Varnish Remover

The Angelic Answer

Sound02 - angel.avi or Sound03 -; download time, 5.5 minutes at 56K {Sound01 - VR-Angel.asf; for sound only

Angel, produced for Life Insurance Foundation for Education by Carter Eskew of Bozell Eskew Advertising.

“Tears such as angels weep …”

–John Milton, Paradise Lost

The angel weeps as the spot opens, tears of rain apparently coursing down a soft-featured face. There is a reflection in the water, a rumble of thunder, a sense of beauty and menace, which the music amplifies. But there are no words. The images become all the more powerful as the dappling of the water slows and the rain seems to stop.

Seldom in a political spot would we experience so wordless a span. Survey research urges ad makers to use every instant for explicit argument–even so, 30 seconds is never enough time to convey all that needs to be conveyed.

Relieved of those constraints in Angel, Carter Eskew, who produced spots for the 1992 Clinton campaign, has sculpted a decidedly nonpolitical spot that evinces clearly his sense of relief at having to make only one powerful point. The screen isn’t cluttered with chyrons, comparisons, and third-party verifiers.

The very wordlessness of the opening draws us in: What is this, we wonder, and what will happen next? The visual transition–water spraying in a fountain, through which we now watch a child playing with a toy sailboat–brings us to the first words: “You’ve thought about it.” Indeed we have–at least for the last few seconds–and now, the image seems almost the dreamlike product of our own minds. We see a mother–the woman as provider (three decades ago, it would have been a man). The narrator’s worried tone fits this setting of a stone angel intimating mortality: “What would happen if you weren’t here?”

At this point, the picture shifts to the angel (tombstone or promise of heaven?), and the spot brings us back to earth with an explicit, decidedly unethereal question about “money” and where it would come from. Each successive question seems to echo the ones forming in our minds. The one-time political ad maker is playing to a different kind of responsive chord, appealing to a different family value.

The mother touches the child’s hand, and then, as the words invite us to wonder what would happen if she were gone, she apparently is. Through the splashing water, across the angel’s wing, we think we see the child alone, until the mother steps clearly back into the picture. The narration gives the answer. Something needs to be there–to step in–if the provider is ever finally gone: “life insurance.” “Life insurance” doesn’t sound crass because the context itself implies not self-interest, but a sense of caring literally beyond self-existence. The child takes the boat out of the water, and mother and child head homeward. The sky is cloudy; is the storm returning? They walk hand in hand down the path as the narrator tells us, in effect, that if another storm comes–the storm of death–life insurance should be there, “not for the people who die, [but] for the people who live.”

The subject is inherently unsettling. Death and life insurance are not the stuff that daydreams are made of. But this spot is visually arresting, involving, and dramatic. We want to see it again. By the end, we are left with the sense that whatever angels we may go to when we depart, life insurance is the guardian angel we should leave behind. The strength of the spot is that the fabric of its images converts the actuarial into the nearly spiritual, and raises numbers–money–to the level of moral values.

–Robert Shrum