Overwhelmed as we are with wacky politicals, terrorist hysteria, a looming police state and social media's unending attacks on our peace of mind, more than a few of us feel outsized pressure to do something—or at least say something—even when we normally wouldn't.
This apparently applies to brands, too. In "This Land," Delta and SS+K dive into the moral fray with a meditation on America from 30,000 feet up.
"When you spend your days 30,000 feet in the air," the voiceover begins, "you get an appreciation for this country—its beauty and its majesty. So, it hurts even more when violence and anger tear into our country."
The narration continues, dripping with conviction, as we pan over aerial shots of beaches, lighthouses, farms, mountain ranges and those glorious trains that nobody uses anymore.
"We are reminded every day of the collective effort that built this land. Our land. Up here, you hope prayers for peace get heard a little sooner," the ad concludes.
It closes with a cloud-laced image of the Delta logo and its current tagline, "Keep climbing."
Unsurprisingly, the comments on YouTube range from supportive ("this is one of the best advertisements delta has created #WorldPeace") to cynical ("And the land where the devastating attacks upon us shall he deflected back onto those who had done on us but we feel the effects where legacy carriers in longer offer warm free meals on domestic flights.").
All told, this is an tidy example of how brands can "humanize" themselves by weighing in on topics in the collective conscience. But for people who spend a lot of time thinking, it's also terrifically problematic.
Let's start with the mentions of "This Land" and "majesty." "This Land" is clearly a reference to the patriotic ditty, and majesty—a word we no longer hear all that often—brings the "purple mountains' majesty" of "America the Beautiful" to mind.
While it's nice to know Delta attended the same compulsory elementary school chorus we did, we're pretty sick of this theme. It's garden-variety chest-thumping at its most basic, and stroking the patriotic spirit can cultivate just as many exclusive tendencies as inclusive ones, especially lately.
Don't we have better things to do than think about how great we are, how great we could be? Can't we just be nice, like Canada?
Then there's that reference to "prayers for peace," which leaps into our ears with hashtag attached. This orients the plea around conflicts in which prayer has been invoked, where conscious change would have been preferable—global warming, gun control and terrorist attacks, now so numerous that we can't even give them a tidy name like "9/11."
A similar slogan, "Pray for Paris," circulated shortly after last year's Charlie Hebdo attacks. Ironically, a cartoonist for the magazine, Joann Sfar, responded in illustrations by asking the world not to pray.
This underscores how tricky making even "humanist" advocations has become. It's hard to be inclusive without feeling like you're stepping on someone else's face. What Delta perhaps missed in the validation process is that America—for all its Protestant ethics and Christian roots—also consists of people who don't pray (and are tired of being asked to), as well as people who do pray but would still like politicians to be more proactive about climate change and our runaway gun situation.
Anyway, Delta is promoting "This Land" as a tie-in to its sponsorship of #WhoWeAre, a campaign that shares stories from everyday Americans in partnership with StoryCorps and Upworthy. Its mission is to "remind us of a few simple truths—that we share more in common than divides us, that we are so much stronger when we spend less time shouting and more time listening, and that every single life matters equally and infinitely."
That's all very pretty, but we would have liked the airline to express its thoughts—if it really had to—without making them feel both patriotically imperative and religiously moral. Maybe one would have been OK, but not both. Coupled with its current "We're coming for you" messaging, where the "we" is us and "you" is the whole world, it even stinks of exceptionalism.
It's naive, and we're jaded: We simply need more.
Client: Delta Airlines
Partner, Chief Creative Officer: Bobby Hershfield
Partner, Co-Founder: Lenny Stern
Partner, Co-Founder: Mark Kaminsky
Copywriters: Mark Kaminsky/Bobby Hershfield
VP, Account Director: Alex Neophytou
SVP, Head of Production: John Swartz
Producer: Liz Mistriel
Editorial Company: Nomad Editorial
Editorial company producer(s): Weston Ver Steeg
Editor(s): John Ulbrich
Music Company: Tone Farmer
Postproduction Company: The Mill