Tag Archives: Don Klein

2013 Nissan Altima Commercial: Dancing with the Cars [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

The Ad Section

The number one unwritten rule in advertising is Get Noticed, so score one for ad agency TBWAChiatDay for creating an automotive commercial that’s definitely different. But, unfortunately, that one is all it scored. This bizarre spot opens on a highly stylized couple in their driveway, facing the garage. They don’t need a car, because he’s the car. She climbs aboard his back like an awkward toddler and holds her arms in the nine-and-three steering position, but as soon as they start to back up, he bucks her off. Wait—is he a car or a horse? I’m already confused.

More befuddling is that, moments later, he’s a football player, assuming a defensive guard’s position to protect a kid on a skateboard from getting smooshed. For those of us who haven’t earned a black belt in charades, the announcer provides a clue: “Moving object detection.” The only detecting I detected was the guy looking over his shoulder, the same technology Karl Benz used on his 1886 Patent-Motorwagen. But if we’re pretending the guy is a car, I guess that means whatever the spot is selling has motion sensors, like dozens of other cars on the market.

Incident avoided, she’s now off his back as they move down a neighborhood road, side by side, in what looks to me like a tribute to Monty Python’s “The Ministry of Silly Walks.” They keep this up until getting to the freeway, where a motorcycle bears down on them. (Didn’t this guy get the tweet? There are crazy people on the 405! Stay away!) Since they’re all alone out there I would think they could easily hear a rapidly approaching, fully wound café racer, but maybe they have their invisible windows rolled up. No worries, though, as the biker passes safely because the still-unnamed car/horse/lineman/comedian has blind-spot detection. Phew. Moments later we learn the man-car also has lane-departure warning, as evidenced by its stealthy evasion of a huge semi. As the 18-wheeler barrels past them, the vehi-dude demonstrates an additional, if unnamed feature: automatic truck mooning. Haul this, you big bully!

Whatever it is that’s being advertised, the announcer says it has safety down to an art form, so I’m thinking maybe it’s a Volvo. But no, the waning seconds of the spot reveal that we’re being pitched the Nissan Altima. That’s right, folks—the same car that touted its tire-inflation warning system by showing a guy squirting cologne down his trousers has now taken the high road with this artsy allegorical ditty that’s sure to capture the desirable modern-dance enthusiast segment that all the mid-size sedans are battling for. I never saw it coming.

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks …read more

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

2013 Buick LaCrosse Shaquille O’Neal Commercial: Q Scores and A-Listers [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

Buick LaCross

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

When it comes to popularity, size matters. Jimmy Fallon, for example, is huge, and so is Alec Baldwin. I’m talking about their Q Scores, which are survey-derived metrics that indicate a celebrity’s overall recognition and popularity within a specific target audience. For decades, Q Scores (a proprietary name owned by the company that generates them) have been the gold standard by which ad agencies assess a celebrity’s value as a spokesperson.

As with many things in life, the larger the Q Score, the better. Which brings us to Shaquille O’Neal. To help me put things in perspective, I called Steve Levitt, president of The Q Score Company, who told me that while the average celebrity is recognized by 29 percent of young American adult males, a whopping 70 percent recognize Shaq. Among sports fans, that number is even higher. So if you’re targeting your sales message to those guys, it might behoove you to consider hiring The Big Shaqtus to appear in one of your commercials—or if you’re Buick, two of your commercials.

Last year, Buick dubbed O’Neal a “Size Authority” and squeezed him into a LaCrosse eAssist to tout the car’s luxury, interior space, and gas mileage. That entertaining commercial culminated with the line, “I’ve got shoes that are bigger than most hybrids—and more stylish, too.” This time around, they have him listing additional attributes, such as “sophisticated styling” and “fresh technology.” Shaq’s punch line? “Like my Mom said the day I was born: ‘Wow, that’s a lot more than I expected!’ ”

Given O’Neal’s size (the man is over seven feet tall and is charitably listed at 325 pounds), I don’t doubt he was enormous from day one. And given his wealth (his fortune has been estimated at $250 million), I have no trouble believing he sports some extravagant footwear. But I do have trouble believing that Shaquille O’Neal drives a LaCrosse. Even casual sports fans know that Shaq is all about cars, and that he has a stable of exotics that has included legroom-modified Ferraris, a giant Escalade, and a custom stretch Lamborghini Gallardo. So are we supposed to believe that this three-time NBA Finals MVP, multiple-championship winning sports titan tools around town in a stock, $35,000 sedan with just 38 inches of front headroom? Of course not. To quote the great philosopher Biz Markie, “Don’t even give me that.” But in these commercials, Shaq is speaking as a paid salesman, not an owner, so he doesn’t need to own a LaCrosse any more than a Ferrari salesman is required to own a 458 Italia. He’s qualified to talk about size and luxury …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

Subaru “Cut The Cord” Commercial: All You Need is Love [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

Subaru “Cut The Cord” Commercial: All You Need is Love [The Ad Section]

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

Good commercials give viewers reasons to buy—or RTBs—the product or service being advertised. These RTBs can range from facts like “the best mileage in its class” to assertions like “the best-looking car on the road,” but they all summarize why their product is unique/better. The trick, of course, is to match the RTB to the prospects’ sensibilities. Sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many ads fail this test.

