April 26, 2013
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.”
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.
“We could have gone a more traditional route but it wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable.” That’s the sole line of copy in this commercial, “Honeymoon” for the Subaru Outback from Carmichael Lynch. Part of their “Love” campaign, which, according the agency website, has doubled the automaker’s market share in the last three years.
That’s a good result, especially for a carmaker that has long struggled for relevance, let alone sales. But not for lack of trying. If you’ve read Randall Rothenberg’s chronicle, Where the Suckers Moon then you know something about these efforts as well as advertising history. If you haven’t read this fine book, do so. Few, if any, advertising books are as entertaining and revealing. Suffice it to say, Subaru has a notorious creative past.
Back to the commercial at hand, about a young couple using the vehicle to go on an exotic camping trip for their honeymoon. They encounter rugged obstacles, including an ox in the road. When they set up camp, a lovely white tent, a rainstorm forces them back into their trusty Outback. They laugh and smile throughout. Awwww!
The AVO (from the husband’s POV) deftly refers to their unusual choice for honeymoon as well as vehicle. A simple concept, if I saw the storyboard I’d get it immediately. The execution is lovely as well, capturing the young couple in all their joy. I must say I grow weary of soulful crooning in commercials (Do people really listen to this pap?) but I suppose it’s appropriate here.
So it’s a good fim but is it an appropriate way to sell an SUV? For years, carmakers have tried to convince Mr. and Mrs. Smith that rugged SUV’s actually make great vehicles for shopping malls and soccer pick-ups. Mission accomplished. SUV’s are ubiquitous. Annoyingly so.
Here Subaru is going back to the future, taking a pair of upper-middle class kids into the outback. Your marriage isn’t about malls and soccer practice, it’s telling them. Not yet, anyway. Whether we believe this shaggy hipster and his ‘Zoe’ of a bride would actually take such a honeymoon is immaterial. This is Hollywood romance, a la Out of Africa or, more plausibly, visiting Australia your senior year of college. I believe the word is “yearning.” If young people end up yearning for a Subaru Outback, I’m sure the agency and client would be giddy as newlyweds.
Everyday Magic…For 100K.
Quick, what’s your first thought? Fast? Expensive? Douche bag?
I guarantee it’s not “everyday magic.” But that’s Porsche’s new handle, courtesy of CK in Chicago. Specifically, the tag is “Engineered for Magic. Everyday.” But even adding the performance word doesn’t change the fact that this is very new territory for Porsche.
Is it a good place to park such a famous racing car? One thing is certain: I love that Porsche’s new campaign isn’t yet another car on a road with a pithy headline about RPM’s stirring your soul.
I chose the word “park” because just about every shot in the anthem commercial shows the car not moving. Rather, the sporty vehicles sit there, waiting for their owners to fire them up. This I like. We all know how fast these cars can go. It’s nice to see them idle, kind of like a beautiful woman not revealing too much skin. Such sleek, unmistakable design. Those liquid lines. Fact is Porshes look fast standing still.
As for the ‘everyday’ bit, this likely is a nod to research suggesting Porsche needs to lighten up in the market place. Performance has gotten them as far as they can go. And now they want more. Just as SUVs went from off road to the shopping mall Porshe now wants off the autobahn and into the carpool lane.
As I think about it, the strategy seems sound, even obvious. As it is, Porsche is just too racy for Dick and Jane. We want the middle class, this commercial is saying, and not just when they’re having a mid life crisis. But everyday, be that going to work or picking up the kids at school.
One has to admit there’s something delightful about seeing regular folks doing regular things behind the wheel of these pretty cars. Maybe not to car nuts but that’s a risk Porsche appears willing to take.
Thank you, Chicago Egoist