Despite its perception as being the “progressive” car company alternative, Subaru’s latest television and online ads for its 2017 Impreza suggest the company has officially joined the ranks of businesses that are shamelessly willing to manipulate consumers by deploying puppies and babies in their advertisements:
While the ad might seem harmless at first glance, even touching, its underlying message is not. The ad equates having a child with rescuing a dog, interspersing scenes of new parents with their baby (such as the heartwarming and politically correct image of a mom returning to work in her Subaru while Dad stays home with the baby) with scenes of new pet owners having special moments with their puppy. It ends with the two couples pulling up alongside each other at a stop light; the dog and child look at each other knowingly, and the narrator intones that Subaru is the car for you “no matter what road you’re on. . .”
The ad reminded me of a provocative question that nationally-syndicated radio show host Dennis Prager often asks his audiences: If your family dog and a total (human) stranger were both drowning, and you only had time to save one or the other, which mammal would you choose?
After more than three decades of asking this question to audiences across the country, Mr. Prager claims that the respondents are almost always evenly divided. It does not matter if the room is filled with young people from a public school, religious institution, or partisan political organization—half of the room would let a human die if it meant their mutt could be saved.
Here on the westside of Los Angeles, any time my wife and I are out on a walk with our four-month-old daughter (Evelyn) and four-year-old rescue dog (Bella), the dog gets more attention and questions asked about it than the most adorable baby girl on planet earth (yes, I know I’m not objective, but still, she’s a baby!). Clearly I’m not the only person noticing that our particular cultural moment is favoring puppies over babies. The top-grossing movie in the country this week promotes a similar message: the plot of Dreamworks’ animated film Boss Baby centers around a cynical baby (voiced by Alec Baldwin) who is sent on a mission by his corporate bosses at “Baby Co.” to figure out why puppies are getting more love than human babies.
I’m a dog lover; dogs are wonderful pets who bring joy and companionship to their owners. Taking care of a dog can teach people, and especially children, about responsibility. The list of positive reasons to own a pet is long and impressive. And as we know, having a child doesn’t automatically make you a hero and/or a better human being than people who don’t (or can’t) have one.
Nevertheless, the impulse to equate pet ownership with childrearing is growing at precisely the moment when birthrates are falling. That can’t be a coincidence.
From The Washington Post:
The U.S. fertility rate has plummeted to the lowest point on record, according to new federal data. The first quarter of 2016 brought 59.8 babies for every 1,000 women, ages 15 to 44. That’s nearly half the rate at the peak of the baby boom in the late 1950s.
The numbers show an unmistakable trend: Women in the U.S. who choose to reproduce keep delaying motherhood. Each generation has waited a little longer than the last. Four decades ago, an American woman typically delivered her first baby at age 21. By 2000, she was 24.9. Today, she is 26.3.
Meanwhile, Americans spent more than $60 billion on their pets in 2016. Yes, that’s billion.
The standard explanations for why women are having fewer kids include “greater/easier access to contraceptives” and “the rise of feminism.” But Pew Research Center recently released new findings showing that nearly half of women in the United States say that they would like to have more children.
What gives? One possible explanation: In a culture that urges women to ignore the realities of biology and delay marriage and children in order to compete in the workplace alongside men, is it any wonder that many couples end up making the calculation that having a dog is as satisfactory (and morally useful) as having children? Subaru clearly thinks so.
But here’s a hard truth unlikely to be marketed with hipster acoustic music in a car company ad anytime soon: We only have so much time on earth. We only have so much emotional capital to spend. Dogs are great, but ultimately, compared to the work of raising the next generation (either directly as a parent or indirectly as a friend or extended family member) they don’t matter.