For several years now, Subaru has been promoting a very ethereal yet highly motivating RTB: love. They’re hardly the first car company to try this. Mercedes plowed a big ol’ pile of dough into their “The Love Never Fades” campaign in the mid-2000s, and Volvo explored the concept way back in the ’80s with their ubiquitous “I Love My Volvo” bumper stickers. Subaru, on the other hand, is trying to own love in its entirety by building its campaign around the line, “Love. It’s What Makes a Subaru a Subaru.”

“Cut the Cord” is the latest example. In it, a father anxiously and tenderly sends his young daughter off on her first day of school. He reassures her with messages of encouragement and love, but after she bravely climbs aboard the bus he gets into his Legacy and drives alongside it, stopping only when he sees that she’s laughing and obviously happy. His voiceover copy says, “I’m overly protective. That’s why I bought a Subaru.” Then another voice gives the love line and we cut to a super with the Subaru logo and the words Confidence in Motion. The accompanying music adds a relevant touch of melancholy.

For the right target audience, this is a great commercial. It takes an emotionally charged rite of passage and milks it for all it’s worth, with phenomenal casting, acting, and directing. The expression on the girl’s face after Daddy asks her if she’s excited about her first day isn’t merely perfect, it’s extraordinary. And the actor who plays the father nails an extremely difficult role with just the right blend of freewheeling angst and stiff upper lip. The director’s ability to make this story look real also is noteworthy; in the wrong hands, the spot could have been a big pile of steaming treacle. But it’s not.

It’s a masterful vignette, designed to strike a very specific chord with car buyers for whom emotional identity is more important than product features. They could have cited the crash ratings or a laundry list of safety features, but they didn’t. All they had to do was show an overly protective father, just as Subaru’s “Kid Wash” commercial …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

2013 Toyota Avalon Commercial: Does Following the Crowd Really Require “Courage?” [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

Avalon Commercial Blog

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

As citizens of today’s wired world, we’re subjected to countless advertising messages every day. Commercials on our tablets, pop-ups in our smartphone apps, old-school print ads and posters, and even matchbook covers (yes, those are still a thing) all compete for our attention. Cutting through the clutter has always presented a challenge for ad agencies, but doing so now is tougher than ever, so I applaud the creative team for this Avalon ad for coming up with a visual device that gets and holds the viewer.

Indeed, watching that underwater ink cloud take the shape of the new Avalon is mesmerizing, but that’s the problem with this commercial: The visual gimmick is a lot more interesting than the car it’s touting. I suspect that the copywriters might have realized this too, since they dug deep to come up with words that are equally dramatic (despite the strangely low-key voiceover read): “Let’s take every drop of courage. Every ounce of inspiration. Every bit of determination.”

Whoa—did he say every ounce of courage? Courage is when you run into your neighbor’s burning house to save his kids, or dive into an ice-choked river to rescue a puppy. If forced to apply the analogy to automotive design, “courage” would be replacing the handsome previous-gen Acura TL with one whose grille looks like Alfred E. Neuman’s grin. That took courage. Or Pontiac coming to market with the hideous Aztek. We’re talking major cojones there. But executing a redesign on a car that made the Datsun B210 look sexy by comparison hardly required bravery. If that took every ounce of Toyota’s courage, they shouldn’t admit it.

But they are right to claim inspiration, no question there: The new Avalon’s styling—it’s handsome, to be sure—appears to draw from Hyundai, Infiniti, and even the second-gen Chrysler Sebring (as we pointed out in our first-drive review). So while the car is indeed nice looking, but hardly “radical.” Although the copy says the new Avalon “goes where we’ve never gone before,” the Avalon’s exterior designer, Miljan Jevremovic, summarizes the design as a “true Toyota.” So which is it? It can’t be both.

But back to the ink effect. The creative team used it because it’s interesting and unique, and that’s good. But then they abandoned it and cut to the “emptying the pool” shot that, to me anyway, conjured thoughts of water damage à la Katrina or Sandy. Subliminal? Yes, but much of advertising is, and even if I’m among …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

2013 VW Passat “Toss” Commercial: This Pitch Strikes Out [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

vw passat toss

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

In 1959, Volkswagen ran a print ad with a photo of a Beetle and the tagline, “Think Small.” Its simplicity and compelling logic made it a watershed event that changed not only the face of car advertising, but advertising in general. It received so much attention that it put both VW and its agency (Doyle Dane Bernbach) on the map as the standard bearers of advertising creative excellence. In the ensuing 50-plus years, VW has continued to give us many memorable breakthrough ads, culminating in 2011’s wonderful “Force” commercial, which featured a mini Darth Vader having a close encounter with his father’s Passat.

Two years later, you can still find that spot at the top of almost every “Best Commercials Ever” list because it deserves to be. So I find it surprising that VW decided to make a new father-son Passat commercial. Did it really think it could outdo “Force” with this boring portrayal of an inept father teaching his son how to throw a baseball? And given the legacy and challenge of maintaining VW’s high creative standards, this is the best it could do to communicate the Passat’s durability?

