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The best thing about this mildly amusing parody of those “Real People/Chevy” commercials, which have been running endlessly on TV, is that it proves I’m not the only one who loathes the source material. And I do. Unreservedly.

I’m not sure why I (and others) dislike these advertisements so much. On the surface they are but showroom testimonials. Hardly creative but hardly nefarious either.

I suppose it’s the little things.

Like the seemingly random and unaware “real people,” who act surprised and delighted by the appearance of… cars? Gosh, we’ve never seen those before! Yet the curtains lift. Walls part. And lo and behold cars appear. By oohing and aahing, the allegedly unwitting folks come off as witless. Even if a $19,000 dollar Chevy Impala were capable of eliciting such responses, playing the reactions as spontaneous rankles what’s left of my jaded advertising brain.

And how about the ringmaster? Another supposed regular guy, only smugger. Note to Chevy: Being in on a joke that is positively un-funny only makes one complicit to the insult to our intelligence.

Digging deeper (if that’s possible in such shallow material), maybe it’s the adoration for Chevrolet’s commonplace vehicles that vexes me most. Nothing against affordable sedans and efficient trucks. They are the meat and potatoes of America’s roads, and we appreciate them as such. But falling to one’s knees and hugging the bumper, as one character does, is too disingenuous for words. Yes, this would play on, say, The Price is Right after winning one of these vehicles, but merely being shown these cars? And after the pomp and circumstance of so many vainglorious reveals… It’s crummy stagecraft.

I’m guessing from the many executions and frequency of airing that on some level this campaign is selling cars. In which case Chevrolet and its agency, Commonwealth shall have the last laugh.

I’m also aware that on these very pages I’ve written about my reluctance to criticize advertising in purely negative terms, which makes me a hypocrite. Perhaps my excuse for such shameless behavior is the same as Chevrolet’s: I couldn’t help myself.

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The high degree of craft demonstrated by the Coen Brothers is obvious in this new “film” for Mercedes AMG. The casting, wardrobe, acting, editing: it’s all first rate. Seeing Fonda at the end is wonderful – the cocky peace sign he flashes. Yet, everyone in the commercial shines, transcending the biker stereotype. You’ve got to love the two brutes getting stuck in the silver chains adorning their leathers. Or the grizzled biker chick wearing her lines like so many badges. Good stuff, which is what we’d expect from a Super Bowl commercial directed by the Coen Brothers.

Beyond the obvious, however, a thing I really dig (60’s verb intentional) about this film is how damn analog it is, on both sides of the camera. No smartphones. No CGI. Nobody’s tweeting. Instead we see a jukebox. Playing Steppenwolf. Dude holds up a cigarette lighter not an iPhone. Gloriously absent is all evidence of the modern world.

That is until we see the sleek new AMG roadster at the end.

Lots of commercials riff on previous decades but we can often sense the phoniness, kind of like viewing an off-Broadway production of Hair. Something about the cast or wardrobe gives it away. And we’re like: Oh, here’s a commercial making fun of the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.

But not here. The righteousness of this commercial lifts it above mere advertising content. Rich in detail, fun to watch and just plain good the Coen Brothers remind us of why quality filmmaking still matters. Even in advertising. Especially in advertising.

Agency credit (and kudos) to Antoni, Germany and Merkley + Partners, USA

First things first. I love the song. Though recorded before I was born, Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” is one of those rare tunes that transcends time. If the song came out tomorrow, sung by Adelle, it would be a smash hit. It’s that good. And it’s certainly the best thing about Toyota’s big budget, 60-second anthem for Corolla, which debuted recently. Because of this commercial, I’ve been singing the hero lyric, off and on now for several weeks. In that regard it’s indisputably memorable.

And yet something is the matter. The “creative algebra” doesn’t add up. Using a classic ballad of female empowerment for selling mainstream automobiles to Millennials is not enough to turn the trick. Showing assorted attractive young people engaging in mildly rebellious behavior isn’t enough either. Try as they do to appear otherwise, the cars seem incongruous to the lovely pictures and strong music. By definition most every commercial is fabricated reality but if it’s pushed too far the stink of bullshit corrupts the narrative. In my view that’s what’s happening here. The ad’s slip is showing.

Said another way, there’s nothing particularly interesting or provocative about these cars except for the fact that they’re in this commercial.

The ad is clearly targeting twenty-somethings and according to this article might actually be working. I’m suspicious about this data so soon after the commercial’s premier. Especially given my intuition points in another direction.

And then, just before posting, I saw another execution in the “You Don’t Own Me” campaign, a 30-second spot.

30 second version, with story…

The same great tune. Slick production values. But this time there’s a story. A young woman quits her job from an ornery chef (he can’t own her) and starts a food truck business. The Toyota Corolla gets her from point A to Point B. It’s a simple story but it is a story. And it made me like –maybe the better word is appreciate- the campaign. Stories will do that.

I haven’t enjoyed a Toyota commercial in ages. Compared to the white bread suburban approach the brand has maintained for eons, at least this musically powered approach –helped now I see by stories- has ambition. What do you think? Have I gone soft or was my original assessment accurate?

