The first time I saw the Hershey’s “Higher Love” commercial, I thought it was cute. It seemed sweet that a kid would go to so much trouble to spend time with her dad. And that version of “Higher Love” is so freakin’ good. It grabs your heartstrings more than any other version of that song ever has.
If you haven’t seen it, take a look here. This is the extended version, but the overall message is functionally the same as the version I see every day while I’m watching CBS This Morning. (It may be on Hulu too. I’m not sure.)
It’s cute, right? You’re totally in love with Hershey’s “Higher Love” now, aren’t you?
Okay. Now pretend you’ve seen it like every day for a month or so. And pretend your me and you can’t just like something because you believe in your heart of hearts that everything is terrible and insidious.
(I mean, it’s an ad, so it’s inherently insidious, because the definition of insidious is to “entrap or beguile.”)
The more I think about it, the more I have a problem with it. In fact, I have so much of a problem with it, that it’s ruining this version of “Higher Love” for me. It’s not like I go out of my way to listen to the song, and I’m not the type to download singles from iTunes. But if I hear this song in a TV show or in a movie, which is likely since it seems like there are 5 pre-approved songs every year that must appear in every single TV show, movie, and commercial, I’m going to think about all the negative connotations I have about this commercial.
So what’s wrong with the Hershey’s “Higher Love” commercial? Let me tell you.
Firstly, the daughter is a problem for me. I’m going to guess she’s about 12 years old. I say this, because she looks young, but she’s obviously conscious about how she looks, hence the buttons on her backpack and her choice of shoes. If she is 12, that puts her in sixth or seventh grade. That’s middle school. That is a terrible age where kids generally don’t go out of their way to spend time with a parent. But perhaps this seemingly motherless daughter just wants to spend time with her dad because she only has one parent. I’ll take that as an excuse. But it does make me curious. Why can’t there be a mom for Hershey’s “Higher Love” to work?
And we need to talk about this manic pixie dream daughter that the ad agency created for this commercial. Sure, she’s cute with that pixie cut and chunky sweater. She looks fun with those clunky Doc Marten’s and plaid backpack. It’s like she has this sort of sensibility that generally, does not reside within a 12-year-old UNLESS the parents of said 12-year-old have had an active role in shaping this child’s tastes. Let’s be real. Most 12-year-olds want to be cookie cutter kids and look exactly like the other kids. They are in middle school where standing out is a terrible thing to do. This daughter does not look like most 12-year-olds. And I would believe that she had an active parent helping her shape her tastes, except for we see her wander around the city all by herself. She’s very self-sufficient, and her dad doesn’t have time to hang out with her. That sort of independence doesn’t exist in kids with helicopter parents who actively mold their kid into what they want the kid to be rather than her own person. Couple that with her lack of mother, and you have a kid who has relatively little adult/parental interference in her life.
Little Scarlett may as well be a Lost Boy in Neverland.
This family is obviously pretty well-off. I mean, if you have a job that allows you to telecommute to what appears to be really important meetings, then I would think you definitely work for a more progressive employer who values employees, and thus pays them what they are worth and gives them the freedom to telecommute. So, if that dad is making money, why doesn’t this kid have a cell phone? It’s 2016, so surely she would. I mean, if she’s independent enough to wander the city without adult supervision, I’d think a parent would want her to have a phone. And they would most definitely want her to have a phone if they were a working single parent, because then they could more easily contact her.
And if all the local news reports are to be believed, all kids this daughter’s age do is text pics of their genitals to one another and talk about drugs. (I don’t know if your local news is as doom and gloom as mine, but like every day I hear a new thing that middle schoolers are doing that is terrible. And it’s completely understandable that Hershey wouldn’t want that to be the image for the whole Hershey’s “Higher Love” campaign.) And even if she doesn’t text pics of her downstairs to boys, surely she’s on some form of social media or chat app. Surely she has friends at school that she wants to keep up with. At that age, I remember a lot of my life revolving around passing notes (that is, texts that were written on paper) and talking on my parents’ landline after school. I was a huge dork and nerd, and didn’t have hordes of friends. But I still did those social things. And even though we didn’t have any way to send each other pictures of our junk, I do remember that a lot of time and energy was spent thinking about the opposite sex.
So, would it be more relevant for her Hershey’s “Higher Love” to be sharing s’mores with a cute boy? Probably. Or you know, for this dad to be going out of his way to make s’mores for his daughter so she wants to hang out with him. Because even if I’m wrong about the age, there are still a million other things this kid would rather be doing on an iPad (Minecraft, Netflix, YouTube) than spending time with her dorky dad.
The daughter in this commercial is a manic pixie dream daughter because she spends so much time and energy doting on her father and finding ways to spend time with him. What dad doesn’t want his pre-teen daughter to go to those sorts of lengths to make him a s’more? What dad doesn’t want to think that in the midst of puberty, that his daughter would still be devoted to him as the only man in her life? And the fact that she is pretty much 100% asexual really makes her the perfect daughter because then she can be a sweet little princess forever and he’ll never have to think about her as a dynamic person who is capable of having feelings (sexual and otherwise) for another person. Nope, she’s just the perfect daughter who has nothing better to do all day than obsess about her dad.
