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Why The Y’s TV Ad Hits the Mark and Dodge Ram Misses with Gen Z

Two commercials, both promoting a message of community and service. One hits the mark while the other tarnishes its brand. Why it’s important for organizations to promote and convey an authentic voice about serving the community to attract Generation Z.

Both Dodge Ram and the YMCA recently produced commercials that focused on the concept of serving and giving back to the world; a priority that is important to me and a majority of Generation Z. In fact, according to this Time article, which highlighted Peter Drucker’s work and a new study of Gen Z teens, it found that 60% of the 14- to 18-year-olds surveyed online said that “having an impact on the world is going to be important to them in their jobs. That’s a sharp increase from the 39% of Millennials who expressed this sentiment in 2010, when they were in the same age range.” This shows that Generation Z is more motivated than previous generations to volunteer and give their time to helping others.

With all of this in mind, only one commercial met the concept of community and volunteering. It was the YMCA’s powerful, tear-jerking commercial that did an incredible job in illustrating the divide between Americans today and the power to serve and fix. So, how come viewers didn’t appreciate Dodge Ram’s commercial like they did the Y’s? Here’s why. First, a bit of background information. The Ram commercial concentrated on a sermon, given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. titled “The Drum Major Instinct”, on the idea that “Everybody can be great” and “you only need a heart full of grace” to serve. While this is an amazing message I think everyone should hear, the commercial did not deliver it in the correct context. In other words, using civil rights revolutionaries to sell cars is just plain wrong.

Ironically, when looking into the history of King’s speech (something I wonder if the producers researched), I discovered that in a different part of the same speech, King mocks car advertisements. He describes the producers as “gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion” that “have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying…And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. …I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America.” Basically, I’m guessing either Ram figured that people wouldn’t remember the context of King’s speech and what he really thought about car advertisements, or they thought that people hadn’t been taught his full speech in history classes; which they were right. In fact, without the magical power of Google, I would’ve never known that his speech was taken out of context for the use of a manipulative advertisement.

Even though I have no interest in cars, I can say that my opinion of Ram has changed, and I don’t think I would ever want to buy any of their products after this incident. Because the speech the commercial used was incorrectly quoted and inappropriately used, it was, understandably not well received by viewers.

In contrast, the YMCA made a revolutionarily inspiring commercial that perfectly highlights the dilemmas our society faces every day. I think it is amazing that companies and nonprofits, like the YMCA, are recognizing the problems in the world such as racism, terrorism, gender inequality, and cyberbullying. I also think, and many Gen Zers will agree, that every company should put the same foot forward when it comes to making the change they wish to see in the world. Doing this will make their organizations more attractive in recruiting young talent because, as the study mentioned above in the Time article, having an impact on the world is important to my generation.

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