In the country where I live, the United States of America, there is no shortage of Jewish characterizations in film and on television. We’ve got The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, whose central character is a Jewish woman, on Amazon. We have The Big Bang Theory, which offers us the nebbishy yet appealing Howard Wolowitz. We have Curb Your Enthusiasm … for better or for worse. And we have Armie Hammer playing a Jewish individual in the film Call Me by Your Name.
So why isn’t there a proportional number of commercials centering on Jewish themes?
OK, maybe A Very Walmart Seder wouldn’t be in the best of taste. And a spot showcasing Star-of-David-bucks might be out of line. But, still. Filmmakers nowadays are much less afraid of showcasing blatantly Jewish characters on television and in the cinema than they were 60 or so years ago. Why are advertising agencies and their clients so reluctant to spread a little Judaic love?
You can argue, perhaps, that there’s not much of a demand for it, but the fact remains that there is. There are more than 5 million members of the Tribe in the USA … no small amount, and many of them have purchasing power. Yet when the holiday season rolls around, Jewish celebrations are rarely featured in commercials on TV, even in local markets, such as the New York City area, where I reside and which has a sizable Jewish population. Surely there’s an incentive for companies to tout their products and services to them.
There’s a dearth of such activity on the telly here in the States, however, and that just seems peculiar … especially when it comes to holidays such as Hanukkah, which is highly marketable and has become, in its trappings and accoutrements, extremely commercialized in stores all over my home borough, Manhattan. Local TV spots, though? Not so many. In fact, it’s rare if you ever see an ad on the small screen wishing viewers a happy Hanukkah. You’ll sometimes get a holiday greeting that relates to Passover or the High Holidays during a televised professional sports game or a news telecast or maybe even a late-night or prime-time TV talk show. Unfortunately, that’s usually the extent of it.
That leads me to ask: Why?
It’s not that I love commercials or long to see one targeting me and my ilk. But it just seems strange that there aren’t that many. Could this be evidence of anti-Semitism in the advertising arena? That sector certainly is no stranger to such a problem. There are Jews living all over the country, the U.S. of A., and yet menorahs and dreidels are few and far between on the tube. You sure as heck won’t hear “Ma’oz Tzur” or “Mi Yimalel” often, if at all, come December in a spot for your favorite coffee or soda pop. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, but wouldn’t it be nice to be represented, and recognized, by the media powers that be? We’re not nothing, you know. We do light a lot of candles over the course of eight days.
If this sounds a little bit like Hanukkah Jealousy, well, maybe there’s a little of that in my kvetching. Still, I think there’s something to the idea that ad agencies and their clients aren’t bringing as much personalized holiday cheer to Jewish populations as they should be doing, and we have to look at the reason why. It’s not just financial. My feeling: It has to do with image. And for some reason, it appears that many companies in the United States of America eschew such celebratory Hebraic motifs because they don’t want to seem “too Jewish.” Pretty sad, but that’s how it looks. Put a menorah in a commercial, and some bigoted idiot is going to gripe about it, perhaps not buy that company’s products anymore. It’s not “American” enough, you see. We’re not “American” enough.
It’s curious how perceptions of Jews on TV and film change depending on the context. In a fictional series or film, we’re “safe.” People laugh at Howard Wolowitz or Larry David. People root for Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Place a Jewish character or theme in a commercial, however, and there’s immediate resentment. Why are Jews being catered to? the anti-Semitic contingent might ask. And of course, you might uncover that old canard that the Jews run the corporations we buy products from. There are a lot of people who, unfortunately, think that way. Sad to say, they form a large part of my country’s buying pool.
Why ad agencies and their clients want to continue tiptoeing around them is beyond me.
There has to be a happy medium here, and that should involve the inclusion of Jewish characters and themes in commercials, along with those in TV series and movies. It doesn’t make sense not to follow this path, especially for the aforementioned reasons. What does make sense: Targeting people who share my faith with material that speaks to us. Customization. It doesn’t have to be menorahs and dreidels. But it could be something just as appropriate. Do that, and we just might be more inclined to buy from a company that tailors its messaging to our needs. We do like that, just like any other population. We may be skeptical as a whole, but we’re also quite appreciative. Targeted advertising in this regard is a highly sensible approach. It could, conceivably, be a good thing for everybody.
Now, Larry David singing “Ma’oz Tzur” … maybe I wouldn’t be interested in seeing that. Although if it was broadcast as part of a commercial, in a prime-time slot, I just might tune in.
You never know what might work on TV, after all.