As part of the intensive Hebrew language program, Ulpan, that begins my semester abroad, I’m taking an elective class about advertising and commercials in Israeli society. In the past two sessions, we’ve looked at the changing role of the soldier in Israeli commercials.
Today, my teacher showed us a recent, controversial commercial by local cellular phone service Cellcom that launched praise and criticism from around society.
The commercial begins with a troop of Israeli soldiers driving along the notorious security barrier (also known as a wall or a fence depending on political persuasion) at a secluded desert spot. The soldiers drive a military Jeep, dressed in uniform, weapons on their backs.
A soccer ball falls on the hood of their Jeep as they are driving past a graffiti-covered, cement wall. The soldiers exit the Jeep to return the ball and prepare to reenter the vehicle. To their surprise the ball is kicked back over what looks like the wall of no return.
The ball is returned as chipper music begins to stream in the background. The soldiers continue their game and walkie-talkie other troops to come with the instructions, “Come friends, it’s wild!” As more soldiers join in the game the ball continues to be volleyed back and forth over the wall.
The commercial ends with a voiceover: “We all just want to have some fun,” advertising Cellcom’s “cell phone media” — a new accessory package.
Initially, I was moved by the commercial, as it promoted peace and cooperation. I thought the message said, “Look how much fun you can have while getting around an obvious barrier.”
On second thought, I was disturbed. The security barrier’s construction was hard on both sides; towns were divided, roads made difficult or impossible to use. This commercial made a joke of such a serious issue.
The wall in the commercial appears to be a caricature of itself, built tall — much more so than at any site I’d ever driven past — in a desolate and foreboding desert. Bold black spray-paint tattoos the dusty cement barrier in what could only be interpreted as expressions of anger.
And possibly most disturbingly, the other players of the pick-up game are never depicted. The ball mysteriously returns repeatedly from faceless sportsmen.
My teacher distributed compiled reactions to the commercial, highlighting nuances of the pros and cons of the contentious advertisement. We question whether creating a buzz should be the primary objective. Is all press actually good press?
After some more processing and discussing, a classmate raised her hand with an astute and forgotten question. In the end, aren’t you just going to buy the most convenient and affordable service package?