It was the greatest idea ever: the Amish spot.
I used to do the advertising for a TV station, and one day, like a bolt out the blue, came an inspired idea for a commercial for our mobile web service. It went like this:
An Amish man is fixing a fence when two children run up.
“Brother Jakob! Please tell us what the weather will be tomorrow.”
He scratches his beard thoughtfully and looks off to the horizon.
“Rainy in the morning, children… but we shall be blessed with a very fine afternoon.”
The kids run off into the field. One says to the other, “Sarah, how does Jakob always know the weather.”
She looks up to the sky. “It is a gift Amos. Truly a gift.”
Meanwhile, Jakob glances around furtively. Once he sees he’s alone, he pulls an iPhone from his pocket, pushes a button and Bob Kovachick’s forecast appears on the screen. Hilarious, right?
My boss liked it, but wondered if it might be offensive to the Amish. “The Amish? Ha! It’s not like they’ll see it on TV, is it?”
Anyway, I left my job before getting the spot done.
It all came back to me a couple of weeks ago I was driving in Montgomery County and found myself in a another world. There were children walking barefoot down the road, men passing by on carriages, women hanging laundry…. I was in the middle of an Amish community.
And I felt guilty.
It bothered me that I was so ready — eager, even — to exploit these folks to peddle my wares. It just felt so wrong; call it a sudden attack on conscience. I would never have dreamed of using a racial joke to sell something — so why was it OK to make fun of these people?
I drove slowly away, humbled, chastened even. They’ll never know it, but they taught me a lesson.