The new ELR. I got mine.

The loud guffaw over Cadillac’s new anthem TV commercial, which like many of you I at first hated, has prompted me to reconsider my position… or at least modify it somewhat.

Critics deemed the TVC elitist and arrogant. And it sort of is. A douche-y, type-A yuppie parades us through his McMansion on route to his new Caddly ELR in the ample driveway, all the while boasting about his just reward for busting ass in a tough world. He’s a go-getter straight out of the eighties and he makes no apologies for his material success. On the contrary, he’s damn proud of his many achievements, his car being one of them. “It’s simple,” he says. “You work hard. You make your own luck. And you’ve got to believe anything is possible.”

As I’ve indicated, many people found the commercial arrogant or at least wanting. Their criticisms are not without merit. The man is not likeable. Nor is his rant on earned privileges. The man also states, “Other countries don’t work so hard.” Ouch.

On the other side of things, the commercial’s defenders are having a tea party. They see the spot as an about-time ode to what makes America great. It is, they argue, the Horatio Alger story of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and “getting stuff done.” Which, if I’m not mistaken, is what Cadillac used to stand for back during, you know, the Greatest Generation.

And so the debate rages on. This story in AdAge gives you a sense of the uproar the spot caused and continues to cause.

Regardless of your take, you’ve got to give Cadillac credit for at least having the balls to strike this politically incorrect chord. It is not middling in its POV. It is not just another smarmy ode to luxury. In addition, the added publicity (positive and negative) has to be viewed as a good thing in terms of getting the brand noticed and talked about. The new school teaches us that great marketing must do more than just get noticed it must enter into the proverbial “conversation.” This commercial does so in spades.

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You can’t hate me. I’m the American Dream!

Final note: Whatever gets said here, in AdAge or anywhere else: Please Cadillac, do not apologize for your commercial. For any of it. F—k ‘em. Make another. To thine own self be true. I’m so sick of our “sorry for everything” culture. Aren’t you? What is more insincere than “I’m sorry if I offended anyone?” Precious little. Frankly, I believe it is not in our nature to be politically correct. We merely pretend in order to keep our jobs and get invited to brunch.

Anyone see this commercial for the new Mazda 3, comparing the vehicle to none other than martial arts icon, Bruce Lee. I’m old enough to remember Lee and can recall paying two bucks at the long gone Parkway Theater in Chicago to see his films. Such was Lee’s influence, all of my friends purchased nunchucks, spending hours in front of the mirror practicing his lightning fast moves. I can recall my best friend Dave splitting open his brother’s forehead during an unfortunate battle reenactment. Ah, boyhood.

Though dying young, Bruce Lee was and still is a badass. Of this there can be no debate.

What is debatable is comparing the man to an affordable sports car, or any car for that matter. The copy tells us that because of “Skyactiv technology the Mazda 3 is lighter yet stronger and more nimble” just like the martial arts master himself. “With an engine that punches above its weight.” Ouch.

The argument makes sense on one level. Bruce Lee was a compact man with a great deal of power. But on so many other levels the copy is, well, silly. Bruce Lee is dead. And he would never drive this car. Buying the rights to a few of his film clips doesn’t override the discrepancy between an icon and a middle-of-the-road sports sedan.

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Japanese car? I don’t think so.

And another thing. Mazda is a Japanese automaker. Bruce Lee was Chinese. Historically, these two countries despised one another. Whether that’s a fair statement now is beside the point. In most of Lee’s films (and in many 70’s era Kung-Fu films in general) the Chinese protagonist played a hero who battled evil Japanese foes (and their inferior karate), usually portrayed as warlords, murderers and rapists. In Fists of Fury, Bruce Lee defends Chinese honor against thuggish and racist aggression from the Japanese.

Staring in a Japanese car commercial, Bruce Lee must be banging his fists against his coffin. Furiously.

I’m sure we’ve all moved on. But this is just weird. It would be like using Mohammed Ali to sell a Chevy truck with Sweet Home Alabama as the soundtrack.

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God forgive me…for this commercial.

What’s more unsettling? That a car commercial for Hyundai makes a commercial extolling clean emissions by depicting a botched suicide or that it is only the latest car company to be attached to such grim fare? By now you’ve seen the spot. Likely only once. For who would want to watch it again?

More than advertising technology, it seems this morbid story is telling us something about ourselves. Something sad. Trying for adult wit -I suppose- what I take away from watching these films is no less than the death of hope. The undertow of despair is unavoidable. Regret permeates. In particular, in the Hyundai commercial, where a man, having survived an attempted suicide, forlornly walks back into his tidy suburban home, shoulders slumped, wearily accepting another day of existence. Maybe he is in a loveless marriage. Perhaps he has lost his job. Was he chronically depressed?

