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This Oreo ad is a hopelessly baby-brained salute to civility before a contentious election

America needs more than a cookie right now, and the peril of brands trying to capture the cultural moment.

This Oreo ad is a hopelessly baby-brained salute to civility before a contentious election
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Last week, the two candidates running for Utah governor appeared in the same ad, a PSA to promote civility in politics, working together, and the peaceful transition of power. There was Chris Peterson wearing a blue donkey button, and Spencer Cox wearing a red elephant button, and there they were being respectful and supportive of each other, despite the election race between them.

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Now Oreo has released a new ad that is trying to capture that same sentiment, but with cute animated animals at an unnamed state fair.

Many actual state fairs were canceled, but just like in the ad, that didn’t slow down demand for the food. On the surface, this is adorable. Stuffed toys helping each other! Add in the not-so subtle political message between the elephant and the donkey, we’re telling kids that there’s nothing we can’t overcome if we just talk about it.

Okay, now imagine the elephant calling in an unmarked van full of stuffed federal government police dogs dressed in riot gear to arrest this kitten for peacefully protesting being denied access to the milk fridge.

Oreo’s senior brand director Justin Parnell said in a statement, “Most Americans are unified in their belief we need to come together as a nation and find ways to respect one another more, regardless of our personal beliefs or differences. As a brand, we believe a message of coming together and restoring civility is needed now more than ever.”

I mean, sure, I guess? Unicorns and rainbows and puppy dogs and sunshine and lollipops for everyone. But in the age of Trump, this kumbaya cookie moment just feels hopelessly naive.

Of course, it will help Oreo parent Mondelez appeal to the “Can’t we all just get along, and forget about the racist, fascist unpleasantness” crowd, or the “Mitt Romney is good because he put out a sternly worded statement (even though he just voted to ruin my life for the next three decades)” demographic. But that narrow slice of the populace is as misguided about the reality of politics and culture as Oreo.

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Marketers have long been talking about how brands need to be able to read the cultural room and create their advertising accordingly. Oreo’s theme of coming together over common bonds of love and friendship (and cookies) isn’t new. Just a few weeks ago, it was on full display with a three-minute short—created with PFLAG National—called “Proud Parent.” It’s a nuanced, lovely piece that advocates for love and acceptance. What do you think Vice President Mike Pence thinks of it?

America’s divisiveness and poisonous partisanship is in need of repair, but that damage can only be healed once the cause is fixed. President Trump isn’t interested in sharing some milk and cookies with those who disagree with him. He wants them locked up. He isn’t trying to end the fighting, because it’s the very foundation of his entire political existence.

If anything, the appropriate time for an ad like this would be after the election if Joe Biden wins, considering one of the primary points of his campaign has been to heal what he’s called this “house divided.” In that same recent Gettysburg speech, Biden said what America is experiencing right now is “neither good or normal.”

At best, Oreo’s new ad is one made for more normal times. At worst? It comes off as the brand’s very own Pepsi/Kendall Jenner moment, an insulting oversimplification, cutesified to sell more cookies.

Hold on. Wait a minute.

What if I’m reading this wrong? What if this is actually a pre-election plea to moderate Republicans? A cookie-coded message aimed at convincing them to join the growing ranks of lifelong conservatives that recognize the damage Trump has inflicted on their very party? What if that stuffed elephant is actually . . . Rick Wilson?

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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