(Author’s note: I’m avail for copy, content creation & creative leadership: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com)

It can’t be… It is!

“Take a fresh look at Buick,” the voiceover tells us in the carmaker’s new anthem. The commercial features vignettes of people in disbelief that the lovely new car they are gazing upon and/or riding in is in fact a Buick. An old woman insists the regal beauty in her son’s driveway is not a Buick. She grew up with Buicks and knows her Buicks. A valet keeps running past a new Buick in the parking lot searching for what we surmise must be an old-fashioned car. Later we see him behind the wheel. “Nice,” he says. A desperately envious housewife ogles her neighbor’s new SUV, unaware it is a Buick, as her cuckold husband mopes beside her.

In the print ad a hip millennial with blue streaks in her hair smiles behind the wheel mocking the notion of Buick being only for blue-haired ladies.

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We get the idea. Buick has been transformed into a luxury car made for today. In other words, this is not your father’s Buick. Obviously, we’ve been down this road before…

In the late 80’s I was on the team that introduced America to a truly new Oldsmobile. Barely into my first job at Leo Burnett, I wrote and produced the opening commercial in the now infamous “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile” campaign, featuring William Shatner and his daughter. For that, I wrote the line, “New Generation of Olds” but America really only remembers the step-up line, which became part of the pop culture lexicon. Even so, within a few years Oldsmobile would go out of business, retiring the brand forever. For more on all that, including some great insider controversy, start here.

The point is Buick is trying to do the exact same thing. My guess is that it won’t end well for them either. I say this not because the strategy is necessarily wrong but as Oldsmobile learned the hard way it might very well be a dooming one. No matter how clever the executions –and these are decent- Buick is still telling folks that it is not an old-fashioned car (anymore), which, alas, has the unfortunate side effect of reminding people that Buick is totally known for being old-fashioned. It is a paradox. A bit like saying your cool ultimately means you’re not cool. We see these commercials and we cannot help but think Buick doth protest too much.

I mean no ill will for Buick or their ad agency. But I have spent decades wondering what went wrong with Oldsmobile, especially given how much America loved our silly campaign. There are but two reasons: The new generation of Olds was not as good as our father’s. And that the marketing released a deadly worm into the world dooming Oldsmobile to the scrap heap of history.

Anything can happen. After all, these new Buicks may well be damn fine cars. But perception is reality and this campaign inevitably ignites a very dangerous perception.

If you can make it here yada, yada, yada…

Has it really been over a decade since Cadillac reintroduced their brand via the Modernista agency and a Super Bowl commercial featuring Led Zeppelin? It’s actually been longer. What’s weird is that Cadillac always seems to be reintroducing itself to the world. And so yet another new brand launch campaign, this time from Publicis, comes as no surprise. Now the creed is a phrase: “Dare Greatly.” Derived from a famous speech by President Theodore Roosevelt, “The Man in the Arena.” Great when he delivered it, I’m sure. In the commercial it sounds exactly like the overblown pontifications of a preening copywriter: a purple brand manifesto if ever I heard one. Written my share of them as well. You know what I’m talking about. Such mantras usually include a plethora of big seldom-used words like plethora. Adjectives are used as nouns and vice-versa. Old-time-y phrases. It’s all here in this Ode to trying and failing and trying some more, aka “daring greatly.”

I guess Cadillac has a new CMO, a German named Uwe Ellinghaus. (Say that three times fast.) “The new point of view for Cadillac is one that embodies the American spirit in a contemporary manner without using American cliches,” Mr. Ellinghaus said.

Whatever you say, Uwe.

An uber-German selling the quintessential American car is both discomforting and ironic. But ours is a free country. If Cadillac wants to throw money at a Bavarian in order to reinvent Cadillac for the 100th time that’s their prerogative.

Wozniak dared greatly to think different!

In fairness, the consumer only sees the work. So what of it? The campaign premiered on the Academy Awards, a total of four commercials including the above-mentioned anthem. The other spots depict specific people who dared to do something great and (of course) became famous for it. Cadillac’s step-up line at the end: How dare a 112 year-old carmaker reinvent itself?

Thin argument but at least I get it. More so than the better-to-have-failed opus we get in the anthem. Still, the question comes off a tad disingenuous because, as was stated, the brand has been perpetually trying to re-start for over a decade. Like a car trying to turn over on a winter’s morning: It’s…It’s…It’s…Damn! But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

However, I am weary of American history co-opted to sell products. It feels tired and cynical when it should be bold and fresh. W&K’s image campaign for Levis did all of this…and so much better.


Now that’s Americana made fresh…

Expectedly, the film is pretty but the subject matter is mundane: New York City streets, iconic high rises, carefully chosen “real” people. Honestly, it’s no more than a serioused-up version of SNL’s iconic opening signature film. And they were there first. Outside of a couple shots I’m not inspired by any of it. In the end I can literally feel the advertising agency behind these commercials.

I miss Led Zeppelin.

Author’s Note: As I was writing this I got pinged from my old creative partner, Mike Coffin regarding a blog post he’d just written on the same topic! it is here:

https://medium.com/@mikecoffin_30299/howdarethey-db279342e148