The Anti-Defamation League's New Counterfactual Advertisement

Today I ran across a new instance of counterfactualism being used in advertising.

Like the recent German video spot for Mercedes, which employed a powerful "what if?" premise -- an adolescent Adolf Hitler being killed before he can become dictator -- the Anti-Defamation League has produced an eye-catching video that uses a series of poignant “what ifs?” to advance a new ad campaign against hatred and intolerance.

Enitled “Imagine a World Without Hate” and featuring the music of John Lennon’s famous song, “Imagine,” the video presents a series of counterfactual newspaper and television headlines featuring the notable deeds that famous historical figures would have been able to achieve had their lives not been cut short by intolerant killers.

They include:

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 84, Champions Immigration Reform.”

“Anne Frank Wins Nobel Prize for her 12th Novel.”

“Harvey Milk Expands LGBT Equality Globally.”

Daniel Pearl, 49, Journalist, wins Pulitzer for ‘Uncovering Al-Qaeda.”

“James Byrd, Jr., 63 Jaspter TX Resident Saves Young Girl From Burning Building.”

“Matthew Shepard, 36, Leads Anti-Bullying Coalition.”

Yitzhak Rabin, 90, Honored for Nearly Two Decades of Israeli-Palestinian Peace.”

Following these headlines, the video concludes with the powerful counterfactual message:

"If we all stood up to bigotry.  We Could Change History.  Imagine a World Without Hate.  For 100 Years the Anti-Defamation League Has Empowered Millions to Fight Prejudice."  

The video is notable for several reasons.  Beyond highlighting the ongoing penetration of “what if?” thinking into all realms of contemporary life, it reflects the enduring appeal of the “great man of history” thesis of Thomas Carlyle.  Yet it goes further.  The video not merely confirm the truism that brave individuals have made a difference in the course of historical events.  It further speculates about what their elimination denied to the rest of humanity.   In this regard, the video effectively hitches the counterfactual fantasy of improving the course of history to a present-day call to action in the form of fighting intolerance.