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:

This car commercial is driving me crazy. And like any good screw to the brain, it keeps turning and turning. Not since “Save Big Money at Menards” has an advertising jingle so infiltrated the mind space of my household. It is like flu, a cult even. My little girls gallop about our home singing of their savior Zero.

At first I laughed at this lunacy. Hearing my 7-year old humming the lyric while playing Legos, I couldn’t help but feel a sick pride about our industry’s raw power. (Just last week I’d blogged about my own ultra-crappy jingle cum phenomenon: Not your Father’s Oldsmobile.) Anyway, like most forms of pride it quickly deteriorated into something dire: This is an awful song in an awful commercial. Shut up, already!

Despite it’s ubiquity and cheapo-repetitive production values, the eye of this spot’s awfulness is, absolutely, its music. “Saved by Zero” is a crap re-recording of a crap hit from eighties new wave has-beens, The Fixx. I’ve no idea the song’s original meaning but it’s painfully obvious the current adaptation: zero percent financing on a new Toyota.

Our economy is a wreck. Of course good deals are what panicky car sellers will be shouting about. But this commercial was produced before the markets crashed. The serendipitous use of the word “saved” is merely coincidence and cannot redeem this commercial. Nor should it. For the most part regional/retail car advertising always blows. The agencies that make this chum are usually second and third tier shops, often at odds with the car maker’s higher profile brand agencies. Commercials like these are the closest thing to junk mail on TV.

While searching for an image or video, I discover that a colony of haters for this ultra-annoying spot exists on Facebook! Then I see Adrants ranting about the spot as well:

So this paltry commercial has its own cult of personality. And we are growing, for here I am, and so too the spot. Would you believe the thing ran while I was writing this, watching Game 7 of the ALCS? Sure ‘nuff.

Lord knows we have bigger problems than posed by this silly commercial. Besides, when Saved by Zero is kaput another odious paean to a numeral will replace it. “Five dollar foot long,” anyone?