The “Freedom” Card
By Kenrick Cleveland+
I saw a commercial that really struck me as an example of hilariously warped framing. The soundtrack to this commercial is an old Rolling Stones song, ‘I’m Free’. People are frolicking around, as they are in many commercials, and they are spending money they probably don’t have. The commercial is for the Chase Freedom Card.
The frame is this: using this card frees you, liberates you, allows you to do anything you want to do, any time you want to do it. You can buy furniture, go to Paris, order anything you want online, and experience true, unadulterated independence, choice and autonomy if you’d only just apply for this card.
I don’t think they were going for irony, but it struck me immediately. Being in debt is the absolute opposite of being free. Of course, they’re not saying you’ll be ‘free from debt’ but free to spend as much as your credit line allows and free to possibly default on your payments and in turn, free to pay exorbitant late fees and finance charges.
So, in a sense, I guess you really are free with the Freedom Card.
As a young man I realized the slippery slope that credit cards represented. And I’ll tell you, these years were not about frolicking and laughing about how much cool stuff I was able to get without exchanging cash.
My students are not people who carry enormous amounts of credit card debt, so when I teach it’s almost like I’m preaching to the choir when I say that debt, especially of the credit card variety, is bad debt.
If you’re in a position where you can’t yet afford to frolic using cash, it’s not time yet to frolic. Build up a reserve of ‘F’ you money (which, I realize, is a bit of a naughty term, but truly what it encompasses—the ability to tell any boss or employer “‘F’ you, I’m not going to be subjected to this”—is worth more than any bauble or superfluous item bought on credit with the Freedom Card).
Okay, enough of that lecture. . . My real point here was to discuss the frame around the concept of credit as freedom. By taking a rather nefarious industry, giving it a fresh coat of paint, giving it a theme song, calling it exactly the opposite of what it is, Chase has tried to reinvent their image from something that imprisons people in debt, to something that gives people the ability to live life to the fullest.
Is it false advertising? I see it as that. Is the frame effective? Are people really buying it? Well, when I mentioned this commercial to one of my employees she told me that she and her husband have a ‘Freedom Card’ and constantly joke about how much freer they feel whenever they’re forced to use it (i.e. emergency vet bills or something unexpected popping up). She told me she recently replaced their television set and put it on the freedom card. ‘At least I’ll have something to watch while I’m not experiencing freedom.’
Frame your way to freedom… or not. =)