The National Retail Federation is once again using a funny TV commercial in an effort to send a serious message.
Last year the trade group had a hit with what looked like one of those late-night commercials for dubious products. The commercial, which ran during the Fox News Channel’s “FOX & Friends,” and during NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” characterized the border adjustment tax that was then being considered by Congress as an “everything tax.”
“When ordinary taxes alone just won’t cut it,” the ad’s pitchman shouts, “you need an everything tax like the BAT tax. It’ll tax your car, your food, your gas, your medicine, your clothes. You name it, BAT will tax it!”
The border adjustment tax did not make it into the final version of the tax reform bill that Congress passed and President Trump signed, and now the NRF is hoping to score a win again with another funny commercial.
This time the target is tariffs.
NRF enlisted actor Ben Stein to reprise his role as the droning economics teacher who lectures a classroom full of bored high school students in the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
It turns out the lecture in that movie — does anyone remember? Anyone? Anyone? — was about the fact that the tariffs imposed during the Great Depression made the nation’s economy worse instead of better.
In NRF’s commercial, which again ran on television as well as on digital platforms, Stein is shown talking to a class of mostly inattentive high school students about tariffs.
“Class, today’s lesson is about tariffs,” Stein explains. “Now tariffs may sound boring, but they’re not boring. They’re scary. Tariffs raise prices on things Americans buy everyday, and we buy a lot of things. Do they work? No they don’t work. Then why are we doing it? Anyone know? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?”
One girl in the class pipes up: “Um, I’m not sure, but my best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from an economist who said that tariffs will raise prices on everything from clothes to cars. I guess it’s pretty serious.”
“Thank you, Simone, that’s right,” the economics teacher replies. “Tariffs raise taxes on hard-working Americans. Trade wars don’t work. They never work. Not just sometimes. They never work. Tariffs are B-A-D economics. Bad economics. BAAADD.”
The commercial is cute, and it makes its point. The only question is whether anyone in the Trump administration is listening. Anyone? Anyone?