Honestly, it’s not the lack of sensitivity I question. The Hyundai film is quite sensitive. To a fault. By going for complete realism it achieves melancholy resembling an Ingmar Bergman film. And that’s the problem. We are left pondering the human condition. Not the nifty car.

I appreciate, sometimes even adore, dark humor in films and TV. But in advertising? Here it seems, well, just plain wrong. Ultimately, advertising should leave the viewer feeling something positive about what it’s selling. Emphasizing a negative about life is perfectly acceptable when the advertisement provides the solution. Dramatizing a fire to sell insurance for example. But in these spots the solution is unintended, bittersweet at best. Misguided to a fault.

Besides, aren’t cars supposed to bring joy and freedom to Everyman? Not so for these blokes. By choosing their automobiles for coffins these sad sacks have unwittingly made them symbols for all that has gone wrong in their lives.

I have to wonder: After coming up with the concept and its clever irony (forgiven) didn’t the copywriters then realize this deeper, sadder one? We think about our work, don’t we? If not the authors, the wise creative director or planner or account executive (let alone the client) is supposed to. Creative license like this is unacceptable.

I’m not saying death is off limits in a commercial. Or that it can’t be funny. Below is one of the most famous TV commercials of all time. It’s about a car. It’s about death. Yet, it handles both with life-affirming joy. Failing to kill oneself in a car because it has clean emissions does neither.

Making simple cool, circa 1980

New York Times marketing columnist, Stuart Elliot recently wrote an article heralding “simplicity” as the new, new thing in Adland and popular culture in general. He cited numerous examples of modern marketers capitalizing on a trend to “get back to the basics” and to provide consumers with “simple solutions.” Somewhat wearily, trend spotter Marian Salzman added, “We envy the time we had just three TV channels to choose from.”

Anyway.

Reading this article I could not help but think of my father’s agency, Rubin Postaer & Associates and their decades-long, mostly marvelous campaign for Honda: “We make it Simple.” Later (and fittingly) RPA simplified the tagline to “Simplify.” And while the brand is not overtly using the copy now it informs everything they do. Sort of like “dependability” permeates Maytag.

Somewhat snarkily, I tweeted that Honda was touting simple before simple was trendy, linking Elliot’s story. Within minutes Stuart replied to my Tweet, claiming he’d written about the heritage of simplicity mentioning Honda but it had been edited for space. I responded (more sheepishly now) that I’d merely been looking after my father’s legacy and thanked him for the prompt reply. Author’s note: My father’s legacy does not need me watching it. But I had to tweet something.

A couple things:

First: How cool is it that I can comment on a piece in the New York Times and within seconds receive a reply from its author? I love that about our new world, which is contrary to Salzman’s blather about envying old timey media. Back then you wrote a “letter to the editor” and were most likely ignored. If you got in the paper it was after the fact, when people likely didn’t care about the story anymore, let alone remember it.

Second: Although Honda rightly deserves providence over “Simplicity” in terms of modern advertising campaigns, I’m pretty certain the world has always come across as scary and complicated and that getting back to the basics provided relief. Just ask the Amish.

“Wish Pa would get a Honda.”

Last night, I saw a Chevy commercial that reminded me of what is still possible in advertising. Part of the “Chevy Runs Deep” campaign by agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, the TVC reunites an old man with his beloved 1965 Chevy Impala SS, a car he had to sell decades ago.

One day, the story goes, the man’s adult sons decide to find the car for him, by hook or by crook. And they do, eventually, at a dealership in Montreal. The commercial plays like a short documentary, highlighting the family’s history with the car, the memories and meaning it held for their father, and of course the search.

In the delightful long version we experience the hunt for the Chevy, as exciting as finding a needle in a haystack. Upon discovery, they buy the car “over the phone.” After excited planning, the family surprises dad with it at a playground in the park. Surrounded by his entire family, we get to see the exact moment Grandpa sees his old car again. Actually, he hears it first. The rumbling. His heart melts as he puts two and two together.

And so did mine.

This is a special commercial, timeless in its appeal. Yet, it’s also contemporary, using reality filmmaking to dramatize the Internet search for an historical item. Shows about discovering lost treasures in pawnshops and storage lockers are of the moment. Finding dad’s old impala plays right into the zeitgeist while being as old-fashioned as America, baseball and Chevrolet. In my opinion, it’s a homerun.

Like dad’s beloved Impala, the commercial also proves that storytelling in advertising need not be lost to the past.

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