I like the groovy hippie vibe the ad gives off. It seems to me a slogan less dubious and preachy than the British one (“Now stop worrying, etc.”). In fact, due to this particular ad’s curtness (“You can be good without God”) it has the quality of someone saying “The emperor has no clothes.” In other words, it catches you up short. It feels like an almost deadly Zen koan that takes your intellectual head off, and disorients you: “Oh, you don’t need God to live morally? I always thought I needed ‘God clothes’ to be good. When you think about it, I don’t!” It’s actually brilliant.
The ad’s visuals also seem to be suggesting some interesting things.
The rolling green field with white clouds and blue sky is evocative of bliss and harmony, a this worldly heaven, as if to suggest that being pro-social and enjoying the good can come naturally, and perhaps does come naturally, to most people. And there is a certain visual suggestion that being good and enjoying good things is a breath of fresh air, and that breath of fresh air does not require the presence or direction of a god to be taken in. It’s atheism coming out of the closet and into the open air.
It seems to contrast with the gloomy shadows and candle melting crevices of cathedrals. Outside is the atheist’s cathedral.
In short, this is a bit of atheist Rousseauian Romanticism and Whitmanian Transcendentalism. Nature is pleasantly on our side, or at least not hostile to our projects. You can imagine a similar visual background for an asthma ad, or an allergy relief ad. Something with the face-mask getting cleared up. Atheism as a move into visual, nasal, and vocal clarity. Walt Whitman sending a compassion voice over the American plains—or Langston Hughes saying: “I too sing America!”
The atheist too sings America.
In other words, the ad’s soap powder/allergy relief background adds a good deal to the message. As visual symbolism it suggests a coming out into the open, an entry into the light of day, a clearing of the senses, and bohemian freedom. This is the kind of visual symbolism that advertisers use all of the time, so we are innured to it, but obviously it is there, it is a symbolic language, and it fittingly assists the message.
For those who might not know the Langston Hughes poem I’m referring to, I’ve put it below. I think the bus ad gives off this poem’s vibe (of coming out of the back rooms and saying, “Hey, I’m not staying out of public view for your comfort anymore. Deal with me. I too sing America.”) Agnostic and atheist liberation, like feminism and gay and black liberation, is part of a broader historical movement of equality for all:
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.