I’m still in school and a long way from being finished. As part of my research I’ve spent a little bit of time looking at some of Mastercard’s commercials, particularly the ones from their ‘Priceless’ campaigns. They seem to encapsulate our propencity to think that happiness, satisfaction, joy and pleasure can be bought.

The first one was aired in 1997 during the Major League Baseball World Series and was an instant hit.

It’s a fascinating commercial and if I’m honest a bit heartwarming.

The intended message is obvious: use your Mastercard for everything and real conversations with your son are priceless.

But there are a number of unitended messages in this commercial also:

1) That when you buy just the right combination of items, presumably with your MasterCard, priceless moments will happen. In the case of this commercial: 2 Baseball tickets + 2 hot dogs + 2 popcorns + 2 sodas + 1 autographed baseball = 1 conversation with your 11 year old son. Total cost = $123 for something that is priceless. Does ‘priceless’ mean it can’t be bought? In which case $123 is pretty cheap or does ‘priceless’ mean it has no price? In which case $123 is rather costly.

2) That real conversations with your kids don’t happen naturally, spontaneously, and organically. These days, sadly, this is actually quite true.

3) Real conversations happen at baseball games. Can you imagine the real conversation between an 11 year old and his dad at a baseball game?
Son: Dad, why do they adjust their crotch and scratch so much?
Dad: Baseball pants don’t allow for a lot of airflow son.
Son: Dad, what’s all that brown stuff they’re spitting on the ground?
Dad: It’s chewing tobacco son, and if you chew, when you get to be my age the doctor will have to cut out your tongue.
Son: Why do they keep showing pictures of women in the crowd on the Jumbotron Dad?
Dad: Because baseball is a really slow and boring game to watch and all the men in the audience need something to keep them occupied son.
Ok, fine, I’m not a baseball fan, but it seems to me that this commercial lowers the bar significantly on what real conversation is. I’m doubting the father has a ‘real conversation’ about sex and love, about faith and Jesus, about what he’d like to do when he grows up (other than be a baseball player and make lots of money), or what kind of person he would like to be known for being while at a baseball game.

4) Phillies fans are capable of conversation. I’m pretty sure this commercial shows the father and son at a Phillies game and from the reaction of the father and son when the player hits the ball, they are fans. I wasn’t aware that Phillies fans, known for throwing D batteries at players from other teams and for vomiting intentionally on other team’s fans, were capable of real conversation, especially while at a game. Ok, maybe this last one is a low blow, but it’s common knowledge that Philadelphia fans can be obscene in the name of supporting their teams.

The bottom line is this ad implies that anything can be bought and that real conversation with your kids isn’t a regular thing. These two things sadly are more true than they should be and are core reasons for significant cultural problems.