Selling Main Street and Hard-Working Americans

Maybe you haven’t noticed it, but there is a class war going on out there on the television. It is a war being waged by middling brands (and allegedly populist politicians.) The key weapons in this fight are words about patriotism and American values.

First into the fray was Dominos. Starting last winter in the opening days of the Obama era, the pizza giant launched a TV ad featuring its CEO David Brandon. In it, he walks forward with the nation’s dome-topped Capitol Building in the background. He talks about how CEOs are descending on Washington begging for bailouts, but not him. In response, he announces his own bailout program: five dollars pizza. These won’t, he says, help the “fat cats on Wall Street,” but the “hardworking people” on “Main Street.”

Then came Dunkin’ Donuts and the company’s campaign, “America Runs on Dunkin’.” (See my earlier post, Coffee Wars and Class Warfare.) Like the Dominos ads, these spots create a rather exclusive notion of America. In the company’s most recent TV campaign, a cosmopolitan woman – a scientist in a white jacket who gets out of a yellow New York City taxicab – travels through iconic American scenes – a leafy suburb and a small town – and talks with an auto mechanic, a telephone repairman, and a bridal shop attendant. Each chooses Dunkin’ Donuts over Starbucks in a blind taste test. “Definitely,” says one. And the commercial ends with the line, “More hard-working Americans prefer the taste of Dunkin’ Donuts over Starbucks.”

During the Super Bowl, Denny’s joined the class warfare with its Mr. Chino spot. In this ads, a “regular guy” – a rather ordinary looking thirty something white guy — talks directly into the camera with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” playing in the Background.” He smirks, “I don’t know who Mr. Chino is” – though this character is indentified as someone who drinks cappuccinos and mochaccinos – “but he doesn’t know anything about breakfast.” Our regular guys, who does know something about breakfast, proceeds to eat an artery- clogging meal of chicken fried steak, bacon, sausage, and hash browns. At the end of the commercial, he tells us: “Coffee and milk foam is NOT a meal!” and “Mr. Chino, I’m not a fan of your beverages, but I sure do love your pants.”

The language of patriotism, of hard working-Americans – really of dividing America along class lines — isn’t just being used by brands these days. Or maybe some brands are targeting certain audiences.

“AngryTaxPayer,” a pop sociologist writing on urbandictionary.com, defines a “hard working American” as “someone who repeatedly gets the f-ing SHAFT from the government.” Then he uses the term in a sentence, saying and clearly dividing up America, “Joe is a hard working American, but Jose collects a welfare check because he has ten f-ing kids.”

That famous regular American Sarah Palin said during her million-dollar book tour last year that she was not trying to reach “the liberal elites,” but instead would focus on “everyday, hard-working Americans.” And in address to the Tea Party convention last week, she declared, “Average, hard-working Americans need to be able to get out there, unrestrained, and fight for what is right. Fight for energy independence and national security, fight for a smaller government instead of this big government overgrowth that Obama is ushering in.”

More in the next few days on the ironies of these branded campaigns to save Main Street and “hard-working” Americans.