alan wattsAlan Watts in recent years, has become somewhat of an Internet sensation. Although he died in the 1970’s, his thought-provoking lectures on wisdom are today still astoundingly popular.

Offering a modern secular perspective on ethics, morality and our personal search for spirituality that transcends our Earthly reality, Watts is the antithesis of consumerism and modern hypercapitalism.

Yet, his unmistakable voice is used as a voiceover on a new ad for the South African retail banking group ABSA.

The ad itself is beautifully shot and the story is not exactly offensive, but the uneasy combination of a Buddhist philosopher’s insights being used to promote a for-lucrative-profit business wouldn’t have been our first choice here.

What’s even more jarring, is that the voice changes half way through to a mimicry of Mr. Watts, which in some philosophical way is the same as putting words in his mouth, or manipulating reality to suit your own means for the sake of convenience.

Here’s the raw data that the script of the ad was based on:

Perhaps though, rather than finding malicious fault with ABSA and their ad agency for our deeply subjective opinion that the combination of Alan Watts and their efforts to maximise their profits are misguided – we should instead thank ABSA for reminding us of the wonderful lessons these lectures have for those who bother to explore their holistic message.

This is then also an excellent opportunity to challenge a big corporate like ABSA to practice what you preach. To further commit themselves to bringing about sustainable business leadership to the environmental context from which they derive their profits. And not in a way that looks good on paper and satisfies some King III obligations, but in ways that really make a lasting difference to society. There is no doubt that big companies will have a list of a series of impressive-looking CSR projects, which they can fire out whenever asked, but the point here is that the real systemic changes that are needed, need to be championed by big capital that’s truly committed to finding sustainable alternatives for society.

Then the use of Alan Watts’ voice in your commercial may be a little more appropriate.