Is that what a Hershey’s “Higher Love” is all about? Daughters frozen in time so they never sexually mature and have unnatural obsessions about their dads? Maybe I’m reading too much into that. (It would not be the first time I have devoted a ridiculous amount of energy analyzing media that didn’t deserve it.) You can disagree all you want, because the daughter’s relationship with her father is not even the most troubling part of the commercial.
Let’s talk about the dad and his work/life balance. Am I meant to feel sorry for someone who gets to work from home? That’s a luxury that very few parents have, and I would argue that the vast majority of working parents spend their day feeling torn in two because they have to work, but they want to be around their kids. And this father and daughter seem to live in an area where it’s safe for a kid to wander around town with a creepy-ass cardboard cutout without anyone harassing her. This is the most idyllic portrayal of a family with a dead mom that I’ve ever seen outside a Disney fairytale.
As I mentioned before, that dad probably works for a super progressive company. That’s why he’s able to work from home. The frames of his boxy glasses and his button-down cardigan send the same message. He looks like someone who works for a company that is a little more relaxed and forward thinking than say, your average 9-5 cubicle farm where you are required to wear khakis and a company polo every single day. Then, when you look at the design of the house and the scenery of the neighborhood, you get a total Pacific Northwest vibe. I mean, it feels like this family of two lives in a suburb of Portland. And while I know that on the whole, Oregon outside of Portland tends to be very conservative, a suburb of Portland would undoubtedly be more progressive than your average suburb here in Oklahoma.
This is important because it makes me lose ALL sympathy for this family, Hershey’s “Higher Love” be damned. If you have the ability to work from home and you are showing me how it impedes your work/life balance, I’m going to punch you in the face. And then, I’m going to take you back in time so you can hang out with 12-year-old Marisa who had a dad who worked 80-hour weeks, and a mom who worked two jobs. (You will note that 12-year-old Marisa did not spend a lot of time wandering around town buying s’mores ingredients or making cardboard cutouts of her parents. Instead, she let herself into the house after school with her key and did her homework until her parents came home.)
The reality is that most parents have to sacrifice time with their kids for a job that is probably unfulfilling, doesn’t pay enough, and forces them make the sort of decisions that put their work in front of their family. They probably have to make more of those decisions in the course of a day than anyone should. The whole system is completely broken, but it’s getting better in a lot of ways. And one of the ways it’s getting better is by allowing employees to work from home. So, if you have that privilege that so many working parents do not, it makes you really unsympathetic for not making it work. I’m not saying this dad doesn’t want to spend more time with family. I’m just saying he’s infinitely better off than like 98% of the rest of American parents. And this commercial makes it look like Hershey’s “Higher Love” is only available to people in a specific tax bracket.
That, or his daughter is super needy, and he may need to park the helicopter for a while because clearly she’s independent as hell, and doesn’t need to have an adult around at all times.
Even if this dad is putting in a lot of extra hours for a specific project, at least he’s home. And he has a daughter who is old enough to take care of herself. I mean, she can walk all over the damn city and clearly convey an order to a dude at a copy shop. (That is a feat, for reals. Y’all ever had an order come out right at Kinko’s? No, you haven’t.) She also magically has enough money to buy a cardboard cutout of her dad at the copy shop. And those things are not cheap. I mean, we’re talking somewhere around $200. (But sure, show us that picture of her counting out her change. I’m sure that really brought back memories for the Baby Boomers.) So sorry, broke ass 12-year-olds. You ain’t gonna have none of the Hershey’s “Higher Love” because you can’t afford to make a creepy cut out of your dad.
Scarlett, sweetie. Are you sure you don’t want to use those coins to buy a new pair of Doc Marten’s, or to buy a Crosby record turntable, you little Zooey Deschanel character waiting to happen, you? At the very least, surely you can read a book or text pictures of your junk until dad is off the damn conference call.
I guess what really pisses me off is I can’t tell what Hershey is trying to say. Is it that we should make time to have s’mores with our kids? Is real quality time with family spent over the cheapest chocolate bar? I mean, let’s be real. If I’m correct in the assumption that this is taking place in the Pacific Northwest, this kid’s Doc Marten’s would probably carry her to the nearest Whole Foods or specialty candy store. And if Scarlett is discerning enough to dress like a character that Winona Ryder could’ve played circa 1997, she is discerning enough to demand a real chocolate.
And even if Hershey wants us to believe that they want you to put a subpar chocolate bar and your kid in front of work, is that really the truth? How many members of the Hershey company get to telecommute? How many pre-production meetings for this commercial were conducted via video conference? Does Hershey give the average working parent at their company that much leeway when it comes to spending time with their families? I mean, their foreign student labor scandal makes me think they aren’t so progressive when it comes to their own employees. What does Hershey’s “Higher Love” have to do with the people who get a paycheck from the Hershey company?
If I had to guess, I’d say very little.