Saturday, October 27, 2012

What Was Cascade Thinking?

edit: This post was quoted in Huffington Post by Aaron Binder: When Advertisements Get it Way, Way Wrong.

Over the summer, I must have seen this one Cascade commercial dozens of times. Each time I saw it, I noticeably cringed, stealthily glanced around, making sure none of my family members were watching, and sometimes even initiated random conversation topics to divert their attention. Like a street artist speeding past an abandoned wall full of pubescent scribbles, faithfully reassuring themselves that people will overlook such vandalism in light of the many cases of true artistic merit (This is a photo I took in Montreal, a known graffiti town.)

Admittedly, the feeling is much weaker than the head-bowing, shameful 30-seconds spent listening to Oliver Jewellery commercials late at night, but I really expected more of my beloved P&G. 

The spot features a couple arguing over dirty dishes. The female sweetly tells her beau that he needs to scrub a cupcake tin before loading it into the dishwasher. The (presumed) husband, knowing the phenomenal power of Cascade, disagrees and begins a cupcake-tin-tug-of-war. They exchange heated remarks, unmistakably on the brink of an argument, when the “Cascade Kitchen Counselor” miraculously interrupts to save the day. She sides with the husband, dutifully explaining how Cascade works to clean even “food in edges”, complete with animated brushes on a screen (which also somehow magically appears in the kitchen). The commercial (intentionally) ends awkwardly, as the husband proclaims, “So I was right” under the spiteful gaze of his wife, leading the “counselor” to run off at that precarious moment.

On the one hand, the intention is clear: relatable, cheesy-humor, positioning Cascade as helpful through the use of the “counselor” metaphor. I’m assuming most people would explain it as such, and might not have consciously considered the following. For me, it was painfully obvious that the commercial was unintentionally implying using Cascade leads to fighting.

Now in fairness, their mother/daughter and sisters versions more explicitly establish that Cascade helps, rather than creates, issues. I believe the vital difference is that the setting is post-washing, where in both cases the sub-par state of the washed dishes could have been avoided using Cascade, and therefore Cascade could have prevented the preceding argument. 

 With the couple’s version, Cascade is the root of the argument, since it theoretically would not have occurred without Cascade’s existence. To make matters worse, the issue is not entirely resolved by the end of the spot, suggesting that Cascade may cause more relationship problems than is worth (depending on how OCD you are about clean plates). Another key difference is that it takes place at the actual usage point, loading the dishwasher versus unloading it. Subconsciously, this connects loading the dishwasher (and therefore using Cascade) directly to arguing with your spouse. The ease of this connection was so apparent to me that at first I questioned my understanding of the ad. What was Cascade thinking? Potentially, associations to specifically the "loading a dishwasher" activity are most useful for positive associations with Cascade. If they could strongly link "loading a dishwasher" with Cascade and positive affect, their work would be done. However, they are currently linking it to negative connotations. Furthermore, whether or not couples have previously been to a counselor, undoubtedly the first association with one would be negative. Happy couples don’t go to counselors. Simply having a counselor character in the spot suggests that the couple’s issue is serious enough to need professional guidance.

Cascade could have easily gone in a different direction, resolving a problem rather than creating one. In similar vein as the other two spots, the husband could avoid an argument by using Cascade: The spot begins with the wife unloading a clean dishwasher, quickly noticing food residue on a cupcake tin. She immediately reacts, with a rehearsed, “Honey, how many times do I need to tell you to rinse first?” The husband quickly retorts back, “Right, because I was the one baking”. Interrupting her rebuttal, the counselor steps in. She presents Cascade as the solution, giving her spiel about how it removes all food, even from edges. Cue happy faces. If they were keen to end off on an awkward note, a different fight could have ensued, with an “At least Cascade is one thing you can agree on” sign-off. 

 To conclude, I wouldn't have used a counselor character at all, but if anything, she should be using Cascade to eliminate some kind of issue, rather than side with one of the parties (number 1 no-no for couple's therapists). It’s likely most people do not consciously go through this thought process, but then again, people don’t go through the process of, “I like Coca-Cola because I have seen many paired instances of people being happy and enjoying Coke, and therefore associate Coke with being happy.” Most people are not sure why Coke makes them think of happiness, in fact, they don’t think about it at all. All that matters is that Coke’s target market associates two things: Coke + Happiness. Although Cascade’s focus groups may not have shown it, watching this commercial repeatedly can easily lead to forging the unwanted negative associations mentioned with Cascade.  


  1. I agree wholeheartedly that these Cascade commercials are annoying. Your analysis stands well on it's own. I also by the way often find myself responding to others on forums...particularly political oriented forums...when certain annoying posters simply nitpick other's opinions for the sake of nitpicking rather than any substantive discourse....I routinely call them "This threads version of the Cascade Kitchen counselor". That usually curbs them of their cranky "The Adderall Is Starting To Wear Off" moments.

  2. This is the stupidest commercial in the world! I hate it.

  3. All of the Cascade commercials are stupid - but you are misdirecting your writing talents. Blogging shouldn't include 'in conclusion'; writing should.