The storyline is appealing enough—despite their mutual lack of athletic ability, a young dad encourages his son to improve his ball-tossing skills by trying to show him how it’s done. If more fathers invested this type of interest in their kids, the world would be a better place. Ironically, except for the fact that they’re trying to sell you a car, the payoff line is admirable: “Pass down something he will be grateful for.” If that “something” referred to the life lesson this supportive father is demonstrating, I’d say it’s a great spot. But instead, the creative team uses it as a straw dog to set up the commercial’s real message: Your kid won’t appreciate your teaching him to throw like a dork, but you can make up for it by giving him your hand-me-down Passat when he gets old enough to drive.

Junior looks to be somewhere between eight and ten years old, so depending on where they live, this baton-passing should take place in the next six to eight years. Will the now-new Passat still be roadworthy by then? Hard to say—all it does in the commercial is sit in the driveway. It doesn’t even deflect one of the kid’s off-target tosses. Although durability is ostensibly the point of the commercial, the only evidence it gives …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

2013 Range Rover Evoque “Collector” Spot: Damn the Facts, Full Speed Ahead! [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

Evoque Collector

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

Arrrgh, maties! Gather ’round and I’ll tell you a story that’ll shiver your timbers and warm the cockles of your hearts. It’s the tale of a navy captain and the woman he loved, separated at sea by a surprise attack that rained fire and death on the brave captain’s vessel. A tale that spans two centuries and ends with the couple finally being reunited, thanks to the dedication of the captain’s stylish-yet-rugged descendent and his stylish-yet-rugged luxury crossover. Aye, and what a tale it is! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll never be the same.

We don’t know the ship’s name or whose flag she fought under, but we do know “she went down on the outer shoals on May 12, 1801.” Outgunned by a frigate, she was. “It came out of nowhere.” Alas, she took most of the crew with her when she went down. The captain survived, but was “hauled out, taken ashore, and taken prisoner.” And the fair maiden? She just sort of floated away. No surprise there—she’s made out of wood. And now, more than 200 years later, she is discovered by an art collector who appears to be the captain’s great-great-great grandson (if I’ve done my math correctly), or, judging from the unbelievable resemblance to the dude in the portrait, the reincarnation of the captain himself. Either way, she’s still looking good when the matchmaker hangs her on his condo wall directly in the gaze of He Who Was Blindsided. Oh, and did I mention he drives an Evoque? Its ample cargo capacity, nimble maneuverability, and surefooted all-wheel drive didn’t merely take our hero and his precious artifact home, it took him “above and beyond.”

Above and beyond reality, that is. What part of this commercial is in any way anchored in fact? The narrator says the attack took place on “the outer shoals,” which would indicate a location off the East Coast, likely the Carolinas or New England. But no military vessels went down in those waters in 1801. Certainly none belonging to the United States. We sold all our ships after the Revolutionary War and didn’t re-establish a fleet until early 1801, and the only action those vessels (six frigates) saw that year was off the Barbary Coast.

Hours of additional research showed me that, although the uniform of the captain in the commercial is not nation-specific, his hat is most assuredly that of a British captain. Furthering the argument of the British bloodline is that the Evoque is painted red, a color still associated with the “Redcoats” at the end of the 18th century. The fake battle scenes shed …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

2014 Kia Sorento “Tight Space” Commercial: Very Fitting [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

Kia Tight Space

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

Ads that simulate real-life situations are called “slice of life” commercials. We’re supposed to look at them and say, “Yeah I can relate to that,” or “That could be me they’re talking about.” They vary from vignettes that use exaggerated humor (like almost every breakfast-cereal commercial that depicts a family sitting around the kitchen table cracking jokes about cholesterol), to heartwarming masterpieces that evoke real tears, even though you know the situations are staged (like almost every Hallmark greeting card commercial). This spot for the new 2014 Kia Sorento falls somewhere in between. It won’t make you laugh or cry, but there’s a good chance it’ll make you smile because you really can identify with it.

We open on a family in a parking garage, looking for a spot for their Sorento. They finally come across one, but it’s awfully narrow. Dad wants to give it a try, but his wife makes it clear that he shouldn’t even think about it. And then comes the moment when most of us married guys start nodding our heads, because, boy, have we been there. Yes, the space is narrow, but I can do it! I just know I can! The daughters’ silent glance lets us know this isn’t the first time their parents have come to an impasse like this, and it probably doesn’t always end pretty. But this time Dad is a man with a plan. After all, their Sorento has the optional power folding mirrors that he’s been dying to use. Get out of the car so I can fold those puppies back and ease on in. Everyone humors him—and it works. Until he tries to open his door. Defeated? Not our boy. I’ll, um, just scurry out through the back. A little on-the-spot improvisation? Oh yeah. But his Kevin James–esque swagger and the way he tosses away his “Like a glove” line almost make us think maybe it actually was part of his plan, although he knows it wasn’t. The message? The 2014 Kia Sorento has power mirrors and a remote liftgate like more expensive SUVs, and, more important, it’s perfect for families like yours.

4th GearRecognizing I’m being completely subjective, I’ve got to say I like this commercial. One reason is because I think the actors look like a real family, not four mismatched souls from central casting. The little nuances are totally believable, too, …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

2013 Jaguar “Roar Responsibly” Commercial: To Get It, Don’t Pay Attention [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

2013 Jaguar Roar Responsibly

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

Pop quiz: Based on this commercial, how many miles per gallon can you get with the 2013 Jaguar XF and XJ?

