Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want" is a classic painting of an American family sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner. Tylenol has given the painting a new twist, however, by using its setting to profile several families of diverse races, ethnicities, and structures.
Image Credit: Tylenol via YouTube
Published in 1943, the original painting was one of four inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech. The family looks like it came right out of Leave It to Beaver — White and well off, with a grandfather and grandmother presiding at the head of the table.
In its new "For What Matters Most" campaign, Tylenol views the scene through a more diverse lens. They've created a series of videos to answer the question: "What would a Norman Rockwell holiday look like today?" We are introduced to a Jewish blended family that includes two moms; a Japanese and Chinese American family; and an African-American family. In each, the family shares its traditions and talks about what matters to them.
The Beser Carr Schneider Musich family in the video below includes two moms and one mom's ex-husband (the father of two of the children), as well as a fourth parent who isn't explained. I love the father's comment that "We don't talk about 'halfs' and 'steps.' We talk about family, and siblings, and parents, and willingness to remain included."
This isn't Tylenol's first foray into LGBT family outreach. The company's Children's Tylenol division has been a supporter of the Family Equality Council for several years, and two years ago worked with them to produce Mother's and Father's Day e-cards for same-sex parent families. A member of their brand team, an out lesbian considering a family, wrote a guest post for my Mombian blog about her work with LGBT families and what it means to her personally.
For the new campaign, Tylenol enlisted the help of Abigail Rockwell, the painter's granddaughter, who introduces and closes each video. She explains that "Our definition of family is now expanding and blossoming, so it's not this rigid, fixed picture of what the family is." At the same time, she feels that her grandfather's paintings are not just of images from the past. The "essence" has not changed, she says. "It's about being grateful for what you have, for each moment, the family."
Don't imagine Norman Rockwell turning over in his grave at the re-imagining of his work. Although the painter is most famous for his images of White, mainstream Americana, many of his later paintings dealt with social issues such as civil rights. The Norman Rockwell Museum notes, "In his early career, editorial policies governed the placement of minorities in his illustrations (restricting them to service industry positions only)," but in 1963, he ended his long relationship with the Saturday Evening Post, moving to Look, where he began to address social issues such as racial prejudice.
An early indication of that direction was his 1961 "Golden Rule," which shows people of different races, ethnicities, and religions united in their desire for compassion. His "Murder in Mississippi" was done to illustrate an investigative article in Look magazine about the 1964 murders of three civil rights activists in Mississippi. "The Problem We All Live With," also done for the same magazine that year, portrays the six-year-old Ruby Bridges, an African American girl on her way to an all-White public school, escorted by four deputy U.S. marshals. President Obama has had it exhibited at the White House.
I think that if he were alive today, Rockwell would very much approve of Tylenol's campaign — and perhaps that's why his granddaughter is helping them.
Tylenol is going for big-picture advertising here, focusing on the brand's place in helping to care for our families, rather than on anything specific about the product. It's a smart strategy for a venerable brand. Of course, if homophobia, racism, and lack of inclusion are giving you a headache, Tylenol's got you covered there, too.
(H/t to Brent of Designer Daddy.)
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