Toyota runs a bizarre referee commercial

Referees are back in a commercial, for the first time (that I’ve noticed anyway) since that terrible Subway ad and that awesome Bud Light ad a few years ago.

The result is this strange 45-second spot.

I’m not sure where to begin.

First, there’s very little that feels real about this.  Have these guys ever watched a high school football game?  What’s up with the suddenly-quiet crowd, the way the referee doesn’t signal incomplete, the way he’s not using his biggest “sell” voice on the last play of a playoff game, the parents’ less-than-intense reaction at the moment (are they watching a playoff football game or kids playing Monopoly?), the way the kids are in the backseat of their parents’ truck instead of on a school bus or driving themselves, the way the parents decided a Tacoma Tundra was a best way to get the kids to and from the game (maybe the minivan is in the shop)? Yeah. It just felt off.

But let’s focus on what I love most: referees in popular culture.

First of all, apparently the official didn’t bother to bring another set of clothes to the game, because he didn’t shower and he didn’t change afterwards.  He just threw a jacket on over his uniform and called it good.  He even kept his hat on.  Did the officials even go to the locker room?  Was there a locker room?  Or did our referee hero just make his incomplete call and then run to the parking lot, not even shaking hands with his crew?

Maybe there’s a cultural thing in that town–some sort of law limiting everyone to one outfit per day, because the players in the backseat are also still in their uniforms (which I guess they are allowed to wear home, even after the last game of the year).  They’ve removed their pads, but their dirty uniforms are still on.  Perhaps the water was shut off at the stadium, or maybe showers are illegal as well as changing uniforms.

But, on top of that, the official clearly does not have a charged cell phone.  I guess that can happen to the best of us, but ever since I got my cell phone, I try to make double-sure it’s charged on game nights, because if I’m in a tough situation (left my ref shoes at home, car broken down, potentially homicidal parent of grade-school point guard, dire need to pick up a really good grilled chicken salad), I want to be sure I can contact my wife, or AAA, or 911, or Red Robin to-go.  Why isn’t this official sitting in his car with his cell phone at his ear?

Oh, wait a minute.  If he’s not allowed to change his pants, he probably left his phone at home.  He doesn’t want to run around with it during a playoff game: he doesn’t want the embarrassment of it going off in the middle of that Hail Mary play.

So the parents, with their two kids in the backseat of the truck, see someone on the side of the road in the ominous dark and rain.  It’s like a horror film.  Don’t pull over. Don’t pick him up.  You never know what you might find.  He might be an axe murderer…


But, just like in the horror film, the guy pulls over.

Sometime since the game ended, (which hasn’t been too long, since the ref didn’t change clothes afterwards) a cold-water hurricane has hit.  I guess this is a possibility–there are weird climate realities in a world where so many people drive Toyota Tacomas (19 MPG highway/15 city).  I can’t believe the white hat allowed the game to be played given that there was an imminent Noah-level storm–he’ll probably get a sternly-worded letter from the state association for endangering the kids like that.

And there it is–the window opens, revealing the ref to the players and parents.


The commercial intentionally makes this an awkward, even scary, moment.

There’s just a moment of pause, when the parent looks and realizes that it’s the ref who made the big call. (Could the dad recognize the ref’s face?  After all, he was very far away in the stands.)  They make eye contact.

And at this moment, we, the audience, are invited to think.  What will he do?  Will he allow the sports official into his truck to take him to safety, or will he leave him on the side of the road to die?

It turns out the dad is of extraordinary kindness and mercy, He says: “Do you need a lift?”

And the official, wishing to continue his life, says “Yeah.”  (Did I detect a hint of hesitation there?  Did the official consider whether he might rather drown than get in the car with this parent?  To be fair, this is a parent who hesitated before offering the lift: it could be that the parent is the axe murderer.)

So then, the referee opens the back door.  And the kid football player, #20, stays put, not making eye contact.  This is probably acceptable practice when faced with anyone dangerous: don’t want to rile up some crazy dude by the side of the road, or, worse, a ref.

But then the dad tells #20 in the backseat, because he apparently needs to be told, to make room for the soaking-wet ref standing 18 inches away from him. Quit whining, #20! You were cheering on the bench when your team scored, and your team was on the opposite sideline. You had the worst angle in the stadium–worse than your parents, even. Do NOT question the call of this ref, who was clearly in great position. (And, after looking at the play a few times, I have to report that our only angle on the play doesn’t show the receiver’s feet, although it does show him juggling the ball. The call stands.)

So now we have five people in the Tacoma, who have just shared a pretty intense moment back at the stadium. In such close quarters, there ought to be some sort of conversation.  Does the ref get into the car and say “Hey, kid, nice game. Good job.” Does he say “Wow!  This is some cold-water hurricane we’re having!” Does he say “Thanks for picking me up, everyone. Can you just get me to somewhere with a phone?  Mine is in my other pants, which are at home because I am legally prohibited from wearing them until tomorrow.”

Or does the dad talk? Or the kid?  Does one of them say “Are you all right?” How about “Can we get you a dry outfit to change into–oh, wait, it’s not allowed”?  Maybe “Sure wish we had a replay that showed the kid’s feet”?

No. They do not say these things.

Once the ref enters the truck, the conversation goes like this:

DAD:  [nods]
#20:  [nods]
[#20 scoots over. REF enters car]
#20 (to REF): [nods three times]
REF (to #20): [nods]


And that is the end of the commercial.  Because, you know, it’s so hard to use English after the big game.

The tagline, “Let’s Go Compassion,” is certainly nice (although probably irrelevant to buying or selling trucks). But let’s unpack this. The “compassion” in this case is based on the default assumption that the audience will think it is plausible the dad will pull over, notice that the stranded, desperate fellow human being is a referee, and therefore drive away without him.  The whole thesis of the commercial is based on the idea that leaving someone to freeze to death in an autumnal monsoon because he has just made a tight call against his kid’s team in a big game is very much on the list of possibilities.

This is compassion?  Really?

So here’s my conclusion.  This is a step up from the Subway ad, but a step down from the Bud Light ad.  It plays up the angle that ref/player and ref/parent tensions are somehow at the level of Israel/Palestine, and that any act that would be seen as basic human decency in other contexts becomes extraordinary compassion when done for a sports official who has made an unpopular call.

So thanks, I guess, Toyota.  I may still buy a Prius from you.  And when I do, if I see you in danger, I will help you out without a second thought, and I bet my sons in the backseat will allow it.  They may even talk to you instead of nodding.


Protected: Game Log 1/6/17: Finale

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Protected: Game Log 1/3/17: Feeling the heat

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Protected: Game Log 12/30/16: Pair of varsity games

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below: