Dear Whoever at Priceline Thought This Commercial Was a Good Idea:
I get it, Super Bowl commercials are supposed to be edgy. And any attention is good attention, right?
Except in your latest commercial, Priceline, an ad called “Baby,” failed adoptions are the source of the joke. And failed adoptions are never funny—they’re not funny for the parents and they’re not funny for the children, they’re tragic and awful and upsetting on every front.
Adoption itself is so complicated and intimate, so full of grief and loss.
What made you think this was a good idea? Let’s talk a little bit, shall we? Let’s talk about adoption and humor and how tired we adoptive parents are of having to explain what adoption is and what it’s not and what’s OK and what’s not OK.
I’ll go ahead and summarize my point for you, Priceline: your commercial is not OK.
The commercial was part of a new series that is supposed to demonstrate the “worst possible thing that could happen as a result of missing any trip,” according to BBDO executive creative director Chris Beresford-Hill. These ads are going in a different direction than the mildly amusing and rather pedantic ones Priceline Negotiator ones headed by William Shatner. I get it, you wanted something different; I’m kind of tired of William Shatner too.
In the two other ads, which are still awkward, the worst possible things are weird, but no one is hurt. “Cousins” shows second cousins who decide to take a trip to a wedding; the man is introduced to the woman and she discovers he’s moving to her area. Had they not taken the trip, the fantasy version has them meeting and presumably hooking up at a bar. The point is that incest is always best avoided. OK. Sure.
In “Nana,” a grandson decides to go help his grandmother rather than leaving her to the tender mercies of an identity thief who is there to hang up her mirror. Not funny, but innocuous. Everyone should spend time with their grandparents.
But “Baby,” from the very beginning, is offensive. You hear the voiceover: “Your adoption application is approved! You can meet the little guy first in Eastern Europe!”
While happily tucking in the sheets on the toddler bed, the pre-adoptive couple decides to book a trip on Priceline to go check out their child before bringing him home.
Right? The couple treats the child like a used car they’ve seen online—looks good in the pictures, honey, but we should really take it for a test drive and go kick the tires a bit before we bring it home!
It plays into the terrible idea of adoptive parents as consumers who only want the “right” child for us. This concept is why so many adoptive parents end up fielding questions about how much our children “cost.” (Some of my fellow adoptive moms do a great job of redirecting that one by explaining adoption fees and how the money goes to the case workers or adoption agencies involved that keep adoptions ethical; I admit, the time I heard that question, I just looked at the woman at the store like she had a bug on her face because I couldn’t bring myself to handle it politely in front of my kids.)
So let’s be clear, Priceline—BUYER’S REMORSE is NOT what happens to parents who don’t take a Priceline trip to see “the little guy” before bringing him home.
(Also, do you realize this kind of trip isn’t even possible? I would have give anything at all to have been able to see my daughter in the months we waited between accepting her file and finally being issued Travel Approval to go get her. Those months were especially painful to me—she was ours, legally and emotionally, and she was not home with us starting the long difficult process of grafting into our new family. We can’t just book a trip on Priceline to go see our kids.)
But that’s not even the worst part. The couple, having taken the trip, comes home looking a bit shell shocked. “That would have been bad,” the wife says. “SO glad we went,” responds the husband, pulling the suitcase into the door. “Yeah,” she responds, zoning off to imagine what would have happened if they hadn’t gone.
I’m sorry, Priceline, I just want to pause again—you’re telling me that a couple, having made the gut-wrenching decision not to adopt after filling out years of paperwork, casually walks in the front door and all but high fives each other that they made the right choice?
Are you serious? Do you have any idea what kind of emotions you’re dealing with here?
Adoptive parents decide not to bring home children for all manner of reasons, but they never make that decision lightly. You are writing a commercial that touches on the enormous grief of infertility or lost dreams or extremely painful decisions that a couple makes about bringing a child home. THIS IS NOT FUNNY TERRITORY, Priceline. Nothing about that moment is anywhere close to funny.
What happens next, the daydream the would-be adoptive mom goes down, makes it worse: the pre-adoptive couple, had they not taken a trip with Priceline, ends up with an adult man in a toddler bed speaking in a Russian accent over the baby monitor asking the mom for sexual favors.
The point of the ad, as near as I can tell, is that a trip with Priceline got them out of a terrible adoption.
I can’t even begin to educate you enough about why the adult in the toddler bed isn’t funny. Most families who have gone through an international adoption end up with children who are different than what they expected; the unexpected is part of the process and good adoption agencies prepare parents as best they can.
The unexpected parts come because some children’s birth ages aren’t known (what you seem to be playing off of with the adult man who comes home instead of the toddler the parents expect). Or a child might have had sexual abuse or trauma (which is what makes your sexual innuendos especially offensive). The children might have special needs, some of which the parents know about, some of which are surprises. And so when you imply that parents will get the unexpected and wish they’d just taken a trip on Priceline first, you are hitting some of the hardest parts of adoption.
All parents have to learn to deal with the unexpected—it’s a universal part of parenting. Adoptive parents of older children who are adopted internationally have extremely difficult unexpected situations that come up which they must be prepared to face. They have to ask themselves tough questions, identify their own issues, come to grips with their own idealistic expectations.
You cannot, you must not, use this experience as a joke.
Let’s go back to what you’re implying is best case scenario, a failed adoption. It is actually a horrendous choice. All of us in the adoption community know of failed adoptions, of parents who for some reason are not able to parent a child or of an unethical adoption agency that misrepresents a situation.
The reasons why failed adoptions happen are numerous and always tragic. At a core level, a child does not have a family and a family does not have a child when a failed adoption occurs. Whatever the reason, wherever the fault lies, it is always deeply painful.
Adoptive parents have enough to deal with and our children have enough to bear by undergoing the painful process without your ridiculous commercial making it worse.
But that’s still not the worst part of your ad. The very worst part is this:
Some kid out there watched that commercial with his family and secretly wondered, “Do my parents regret adopting me? If they could have taken a Priceline trip and met me in advance, would they have come back relieved instead of bringing me home?”
That child got the message that BBDO executive creative director Chris Beresford-Hill says was the point of the ad campaign and took it to heart.
He heard that he is the “worst possible thing that could happen as a result of missing any trip.”
Shame on you, Priceline.
For the pain that you caused that child.
For the pain you caused the parents who made the hard choice not to go through with an adoption.
For the pain of the child whose failed adoption meant she lost her one chance at having a family because her special needs or age or circumstances were misrepresented or more than the adoptive parent realized.
For the pain another adoptive family has to bear when they bring home who has experienced a failed adoption.
There are layers of grief and pain you slide past glibly, all of them complicated, none of them funny.
On behalf of all us who are part of the adoption community, whether adoptive parents or birth parents or caseworkers or children, you should have known better. I, for one, am never using you again.