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.


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.

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.

“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

This is how we roll in Detroit…

Auto advertisers carried the day at Super Bowl XLV. Heralding a comeback to marketing muscle, numerous car companies outdid themselves and each other in terms of blockbuster ads. Not only were many automakers in the Super Bowl, many of their ads were damn good and some even great. Volkswagen, Chevy, Chrysler, Mercedes, Hyundai, Audi; Did I miss anyone? They came out firing on all cylinders.

In my opinion leaders of the pack were Chevy and Chrysler, two American car companies that not too long ago were running on vapors. Not this night. Chevy’s tongue in cheek living storyboard for Camaro was brilliant. Two dudes talk about their idea of a badass commercial and we see it come to life.

The pretend ‘local’ Chevy spot that morphs into a Transformers riff was an absolute hoot. When it began, I really wondered how in the hell some Podunk dealership could possibly afford a Super Bowl spot. Then the featured car turns into a mean-as-hell Transformer wreaking havoc on the lot. I don’t much care for the Transformer movies but the marketing synergy and mock-sleazy production were spot on.

But for me the only commercial that riveted me to my seat –stopping traffic if you will- was the two-minute opus for Chrysler. Frankly, I didn’t even like everything about it (the car, for one, wasn’t that special), yet the film was still powerful enough to be the best commercial of the night. Featuring one of Eminem’s signature beats and then the man himself, Chrysler told the story of Detroit’s rise and fall and rise again with verve, machismo and righteousness. The controversial tagline, “Imported from Detroit” made it cherry. They are the motor city, after all.

Was this film more a love letter to Detroit than a car commercial? Perhaps. But maybe that’s okay. They are the motor city, after all.


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