On AAA, Shamingly

I heard a commercial for AAA on the radio the other day. The voice of a woman details all of the times that AAA has been there for her while her husband was too busy watching sports to come to her aid. This commercial offended me.

I know, I know, we’re too sensitive and jumpy and can get offended about anything. But you’d think that in a culture such a this, too sensitive and jumpy and easily offended, the team of advertisers tasked with the creation of such a commercial would be wary of their content and mindful of public opinion.

Apparently not.

Ostensibly, someone sat down a team of ad people and said, Sell AAA memberships to women. Remember, they’re helpless and scared, so we need to remind them that AAA is everything their man is not: responsible, reliable, prepared.

So the ad people probably said, Fish in a barrel! This one’s easy – let’s be quick about it so we can have an early lunch.

And then they created this sad excuse for a sales pitch.

Now, I must explain a few things. First, I love AAA. I have been a huge fan of AAA since the very first time I locked my keys in a running car at 16 (you’ll note that I said “very first time.” Yes, with my first car, the Green Bean, it happened often since the doors locked automatically 3 seconds after you started the car, which is just enough time to say, “I forgot _____!” and get out of the car). They were there for me in Chicago, when my roommate left my headlights on and drained my battery.

They were also there for me when I got a flat tire. That’s the experience most closely associated with this radio spot, and the experience most likely to get my blood boiling.

I was driving to Boulder one afternoon last summer to see my boyfriend at the time. I was just getting off highway 36 when I heard a sound like an angry rattlesnake. Sure enough, I had just gotten my first flat tire. I drove along in traffic until I could safely pull onto a side street. I parked. I got out and inspected the car. Sure enough, the rear left tire was flat. Gone. Donezo. (If you were to spell “donezo,” is that how you’d do it?)

So, being the resourceful independent woman I am, I opened my trunk, shoved a million things aside, and pulled out my jack and spare tire, prepared to change the damn thing myself. (I’d never changed a tire, but we covered how to do it in driver’s ed and I wasn’t overly concerned.)

I used the tool (the name escapes me, I was to say tire iron but that’s so incorrect) to remove the lug nuts. Except they wouldn’t loosen. I jacked the car up anyway, hoping I’d be able to loosen them then. I couldn’t. So I jumped on the tool. That didn’t work either. A guy on a bike stopped and offered to help. I was stubborn, but after realizing that my full body weight wasn’t going to do much, I accepted his help. He couldn’t loosen them either.

So I gave up, had my boyfriend come pick me up, and decided I’d deal with it in the morning. In the morning, my boyfriend, such a great guy that he was, left me at my car so that he could drive to Denver. I called AAA. And then I waited.

The AAA guy got there to change my tire and said, “Where’s your boyfriend?” I bristled. My internal voice was yelling, “What, just because I’m a woman I can’t change a tire?!” But my external facade was composed as I explained that I had been unable to loosen the lug nuts and had been forced to call AAA as a last resort.

Then he tried to loosen the lug nuts, cocky and masculine in his approach. He couldn’t. I saw his posture change. My internal self cheered, a smug smile on her face. He looked back at me and I just raised my eyebrow at him as if to say, “Where’s YOUR boyfriend?”

“Not as easy as you thought it’d be?” I asked, sweetly. He was sour. He loosened them eventually, put on the spare, and I drove to the Discount Tire where I got two new tires.

I was upset. AAA has always been wonderful. In Chicago, the dead battery happened on a Sunday. I was so grateful to the man who came to jump my car, and he was so gracious about the whole thing. I told him that I was terribly sorry that he had to come out on a Sunday and he was so kind and wonderful and funny.

But this Boulder man? Everything that frustrates me about people existed in him. Grumpy demeanor, sexist, superior, and so on.

That’s why hearing this AAA ad annoyed me so damn much. It’s not hard to say, “We’ll be there when you need us.” or “We’ll make you feel more comfortable when your teen starts to drive.” or “Everyone needs a backup plan.” I don’t know — I’m not the ad guy, but I feel as though they could have gotten their message across a million other ways instead of having the rely on the oh-so familiar tropes of the sports-obsessed, neglectful husband and the weak, incapable wife.

(I get that in my own rendition of the “I’m a powerless woman and I need you, AAA!” story, my own boyfriend fell into the same trope, but he wouldn’t have been able to fix the tire anyway, so it’s a moot point.)

Shame on you, AAA. You get what you pay for and I suggest you get a better ad agency. You’re a valuable service that I find so worth the money, but if you can’t sell yourselves, how are you supposed to sell your services?

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