Will Ferrell’s Darkly Comic New Ads Show How Our Devices Are Ruining Family Time

GS&P's 'Device Free Dinner' spots are tied to some scary stats

Headshot of Tim Nudd

It’s no secret that mobile devices have made us more disconnected from our immediate surroundings (even as we obsessively document them). But what has it done to family life? Or more to the point, to quality family time?
New ads from Goodby Silverstein & Partners (and Biscuit Filmworks director Clay Weiner) for the nonprofit Common Sense Media dramatize—hyperbolically, and with help from Will Ferrell—how smartphones have transformed a particularly cherished ritual, the family dinner, from a time to reconnect into yet another time to disconnect.
A handful of :30s and :15s feature the actor comically lost in the wonders of his phone, while his family sits there stunned, watching him engage with social media and even take videos of himself eating to share with his virtual network, aka his other family. The campaign is supported by Comcast’s Xfinity.
Check out three of the :30s here:

A fourth :30, “Attention,” has a bit more bite—and will run on Funny Or Die:

And here are a few more :15s:

“It’s no fun to show someone disciplining a kid, but disciplining a parent who happens to be played by a famous comedian? Major fun,” Jeff Goodby, founder and chairman of GS&P, said in a statement.
“We know that kids who have dinners at the table without devices get better grades, have healthier eating habits and are more socialized than kids who have devices at the table,” added Margaret Johnson, partner and chief creative officer. “So we enlisted some celebrity help to show the importance of having device-free dinners.”
Ferrell and his wife Viveca are personally committed to the cause, Common Sense tells Adweek. “As a family, they are focused on putting down devices and sharing quality time together, and dinner time is an easy way to do that,” the group says. (Ferrell donated his time to support the campaign.)
In the spots, it’s Dad who’s the culprit—but the larger issue is more about children and their own devices. According to Common Sense, 42 percent of children 8 and under have their own tablet device, up from less than 1 percent in 2011. Also, their average amount of time spent with mobile devices is up nearly tenfold in that period, from five minutes a day in 2011 to 48 in 2017.
Here are some other finding from new Common Sense research:

Ninety-five percent of families with children age 0 to 8 now have a smartphone (up from 63 percent in 2013 and 41 percent in 2011), and 78 percent have a tablet (up from 40 percent in 2013 and 8 percent just six years ago, in 2011).
Families with young children are now more likely to have a subscription video service such as Netflix or Hulu (72 percent) than they are to have cable TV (65 percent).
According to parents, nearly half (49 percent) of children age 8 or under often or sometimes watch TV or videos or play video games in the hour before bedtime, contrary to recommendations from pediatricians.
Today, about one in 10 kids age 8 or under has a “smart” toy that connects to the internet (10 percent) or a voice-activated virtual assistant device available to them in the home, such as an Amazon Echo or Google Home (9 percent).

“In today’s tech-driven world, where things are moving so quickly, it is really important to step back and take a hard look at what technology kids are using and how they are using it,” said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. “Over the last six years, we have seen massive growth in media use and tablet ownership, and we haven’t even begun to experience the explosion of new technologies like virtual reality and voice-activated assistants in our homes. If we want to ensure our kids develop well and are successful in life, we have to make sure they get the most out of tech while protecting them from potential risks—and that means paying close attention to the role media is playing in their lives.”

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.