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Bear with us!
by Thomas Wagner | 1/11/2012
McDonald`s Papa Bear

Bears have a harder time of it even than dogs when it comes to advertising. As wild animals they are simply too big and too ferocious to live happily under one roof with us humans. Nevertheless, the media like to instill them with human traits and turn them into for the most part friendly counterparts to us humans who can, nevertheless, unleash their wild nature at will.

Why else would Papa Bear reward his Baby Bear, who has just brought a home a great school report, with a trip to McDonald's? Yes, to McDonald's. How is that supposed to work? Well, they simply scare the hell out of some tourists, who are obviously at that very moment driving through a national park – and, of course by complete coincidence, happen to have chips from the well-known burger joint. Papa Bear roars, mimicking the other wild bears, the tourists flee and in the end the car gets the rough treatment too, because – as Papa Bear explains to Baby Bear– there's always one chip that almost gets away. And what does this 2011 commercial, dreamed up by advertising agency Leo Burnett for the US market, tell us? Well, that bears are nice, they reward their children, when they do well – the best way to do this, of course, being a trip to McDonalds. Although the human father would be better advised to just leave out the bit with the car. That part is just for bears in TV commercials. In real life, they'd be shot for doing such a thing – the bears, that is. But when it comes to advertising, animals are (almost) always nice.

But bears can be quite different. That means they have to wear costumes to serve us. Or that at least is how one commercial from Volkswagen, created by the DDB agency, would want it. A man wearing glasses, the intellectual type, is standing literally smack bang in the middle of the forest (a somewhat strange fairytale forest complete with tiny streetlamps at that) with no idea, which way to go, when suddenly a bear appears wielding a jackhammer. Why? Well, of course! Not because he wants to dig up the road but because with the noise from the jackhammer he can direct the lost man to correct and safe way out. Just like the "Lane Assistant" system from Volkswagen. Advertising in the automotive industry is at times quite roundabout.

The bear that appears in front of the camera for Tulip Liver pâté plays a significantly more sophisticated role. He is asked as a 'real meat lover' how it tastes now that it contains less fat. Good, it tastes really good, he says in a friendly manner, but then he gets a little camera-shy. By the end of the 2009 commercial created by & Co., which was broadcast in Denmark, he's had enough of all of the silly questions. There is another, similar ad with a crocodile, but he doesn't fare nearly as well as the bear.

The commercial for the Nissan Leaf electric car, which was produced by the agency Tbwa\chiat\day in 2010 for the US market, doesn't bring quite as many laughs. A polar bear sits on a small ice floe, his habitat melting away. He heads off on his way; when he finally reaches the town, a pretty corner of suburbia, he flings his arms around the neck of a Nissan Leaf driver, to thank him for all of his help. One would be hard-pressed to squeeze more false pathos and hypocrisy into a TV commercial. The slogan that follows: "Innovation for the Planet, Innovation for All."

A very different take by Stupidplanet shows how this can be done a little more drastically and that the world is nothing like a twee TV commercial. Here, polar bears fall by the dozen, lifeless from the sky; they hit the pavement, smashing cars and littering the town's streets in bloody heaps of meat. "An average European flight produces over 400 kg of greenhouse gases for every passenger ... that's the weight of an adult polar bear." Gratitude and bears are evidently not a natural mix.

The following have already appeared as part of our series on animals in advertising:
"Man's best friend" about dogs

McDonald`s Papa Bear
Volkswagen Lane Assist
Tulip Liver Pate
Nissan Leaf
Stupidplanet Polar Bear