This Ad About Euthanasia Is Sad and Poignant and … Wait, Funny?

Mercado McCann gets darkly anthropomorphic

For Philips technology brand Philco in Argentina, agency Mercado McCann released “Euthanasia,” a strange meditation on the importance of letting go of your long-suffering, hard-working … stuff.

The idea sounds quirkier than the ad actually is. With somber coloring, soft music and a tragic bent, a papery narrative voice begins, “The euthanasia of things: The right to leave this world gracefully. To be disconnected, shut down or unplugged one last time…”

“Euthanasia” treats us to a medley of scenes featuring tired old tech—dusty boomboxes that can no longer “feel a beat,” and irons “more wrinkled” than what they’re ironing.

Faced with an ancient vacuum cleaner, we’re asked to “spare them the indignity of picking up crumbs.” And while a washing machine dribbles water onto the floor, the narrator advises, “Be pious with who once washed away your guilt.”

The accompanying press release calls these contrasts “humorous comparisons to real-life problems.” But the execution (unintentional pun) strikes us as so earnest, it’s hard to find where the humor begins.

“The TV commercial shows how people can become emotionally attached to their everyday home appliances and fail to acknowledge when the time has come to dispose of their old friends,” the press release reads. “The ads subtly highlight the advantages of a shiny, brand-new Philco appliance.”

Remember Ikea’s “Lamp” ad? It was a comically tragic piece of advertising that was memorable because we actually did feel sorry for an old desk lamp. The ad worked hard in a handful of seconds to humanize it.

As we followed it on its journey from a warm home to a street corner in the rain, and as a new lamp switched on in the window, it became difficult not to project feelings of abandonment and dejection onto what the brand snarkily reminded us was just an object.

That clever, intentional editing work is missing here. Seen without fully understanding what it’s for, “Euthanasia” rings like a humanist appeal that uses electronics as a pretext. Instead of seeing products aching for respite, we see trembling hands gathering crumbs and ironing clothes. We imagine elders—not washing machines—that have absolved us of sin.

Seeing it any other way makes it too distasteful. We’re not convinced the brand is that stupid—and it suggests as much.

“Brand communication must encompass a share of realism and commitment, and this TV campaign not only presents that, but also raises some ideas to reflect on,” says Marcelo Romeo, marketing and communications manager of Philco Argentina. “We know it is a strong bet, and we are very pleased with the result.”

Those ideas he’s talking about reflecting on? There’s no way he’s referring to updating your vacuum.

Euthanasia is a subject so fraught that there’s no clear consensus on what to do about it, though it helps to know what exactly it refers to, more or less.

“Euthanasia in a strict sense implies the administering of a fatal dose of a drug with the intent to induce the immediate death of someone who asks that drug to be administered, and on the condition that that person is in a situation of incurability or great suffering,” says Gustavo de Simone, an oncologist and palliative care specialist.

As of late 2015, few countries permitted it or planned to. The BBC counted six at the time, plus a handful of American states.

And that paucity isn’t for want of discussion. In 2012, Argentina’s Senate passed a “dignified death” law, which empowers patients who are dying, or suffering from incurable illness or injury, to refuse treatment with a consent form—a more passive take on euthanasia. In 2015, its Supreme Court expanded that scope by granting two sisters’ wish to end life support for a brother in a long-term coma.

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