For as long as I can remember, I have loved commercials. Even the worst, most annoying commercials interested me. I rarely minded a pause in programming and sometimes, I found the content of the commercials more interesting than the show itself. That love, and perhaps even obsession, led me to study communications in college and ultimately led me to a career in marketing, PR, and branding. I was motivated to uncover how these commercials worked or didn’t.
For even longer than I can remember, I have been navigating the unique experience of being a transracially-adopted person. These days, after having leaned more fully into the non-profit sector, my love of commercials, branding, and messaging remains and I am even more tuned in than ever to brands that leverage adoption as an advertising device.
Unfortunately, more often than not, I cringe or am downright enraged by the thoughtless content that is created and distributed by what can only be clueless, tone-deaf, and/or lazy creative and marketing teams.
Today I had one of those cringe-worthy, jaw dropping, and head shaking moments when I saw the latest commercial from Mitsubishi. Like many mornings, I had the news playing in the background. And, as always, my ears perked up when I heard the word “adopted” in the ad. Here is the voice-over that accompanied the 30-second spot:
“One fateful day two of Mitsubishi’s safest siblings were separated…the Roberts family adopted the Outlander, while Mike and Jenny took home the Outlander Sport. But no matter where their journeys take them they will always be part of America’s safest crossover family.”
Seeing this, as an adopted person who was raised with a sister and brothers that I deeply love but also separated from biological siblings, I was pained. As a former marketer, I was floored. How could yet another brand, utilize painful and complicated elements of adoption – the separation of siblings - as an advertising device?
For members of the adoption community, separation from family of origin can be filled with grief and complex emotions. One aspect of this separation and loss is of sibling connections. The long-term impact of a closed adoption system has left some adopted individuals with the mystery of not knowing whether they have biological siblings, and if they know or think they may have siblings, they are left to try to find their long lost family members and take on the challenge of forming a relationship with relatives they did not grow up with.
For me, some of the more heart-breaking realities are for sibling groups separated in foster care. These are children and young people who have been living with their siblings and have formed deep bonds and then are forced to live without them and sometimes, rarely if ever, see them. While some states do require visits, like most laws that govern adoption, it is a confusing patchwork that often results is disconnections that negatively impact the children and young people. Time and time again in research and lived-experience, we see sibling connections as an important element for members of the adoption and foster care communities.
Lame attempts to co-op serious and painful realities of adoption hurt the individuals closest to this experience. The mainstream messages from big brands also reinforce a message to the masses that it is ok to use heart-wrenching realities of adoption to shill merchandise. The greatest impediments to meaningful changes in adoption and foster care are often the misperceptions and general lack of knowledge surrounding the experience. Worse than that, and closer to home, I think of all of the individuals, especially children and young people, that are currently managing the intense pain of being separated from their siblings that may see this commercial making light of this kind of life-altering separation and it breaks my heart.
I know brands can do better, and for the sake of everyone managing the challenging dynamics of foster care and adoption - especially children and young people - they really must.
You can see the ad discussed here: