something clicked.
As I watched Jake do nothing but drink his damn coffee for the entire commercial, I realised something; who the hell is this guy? This isn?t Jake, right?
The Evolution of Jake
The original Jake debuted in a genuinely funny 2011 State Farm commercial. In this ad, a customer is (for some reason) calling his insurance provider at 3am.
His wife catches him, then takes the phone off her husband while insinuating that he?s probably talking to a woman.
She then talks to Jake, and after hearing his voice remarks, ?she sounds hideous.? The husband then replies, ?that?s because he?s a man.?
I laughed. I thought it was funny, and so did a lot of other people. The ad became very popular, and State Farm saw dollar signs.
?Oh my god? executives said to themselves, rubbing their hands together with glee. ?We have a ?Flo from Progressive? on our hands!?
They decided to make Jake their mascot, and ?Jake from State Farm? took off in popularity. In response to his popularity, State Farm dedicated a section of their website to Jake, and eventually launched a Twitter account which quickly attracted tens of thousands of followers.
The Man Behind the Vision
?Jake from State Farm? was actually played by Jake Stone, a real-life State Farm employee who won the job at a company casting call.
Jake was just a regular guy playing a version of himself in a hit commercial; so for him, life was only getting better. But things would only getting worse for State Farm.
As the commercial lived on through social media and YouTube, it started to generate negative attention as audiences contemplated the subtext behind the commercial.
The punchline of the commercial ?she sounds hideous? became a point of contention for the transgender community, who were upset at the implication that a deep voice indicated a hideous woman.
In response, another version of the commercial was released by State Farm with the punchline taken out. This version became just as contentious though, as others were angry that the brand would alter popular content because of community backlash.
Wiping the Slate Clean
Jake was re-cast in February of this year, right before State Farm filmed and released an almost shot for shot remake of the original hit commercial (without including the controversial joke).
Although he quit the company for a while, the original Jake still works at State Farm today, so the re-casting had nothing to do with actor availability.
Of the re-casting, State Farm assistant vice president of marketing told Muse:
?The original Jake did great at delivering his famous line? however, this expanded role is very demanding, and is best filled by a professional actor.?
The expanded role she?s talking about is Jake?s presence in the countless new commercials that have come out since February, including the dozens of Zoom-call style commercials ?Jake? is clearly recording at home.
The new ?Jake? is called Kevin Mimms, and he has inadvertently stirred up a lot of controversy for replacing the original actor.
The remade version of the commercial starring Mimms currently has more dislikes on YouTube than likes, and a lot of angry comments to match.
The re-casting has also started a conversation online about the motivation behind the casting decision, besides the reason given by corporate.
State Farm said that a real actor was needed for the demanding nature of the expanded role, but the original Jake did well enough during his acting debut that he inspired a cult following. Surely he could have just as easily recorded himself drinking coffee from his desk at home right? This isn?t really a role that demands a classically trained actor.
Many sceptics are calling this move a corporate attempt to project inclusivity after the negative attention from the transgender community.
The new Jake is black, which is the most obvious indicator for seeing this as a diversity casting. Others speculate that this decision isn?t race motivated, that it?s about sexual orientation. The theory is that the new Jake is gay, which is something I?ve been unable to confirm after some light Googling.
The new Jake is somewhat soft-spoken, which is a departure from the ?deep voice? that ?caused the problem? in the original commercial.
**(Even though it wasn?t the voice itself but the implicated connection between voice and beauty that caused the issue).**
Although it seems moronic, I can absolutely imagine corporate types listening to Mimms? voice and saying to themselves:
?That?s our guy! A softer voiced actor will totally put us in the clear.?
They?d then follow this nonsense with a Top Gun high-five and far too much celebratory scotch. (All the while missing the point).
Whether Mimms is gay or not is irrelevant, because this detail isn?t part of the ?Jake? character written by State Farm and portrayed by Mimms (yet).
In spite of this, some have correlated Mimms? voice with being homosexual in nature, so sexuality will never not be part of the conversation. (Voice is not an indicator of sexuality, people. Did we learn nothing about making voice-related assumptions after the first version of the commercial?)
What we do know is that we now have a new Jake, and that fans of the original Jake are pissed.
But regardless of how mad everyone gets about casting choices and the reasons behind them, State Farm has ultimately achieved its goal. We?re talking about it, right? We?re giving them attention, and that?s all they want.
We did it
Just by publishing this story, I?ve given them a little bit of what they wanted, I?ve given them another moment in the sun. Which really makes you think; maybe this controversy was what they wanted all along.
Maybe next, Progressive will replace the current Flow with a Chinese woman sporting a pixie haircut in hopes of generating the same buzz/anger.
The worst fate for any company is to be forgotten, and this fate has never become more likely than in the current coronavirus economy.
So in a desperate attempt to stay relevant, we?re probably going to see a lot more daring (and probably misguided) choices being made in the marketing world before the coronavirus scare is over.
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