Are you sure? Sometimes, commercials are a bit like magic tricks: You swear you saw something happen right before your eyes (“They sawed that lady in half!”), but you really didn’t. Ad creators, like magicians, know how they want to direct your attention, so sometimes they keep their hands and patter zipping right along, even though what they’re saying doesn’t necessarily match what they’re showing. It’s not easy to do, but good magicians (and good ad men) can pull it off.

When I look at this commercial, here’s what I see: First, there’s a red XF being driven through a city. It looks nice. The announcer comes on and tells us “It’s got performance with efficiency,” so, naturally, I’m thinking he’s talking about the XF, because that’s what’s on the screen. He continues to say “It’s got all you want, in a car as alive as you are,” but now we’re seeing a different model, a gold XJ, so the “it” must refer to the entire Jaguar sedan line. To keep me thinking that way, the XF reappears as if to emphasize what he just said about the XJ. So he means both statements apply to both sedans, right?

Then we see a montage of Jaguar-related images before cutting back and forth between the two cars as the announcer says, “Introducing the supercharged V-6 and turbocharged four-cylinder engine that gets 30 miles per gallon highway, from Jaguar. So now you can roar responsibly.” Which is the main message of the commercial.

Ah, so the reason they keep switching from car to car and intermingling their attributes is because you can get these new engines in both the XF and XJ, right? Wrong. The six is available in both cars, but only the XF offers the turbo four, and that’s the engine that returns an EPA-rated 30 mpg. And even though that’s the highway-only figure, when the announcer says “highway,” they show a city driving shot. To add to the confusion, the car depicted at that point is the XJ, not the XF. So while no one explicitly says that the XJ gives you 30 mpg, you’d be forgiven for thinking so, especially since they never tell you the XJ’s mileage.

For the record, the SWB rear-drive XJ 3.0 is rated for 27 mpg highway, while the rear-drive LWB and AWD 3.0 XJs get 24 highway. You’ll notice that none of those numbers equal 30. At 23 mpg, the turbo-four XF’s combined fuel-economy number—which the ad doesn’t …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

2013 Lexus “Walk the Walk” Commercial: Exactly What Walk Would That Be? [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

2013 Lexus “Walk-the-Walk” Commercial

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

After seeing this commercial for the first time, I hit the rewind button, put some drops in my eyes to make sure my vision was clear, and watched it again. And then, just to be positive, I watched it one more time. I know it sounds crazy, but it looks like it’s depicting a guy who takes his all-wheel-drive LS out on a miserable snowy night and picks up a high-class hooker. Of course, Lexus wouldn’t really make a commercial that glamorizes prostitution, and I’m a little ashamed to admit it even crossed my mind because I want you all to respect me. She’s probably just the babysitter and he’s picking her up to watch the kids while he and his wife go to a movie or maybe to an evening church service.

But to be honest, based on the way she’s dressed, she’d have to do a lot of babysitting to pay for all those expensive clothes. True, she skimped on the skirt, but those silver stilettos . . . they must’ve cost a fortune. And to tell you the truth, they really aren’t practical for the snow. I mean, what kind of woman would wear shoes like that in inclement weather unless she was a—well, no, there I go again with my hooker theory. And like I said, I know that can’t be true.

But in fairness, what does she expect people to think when she walks down the street that way? Did you see how the woman in the restaurant glared at her when she went by? Definitely gave her a “you’re a hooker” look. And if she really is a babysitter—or the guy’s date for that matter, assuming he’s not married—why wouldn’t he pick her up in front of her apartment? If she’s not a streetwalker, why make her walk the street? Anyway, that’s what I thought the first few times I saw the commercial, so I Googled the lyrics to the song (“Snowflake” by Makachai), thinking they might shed some light. And did they ever.

“How many times have you gone below/Hanging around those seats and back rows. When nobody’s eyes can see what you know/Who’s under the coat, you’re wondering? So many times I’ve seen my shadow/hovering over that sweetness I know. When all of a sudden I’ve needs from below/Who’s there for me now? I’m hungering/Calling out for love.” See? Nothing loaded about that.

The guy in this commercial has “needs from below,” which obviously refers to his stomach. He’s “hungering” and she’s his dinner date, and he’s really happy to see her (explains his big smile) because now they …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray Commercial: Catch It if You Can [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray Commercial: Catch It if You Can [The Ad Section]

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

Remember the animated Prius commercial? That charming little cartoon with sunny blue skies and the nursery-rhyme jingle? Well, this commercial is that commercial’s cosmic antithesis. The scenery here is about as sunny as Caligula’s heart. You won’t hear any cutesy humming, just an edgy, nails-on-the-blackboard soundtrack and the basso thumping of a big-ass (6.2 liter) pushrod V-8 that spews out 450 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque. Because the 2014 Corvette Stingray isn’t a hybrid—it’s a thoroughbred. Sorry, Prius, but this is the car that wants to have fun.

