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


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.

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