Commentary

Cyrus, Road Blocks, And The Green-Eyed Monster

The young white interviewer-dude sports the black glasses and follicularly robust beard of your basic Brooklyn hipster. But rather than favoring a tight black T-shirt for flexing his tat-covered bicep muscles -- developed by salvaging industrial metals -- he’s dressed in the tweedy wool jacket and cotton-checked shirt of a traditional academic (sans bow tie.)

Thus, the mystery of this TD Ameritrade commercial begins. 

In what universe does a financial consultant look like this?

As part of its latest campaign, this spot is set in a “green room,” not in the where-the-guests-wait-to-go-on-TV sense, but rather a room painted deep green that features an even greener, massively tufted, velvet sofa. The sofa really pops. It’s so aggressively green that the whole couch could be a Disney animation.

Now, the color green (aside from the wearing o’ the green on St. Patrick’s Day) is traditionally associated with money, of course, but it can also symbolize life, renewal, fertility and the environment. Therefore, this room is a mini-greenhouse, if you will, cooking up creativity, healing, and maybe even some breakthroughs.

But here’s the point of the ad: Beardy boy interviews a young African-American woman who sits on the other side of the sofa. He asks her at what age she wants to retire. “I was thinking of 70?” she says, equivocally. This leads to talk of dreams, and what she wants to do before then.

“I thought we were supposed to be talking about retirement,” she says. ”There’s no law that says you can’t make the most of today,” he responds.

And that opens the floodgates. “I’d really like to run with the bulls,” she says, coming up with a knockout of an unexpected answer.

 “Wow,” he says. “Hope you’re fast.”

“I am,” she says.

First of all, I like the effortless diversity in the casting of the spot. But there’s something deeper that makes it so memorable. The interviewer guy, aka counselor, has glasses and a beard. There’s a big couch. And he asks his “client” about her dreams.

Wait a minute! Shut the front door! He’s the latter-day Sigmund Freud! And now, in the 21st century, a psychiatrist is a financial analyst. And treatment has moved from psychologically exploring unconscious penis envy in women to financial advertising talking about ambitious young females who want to run with the bulls!

This is double-down deep. The bull is a symbol of virility and high-flying Wall Street, of course. And in saying she wants to run with them, this woman is also talking about a fearless competitive streak—and that need for danger, exhilaration, and living on the edge-ness that will get her there.  

There are bulls aplenty lately in advertising. Last week, in my column about the “Fearless Girl,” I wrote about the pint-sized toreador-girl installed in the Financial District for State Street Global to stare down that other famous bronze art installation, the Angry Bull of Bowling Green.

The sculptor had told me “a child is more endearing,” and “there is no sexual connotation.” Unfortunately, this didn’t stop a particularly pervy Wall Street “Broseph,” who was photographed in the act trying to faux-hump the statue, and subsequently shamed on social media.

Of course, the muy macho writer Ernest Hemingway popularized the idea of running with the bulls of Pamplona in his novel, “The Sun Also Rises.”  Many accounts have it that that the writer Gertrude Stein first told him about it.

Interestingly, automative brand Audi, equally saluted and maligned for championing equal pay for women in its Super Bowl spot, has a new, beautifully shot, bull-based spot now out. It shows a raging bull, banging against a wooden gate and chains before he enters the stadium. Meanwhile, the bull whisperer drives his powerful Audi auto machine right up to another wooden gate and then flashes his lights, like a wild bull emerging. The driver then enters the arena — and with the wave of his arm, tames the bull.

“Progress is never backing down” is the spot’s  somewhat confusing tag line. I guess it’s showing a combination of aggression and Zen.  But it just seems to be miming an earlier British spot for Audi, where the guy actually rides the bull and stays on long enough to tame him into submission.  The link between animal and car is made much more clearly with the line “with the safety of dynamic ride control.”

Then of course, we had the famous, ripe-for-the-satire Lincoln/Matthew McConaughey spot from three years ago, when, as the philosopher-king sits and muses inside his driving machine, he encounters a bull in the middle of the road. His most-parodied line comes at the top: “That’s a big bull,” he says.  Then he talks like the bull, who for some reason he has named “Cyrus”:  “1,800 pounds and doing whatever the heck I want,” he says. And then, as Matthew: “I respect that.” With that, he backs off and turns around.

This is a much more oblique message than the Audi spot -- but again, it’s showing a man so Zen and mellow that he knows he can’t control the uncontrollable. He’s not up for a fight, but rather gives the bull his due.

But back to our green room. Perhaps none of this was consciously intended, and they just wanted to talk about what’s on the surface: building a portfolio for retirement.

Whatever. This young woman is full of ambition, and intends to run with the big boys. Counselor is wowed.

I’m rooting for her to defy the odds and define a new path to taming the bulls -- and the green-eyed monsters -- that she will no doubt encounter enroute.

9 comments about "Cyrus, Road Blocks, And The Green-Eyed Monster".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from EMHS (Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems), March 17, 2017 at 2:23 p.m.

    I dunno, I watched the spot. Maybe to have an unbiased view I should have watched it before reading your column, but the advisor-cum-analyst ("beardy boy") comes off as a pretentious dork. I think his hand gestures do him in. I wouldn't confide in him a craving for chocolate, let alone any more long-term ambitions. 

    Any depth is lost on me. Plus, as a consumer, I generally loathe TD and the service they supposedly provide. 

  2. Lee Hunt from Lee Hunt LLC, March 17, 2017 at 3:56 p.m.

    If you've ever been in a TD Bank you'll know why they picked a green room and sofa. Everything is green in that place: logo, carpeting, chairs, wall hangings, signage, even the ties the men wear.

  3. Jonathan Hutter from EMHS (Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems) replied, March 18, 2017 at 10:24 p.m.

    If they wear green ties you can always do a Sean Spicer color key on them.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 17, 2017 at 6:12 p.m.

    Both of their spots are as misleading as all get out. 

  5. Deirdre Hanssen from The Promo Zone, March 18, 2017 at 10:48 p.m.

    Interesting column Barbara, but I don't much like slice of life spots. I find the TD message confusing and their assumption that I know what TD Ameritrade is (a bank, a brokerage, financial planners?) unfortunate. They do have a spot about a chef that is quite well done, I think. Maybe it's that I dislike the actual running with bulls but I wish her luck with her real or metaphorical bulls.

  6. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 18, 2017 at 10:52 p.m.

    I forgot to end with the fact that using bulls in ads is dangerous because it's all so much, uh, bull. 

  7. Jane Farrell from Freelance, March 19, 2017 at 11:18 a.m.

    True confession: when she said run with the bulls, given that it was a financial-services commercial, I thought she meant succeed on Wall St.! I found his manner slightly patronizing. And when I first read about Fearless Girl, I worried that something like the  perverted situation would happen. How sad is it that I was right to be concerned?

  8. Travis Simons from TJ Group Marketing Corporation, March 23, 2017 at 5:54 a.m.

    Those bulls in advertising can tell us other ideia.... maybe this history and real idea it's not the best one. Honestly their concept aren't good at all.

  9. Jim English from The Met Museum, March 23, 2017 at 1:44 p.m.

    Yeah,  "Beardy Boy" was a bit much,  but as long as Reeg and Kelly Ripa are out of the picture,  I'm all right with the TD campaign.

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