It’s hard to recall a new model introduction that’s had more hype and anticipation than the 2014 Corvette. And while many folks haven’t experienced the C7 in person yet, we’ve all seen the photos, read the articles, and followed the news. This 28-second, web-only commercial’s job is to build on that hype, to take it (and you) to the next level by plunging you deeper into Chevrolet’s multi-platformed marketing program. And it does. Like a good aperitif, it heightens your senses and makes you hungry for more. Like the car itself, the spot moves fast. I love the way it opens, allowing us to catch only glimpses of the shiny (sweaty?) car-as-beast, confined in a space that looks like a cross between a paint booth and Hannibal Lecter’s glass holding cage. This is one BAMF, as both the darty camera (Whoa! Don’t get too close there Buddy, that thing’ll bite ya!) and growl-packed soundtrack attest.

And the decision to shoot it in black and white isn’t because they couldn’t afford color film. Fifty shades of gray are all the better to show off its sexy flanks. Once safely ensconced in the cockpit, we’re off to the track to get it on. Fast? Check. Loud? Check. Any questions? Didn’t think so. Even if you’ve got a blue oval or a fanged snake head tattooed over your heart, this commercial gets you pumped and you know it.

I think one reason why the spot does its job so well is because it never lets you get a good look at the complete car. In the 20 seconds it takes to reach the supers at the end, they’ve crammed in 21 scenes. That comes to about two eye blinks per cut, which isn’t much time to register a clear impression, especially when most of the scenes themselves contain movement. In fact, the whole spot seems to rush by in about half its actual running time. And although I certainly wouldn’t have minded if they’d lingered on the car shots longer, the quick cuts are key to helping …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

Mercedes-Benz CLA-class “Soul” Super Bowl Commercial: It’s a Hell of a Spot [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

Mercedes Benz CLA Ad

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

About 10 years ago, Mercedes-Benz showed how not to introduce a down-market luxury car. That failed experiment was a strange little two-door called the C230 Kompressor. It featured cloth seats and a hatchback (although Mercedes never used that word in official communiqués). Depending on your point of view, it was either sporty or fugly, but it screamed cheap no matter how you looked at it, an image that didn’t sit well with traditional Mercedes owners.

A decade later, Mercedes wants to dip back into the low end of the pool, with good reason: A lot of cars sold in this country hover around the $30,000 price point (including entry-luxury models like the Acura ILX, Audi A3, and BMW 1-series). Of course, none currently wear a three-pointed star. Enter the CLA-class. Looking more or less like a CLS after a very cold shower, this compact sedan is clearly a Mercedes. You won’t be able to buy one until this fall, but when you can, the car will have the standard equipment you might expect in a Benz (seven-speed dual-clutch auto, Bluetooth connectivity, a 5.8-inch infotainment display, and the mbrace2 suite of smartphone-integrated apps and services) and options you definitely expect in a Benz. The latter include a panorama-style sunroof, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, pre-collision braking, blind-spot monitoring, infotainment system upgrades, lane-keeping assist, and a parking-assist system that even some of the pricier Mercedes models don’t yet offer. Still, the CLA has that decidedly un-Mercedes $30,825 base price—the $29,990 number cited in the commercial doesn’t include destination and delivery—so how does the company tout that without tarnishing its upscale image? You make a commercial that blows everyone’s socks off.

The premise underlying “Soul” is simple: If you want something that you can’t afford, maybe you can get it by selling your soul to Satan. But as the old saying does, the devil is in the details and it’s the ad’s extravagant execution that makes it so powerful. Anybody who has ever written commercials for a living has got to be jealous of the creative team that got to make this spot. Clearly, money was no object:

Willem Dafoe would make a great Satan, but he’d cost a fortune.”

 “No problem, hire him.”

 “But we also need a sexy model.”

“You mean like Kate Upton?”

“Yeah, she’d be perfect, but . . .”

“No problem, hire her. And hire Usher, too. And while you’re at it, make sure we keep using Jon Hamm, the guy from Mad Men, for our voiceovers.”

“But what about the music? It would be amazing if we could get the Stones’ …read more
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

Super Bowl XLVII Car Commercials: The Best, the Worst, and the “Meh” [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

Super Bowl XLVII Audi Prom Commercial

A good commercial is one that breaks through the clutter, registers a convincing sales message and sears itself into your memory. I call it the Rule of IMP, for Intrusive, Memorable, and Persuasive. But for Super Bowl commercials there’s an additional rule: They’ve got to be entertaining as well. So which ones have us buzzing around the virtual water cooler today? Here’s our take, with each slotted alphabetically into three categories—Best, Worst, and Meh. Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. But everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising—especially during the Super Bowl—so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

The Best

Audi “Prom

This year’s Super Bowl commercial is another big win for Audi’s brilliant marketing team, not only because of the spot itself—which was for the bad-ass S6 sedan—but because of the social-media program that surrounded it. A week before the game, Audi invited people to visit their Facebook page to vote for one of three endings with the promise that the winner would be revealed during the game. But of course, the company tipped its hand, and the spot had more than 6.6 million views on YouTube by game time. The spot itself is extremely well executed (shades of Superbad?), but the kid in BMW’s prom commercial I reviewed last month got a cuter girl without suffering a shiner.

