A Misguided Commercial by the University of Phoenix – We Did It … But what did ‘we’ do?

The University of Phoenix has added a commercial to its growing list of annoying, repetitive Youtube commercial interruptions called, “We did it”:

While this is a very touching ad that creeps deeply into the heart of sensitive folks (like myself) and is supposed to encourage women to feel empowered, it falls so terribly short of having any value that it’s almost a cynical and nasty commentary on America and capitalism.

The commercial starts out in an industrial factory where workers are being slowly replaced by machines. One by one they leave until all that’s left is the single mom of two. In the background is the old, World War II poster with Rosie the Riveter promoting industrial labor equality with the words, “We Can Do It”. Inevitably, the big, bad boss who has determined that he doesn’t have to outsource jobs thanks to the growing trend of computerized automatons, eventually pink slips mom and sends her home, heart broken, scared, and feeling helpless. Suddenly, a computer ad from the University of Phoenix promoting a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Information Technology promises hope! From there, mom gets her online degree, bakes a poorly made cake to celebrate, and is suddenly directly involved with the network administration of a very large company (presumably, based on the gigantic servers in a specialized server room that she was interfacing with).

Now for reality …

Yes, it’s a beautiful commercial – superficially. In reality, it’s a terrible commercial. Why?

  1. Mom loses her job to computerized robots. How are they run? Computers … duh! What does mom see as her hope for progressing forward? A job in … computers! Yay! Now, while she can feed her family, she’ll simultaneously be contributing to the mass automation of other companies where thousands of other moms get to go home without a job and watch their families starve. Awesome.
  2. Rosie the Riveter was not only “not” famous during World War 2 as a “motivational” poster, it was a sad statement on abusive commercial tactics and manipulation. Companies needed workers because they had screwed up and sent too many men to war and in exchange they took women from their homes, starting the detrimental trend to home and family life that continues to this day – and underpaid them. Wow. I guess if you’re dumb and don’t mind being lied to – it’s a great poster! Maybe that sounds mean – but I think people are smarter than Corporate America likes to treat them and if given a chance, they don’t appreciate those who condescend to them.
  3. Mom got a “Bachelor’s” in computers. A “Bachelors” in computers is the equivalent of just not having much skill at all and that’s why it’s an easy “online” course (that’s my opinion only – being in the field). Sure, there are those companies that care. Most companies will hire people based on proven skill and if college is the preference – they’ll give it to people who have a Masters. On the other hand – there’s no way mom would be working in a secured server room or as a network administrator making much more than she did before with the Bachelors. But, hey, it’s a job, right? Boo.
  4. Mom has two children. She wasn’t going to be able to live well off of unemployment while paying some *still* pretty high prices for her online education (and a grant or a loan for a single mom with two kids, high rent, etc. etc. … yeah … right). So … while those kids are a tear-jerk addition – it really wasn’t appropriate to “use” children to sell a product – at all. Maybe mom wanted to get an education just because she’s smart, or capable, or wanted something better? Hmmm? Maybe give her some credit computer animation people!!
  5. Apparently – mom can work well with her hands, is good with precision, and intelligent enough to get an online degree … but can’t bake a cake?! I may not be mom, but as a single parent, baking a cake is not hard. It’s customary for commercials to make dad look stupid – but not mom. And, this commercial kind of brings home the truth as to why. Mom is proud of her work – and she should be. So … it wasn’t as ‘funny’ as it seems when you really give it that second look.
  6. Finally … mom scratches out “We can do it”, for “We can do IT”, where “IT” now stands for information technology. Ever worked in the computer field? I’m a systems analyst and very good at my job. Women have been doing IT for quite some time and are just as good as men – and the same holds true for any other job in any other industry. But, there’s a strange inference there …. by replacing the “it”, it almost implies that mom’s ability to be an industrial worker is dead … that industrial work is dead in general (thanks to automation and outsourcing) – and moms (and others) can now be successful as part of that outsourcing team that just tears down America. Fan … tas … tic.

Anyway – I’m sure many people will disagree with this analysis and I welcome it. Maybe I’ve read too much into the commercial. But, frankly, the imagery is pretty clear. I don’t know if it was just hastily crafted by the University of Phoenix without much care as to the content (other than to manipulate single women by demonstrating that they’re helpless against the system and if they really loved their kids they’d pay U of P for an online education), or if all the other imagery was intentional.

However, for those people who do care, we have to take a long, hard look at this type of advertising and ask ourselves whether or not promoting this type of advancement is good or not. Sure, single parents need jobs and opportunity to compete in the workplace. But, not everyone can be in the top, white collar jobs (and the industry is swamped with people – regardless of what you may have heard). Are the people working in lower end jobs any less? They really do matter, too. Perhaps it’s not about raising the lower end income that makes things better, but dropping the higher end income and not driving companies into automation and outsourcing.

Unfortunately – the real trend is that businesses have been increasingly pushing for college degrees in lower end / lower wage jobs and that is continuing to crush the human spirit in America to the point it may not be able to return …

Sorry – starting to rant. … Anyway – that’s all. Hope you enjoyed.

Thanks for reading.

If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.” – Stephen Hawking.


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