Mercedes-Benz “Soul”

Kate Upton. Willem Dafoe. Usher. Mad Men’s Jon Hamm. Original Stones track. Cast of thousands. Multiple locations. Incredible SFX. There are foreign countries with GDPs that are smaller than this commercial’s budget. But you know what? It’s money well spent. The entire production is as sharp as Satan Dafoe’s fingernails. Conceptually, it’s brilliant: At just $29,990 (plus destination), you don’t have to make a deal with the devil to get a real Mercedes and everything the brand stands for. Mercedes is going to sell a ton of CLAs, and this commercial is a big reason why. Huge IMP factor.

Ram “So God Made a Farmer”

Using an original, scratchy recording of the late Paul Harvey, this is a two-minute sermon about why God created farmers. It’s poignant, accurate, and powerful, especially for America’s independent farmers, who not so incidentally rely on their trucks. While it’s intended to sell Rams, there’s no exploitation here, just a handful of fleeting visual product references. The real focus is on portraits of the men, women, and children of this nation’s independent farm community. If it makes them seem like heroes, it’s because so many of them are.

Volkswagen “Get In, Get Happy”

Not since Taco Bell’s talking Chihuahua has a Super Bowl commercial made such good use of an old trick: lip sync someone else’s voice to completely change a character’s personality. Allstate Insurance does it with spokesman Dennis Haysbert’s dulcet tones and the e-Trade baby will forever be a classic, but VW’s new “Jamerican” is destined for greatness. I’ve already used “Don’ fret, me brother—sticky bun be comin’ soon!” a few times, and I’ll bet I’m not alone. This commercial hits the brand/image reinforcement nail on the head with a sledgehammer and probably will get a lot of votes for favorite car commercial of the game.

The Meh

Hyundai “Team”

Although the Santa Fe being advertised here could easily be swapped out for any other seven-passenger vehicle (the copy makes no product claims other than passenger capacity), this feel-good spot likely will be lauded for its anti-bullying message, and that’s okay with me. In the spirit of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a supportive Mom helps her son round up a ragtag team of unlikely looking boys with remarkable physical skills (like bear wresting and welding) to teach football-stealing baddies a lesson. Whether you’re a Ravens or 49ers fan, here’s one team we can all root for.

Hyundai “Stuck”

Nobody likes to get stuck behind slow-moving vehicles. Even moderately unpleasant obstacles like horse trailers or bikers displaying their ample butts have you searching for the next passing zone, so imagine if you were inches behind a tanker truck dripping toxic fluids, an about-to-explode fireworks truck, or a trailer full of ICBMs aimed squarely at your windshield. If you had a 274-hp turbocharged Hyundai Sonata, you could put all that behind you in fast order. And that’s the point made by this well-art-directed, mildly humorous commercial. The Jeff Bridges voiceover might make the spot more entertaining for fans of The Big Lebowski’s “Dude.”

Kia “Hotbots”

This commercial is aimed at the 2014 Forte’s young, male target audience, who likely will appreciate the gratuitous body-slamming that the out-of-line geeky kid gets for dissing the robot chicks and smudging the car’s windows. I had to watch it a few times to realize that the noises at the beginning are robot movement sounds and not crows, though. Better audio mixing would have helped. The models look more like replicants than robots anyway. Daryl Hannah didn’t make noises when she moved, but Blade Runner was long before these kids were born. The copy says nothing. Literally.

The Worst

Hyundai “Epic Playdate”

As near as I can tell, this is a video for The Flaming Lips song “Sun Blows Up Today.” It looks like the creators made the spot up as they went along, maybe using The Beatles’ disjointed “Hard Day’s Night” for inspiration. The vignettes are embarrassingly dated, hopelessly trite, and wholly unbelievable. The Santa Fe is merely a prop—the commercial says nothing about it other than it carries seven passengers. The father’s last line confirms my suspicion that it was hastily thrown together as a Super Bowl special. Epic? Yes—as in fail.

Jeep “Whole Again”

Jeep and Oprah Winfrey teamed to make this two-minute tribute to our returning vets and their families. It’s a beautifully crafted, emotional salute that expresses the gratitude we all feel for those who serve our country and keep us safe from harm. And then they go and blow it all by turning it into a self-serving Jeep commercial. Another Chrysler brand, Dodge, has a terrific Challenger commercial that makes the same point by showing a returning soldier and his young son. In that spot, the car is key to the relationship but it’s never mentioned. Surely Jeep could have done the same.

Kia “Space Babies”

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a lot of Super Bowl viewers—especially young mothers—liked this commercial about a father’s awkward answer to his son’s question about the birds and bees. They liked the adorable computer-generated babies (both human and animal), they liked the mostly sweet but wink-wink explanation that Dad offers, and they liked the inclusion of species from all lands. And I’ll stay out on that same limb to say that the vast majority of them won’t remember the vehicle being advertised. (It was the Sorento.) And who can blame them? It’s hardly ever shown.

Lincoln “Phoenix”

When Ford introduced the “Lincoln Motor Company” late last year, it invested millions of dollars to run a commercial that showed models from that brand’s glory days and told us that “this is about moving forward by looking back” to cars that proudly represented the Lincoln ideal. With this new commercial, it pulled a 180 and showed a ’90s Town Car that has a close encounter with a flame thrower and emerges as an MKZ, this time telling us that our memories of the brand are all wrong: “It’s not what you think.” Jeez, Lincoln, make up your mind!

Lincoln “Steer The Script”

To make the most of their social-media efforts, Lincoln teamed with Jimmy Fallon (and his extensive roster of Twitter followers) to create an MKZ commercial inspired by tweets about real people’s memorable road trips. Thousands of submissions were narrowed down to five tweets, which were cobbled together to make an entertaining 90-second spot. Of course, none of the original road trips happened in an MKZ, but the spot works nonetheless. At least in the longer version. But during the game, Lincoln aired the lame 30-second clip. They should have scrapped the “Phoenix” buy and run the longer one instead. Again, Lincoln, make up your mind! (We do dig the Wil Wheaton cameo, though.)

Toyota RAV4 “Wish Granted”

The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco is funny and well-liked. So Toyota decided to make her a genie who grants wishes to RAV4 owners. Of course, this has nothing to do with reality (or the new RAV4), as this ridiculous commercial demonstrates. The spot is likable enough—gotta love the talking squirrels and Dr. Chocolate—but it’s completely irrelevant to the RAV4, which just sits in the driveway while Ms. Cuoco (stuffed into an ill-fitting purple pantsuit) and the Henderson family magically fly through time and space on their imaginary adventures. Two words come to mind: stupid and why?

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

2013 Toyota Prius “Family” Commercial: They Say “Hum,” We Say “Humbug” [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

2013 Toyota Prius Family Commercial

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

Yes, life can be hard and there are mean people out there, but in Prius World, we make mean people go away! They’re not welcome here! And when problems come up or things make us sad, why, we just hum them away! Try it, it’s easy! All it takes is a cute little car—wait, make that a family of cute little cars—a cheery attitude, and a big old smile! But make sure to keep your lips close together so you can still hum! Hum, hum, hum, hum, hum!

Don’t you just love it here, in this perfect little world? Oh look, there’s the FedEx truck from the commercial they shot in the Enchanted Forest across town last year. You remember: the one with the cheery birds and dancing animals not entirely unlike the vibe we’re setting up in this commercial? That little truck is welcome here because it’s electric, and Toyota doesn’t make Prius delivery vans—yet!

So, hey, Brother FedEx Man, keep on truckin’—or, rather, hummin’! Even though you did kind of steal our jingle. Or did we steal yours? Oh, who cares? Happy songs that we can all clap along to are made for sharing, right? And speaking of commercials, that adorable little Geico piggy, Maxwell, he’s welcome here too, even though he’s not computer-generated like we are—or is he? It’s so hard to tell these days! But no matter, we just love the way he says “Wheee!” all the time! It’s such a happy sound, like humming! And it puts people in a good mood! Well, not all people. Not grumpy people or people who buy guzzle-icious pickup trucks or huge SUVs, or even those who choose conventionally powered cars. But people like us? Good Mood City.

2nd Gear Rating

And when we’re in a good mood, we’re willing to do things to help save the planet, like pay a premium for cars that use less gas because they have batteries in them that can be recharged! The perfect match, electric and gas. Mile after mile its tank could last! So hum, hum, hum, hum, hum, a Prius for everyone! Yes, we know that batteries are made in nasty old factories that pollute and they need smelly old power plants to make the electricity that recharges them, but when those thoughts come into our minds, we just hum! Because this is the car that loves to have fun! It’s got something for everyone!

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

2013 Ram 1500 Commercial: Help Me Understand It, Please [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

2013 Ram 1500 Commercial: Help Me Understand It, Please [The Ad Section]

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

(Note: this is embedded from a non-official account; Ram has yet to post the ad to its own YouTube account.)

Followers of this feature know my goal is to offer up thought-provoking critiques of the car commercials we all see. Of course, I’m not always right, and when that happens you’re quick to take issue with me, which is exactly what healthy debate is all about. Still, I’ve always at least tried to offer an explanation for what the advertisers are trying to accomplish, along with an opinion as to whether they’ve been successful. But this Ram commercial has me completely stumped. I’ve watched it a hundred times and I still can’t make sense of it. So will somebody please help me out?

As near as I can tell, a guy is driving along a mountain road in his new Ram 1500. The Jaws-like music let’s me know something bad is about to happen, so it’s no surprise when an eagle (or maybe it’s a hawk or a falcon—who am I, Jack Hanna?) suddenly swoops down in front of him. The guy slows down, but it’s too late. Although we don’t actually see it happen, some contact appears to have been made, as evidenced by the bird’s sudden slo-mo flapping and a sound effect that could be a dull thud. (Or a gunshot. Go back and listen, this time with your eyes shut. Did somebody shoot at the damned bird? Who would shoot an eagle? Crazy, right?)

But if the truck hit it, why didn’t we see that happen? Too graphic? I say if we can bear Sam Elliott’s cement-mixer voiceover, surely we can endure a stunt bird bouncing off a truck hood. But either way there’s no blood, and although Birdy appears to be slightly stunned, a post-event glimpse through the passenger window indicates that his avionics are still in working order, so not to worry. But just to be sure, Ram Dude utilizes the 1500’s “innovative new rotary shifter” to reverse not only the truck, but also time. It can do this because, as we all know, Ram’s are engineered to move heaven and earth. Reversing time is apparently one of its superpowers, and I’m fine with that, because it’s just a stupid advertising claim.

1st Gear

Here’s what I don’t get: If the bird is okay—and it sure looked okay to me—why does the driver do this? Why doesn’t he just go along on his manly way? And if the bird’s not okay, shouldn’t he find it and bring it to a vet, even if it means scrambling down the rocky hillside, risking possible injury, and maybe even tumbling into the river and drowning or being shot at by the same guy who shot at the bird? Plus, he’s got that rotary gear selector that lets him “shift the balance of power decisively in his favor” whenever he wants to, so why not do the right thing? This guy’s got the most amazing innovation in the history of the motor vehicle—it can rewind time—and he squanders it by backing up a few feet? And all this just to announce Ram has a sissified Jaguar-like gear selector?

Since I know that can’t be what Ram really wants me to get from this commercial, I’m using one of my lifelines and asking for your help. Thanks.

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Commercial: Crashing Symbols Loudly [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Commercial: Crashing Symbols Loudly [The Ad Section]

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

When I was a middle-class kid going to my middle-class high school in my middle-class hometown, being labeled “pretentious” was a heavy-duty condemnation. The rich kids from neighboring Essex Fells were pretentious; we were “honest” and “down to earth.” Of course, what we really were was jealous, but we wore our collective cloak of humility, woven from sturdy grass roots, like a badge of honor. It kept us safe from, among other things, the green-eyed monster. So I totally get that there’s something powerful about the have-nots getting their due, especially if the haves can be taught a lesson as part of the bargain. That’s the energy (negative though it may be) that Mitsubishi is tapping into with its “End Pretentiousness” campaign.

When the copy says, “great design should be inclusive, not exclusive,” it means that you shouldn’t have to be rich to drive an SUV that looks like the SUVs that rich people drive. (Although I’m not sure which “great design” it is referring to; is the Outlander Sport any better looking than a Kia Sportage or Hyundai Tucson, both of which are in the Outlander’s price range?) But even if we give Mitsubishi that one—even if we agree that the Outlander Sport is every bit as well designed as a BMW or Mercedes or other SUV that costs a lot more—why isn’t it enough to just say that? Why smash the crap out of those symbols of wealth?

Since they’re being used as icons of pretension, I can only guess it’s because Mitsubishi thinks middle-class Americans are angry at rich people, angry enough to literally “lay to waste” (a direct quote from a Mitsubishi press post) their ice swans, champagne towers, and chandeliers. Well, maybe they are angry. And maybe they have good reason to be, what with rich people being so annoyingly pretentious and all. But then why in the world do they want to emulate them? Isn’t pretending to be pretentious even more pretentious than actually being pretentious?

Yet Mitsubishi is so sure it has hit upon a productive nerve that it’s extended the “End Pretentiousness” theme to its social-media campaign as well. Thanks to a dedicated Facebook app, you can upload photos of your pretentious friends’ stuff (or your pretentious friends themselves) and watch with self-righteous indignation as an Outlander rends them asunder along with the magically suspended crystal chandelier and all that perfectly good champagne. But if these people are so pretentious, why are they your friends in the first place? And why does the Outlander in the app get dusted off by two butlers before it dusts its next victim? Tell me again who’s being pretentious?

But maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. Maybe Mitsubishi is really aiming this spot at premium SUV buyers in the hope that it will get them to trade down and to swap out their chandeliers and champagne for Ikea lamps and Miller Lite. To junk the GL and get a Mitsu. Why not? After all, it looks just as good.

3rd GearYeah, right. A more plausible explanation is that guys, especially those with jealousy or anger issues, like to see things get blown up. There’s just something about that Y chromosome that makes witnessing graphic destruction an inherently satisfying experience. Hey, Michael Bay built a whole career on it. And it’s not by random chance that “Explosions A to Z” was one of the most-popular MythBusters episodes. So if that’s what’s really going on here, then maybe Mitsubishi is onto something with this commercial. Especially if its target audience thinks like middle-class high-school kids who fancy themselves “down to earth” and haven’t yet acknowledged their green-eyed monster within.

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

BMW’s “Caught” Commercial: Politically Incorrect or Right On? [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

BMW’s “Caught” Commercial: Politically Incorrect or Right On? [The Ad Section]

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

Ultimately, of course, the reaction to any television commercial is in the eye (and ear) of the beholder: What you perceive isn’t necessarily the same as what everyone else across America perceives, even though we’re seeing and hearing the exact same thing, often at the exact same time. And while that’s true for every commercial, some are potentially more polarizing than others. BMW’s “Caught” is a good case in point.

The spot opens on a boy of privilege picking up his exceedingly gorgeous prom date. After presenting her with a flower, he courteously escorts her to “his” new BMW, likely borrowed from Dad for the big night. We can see from her expression that she is both captivated and delighted. Meanwhile, the Charmed Child makes his way to the driver’s side by walking around the back of the car. When he thinks he’s safely out of sight, he does a little anticipatory victory dance in which he explicitly references her shapely figure. Then he caps it off with an air butt-slap. Even the upbeat soundtrack (The Sonics’ “Have Love, Will Travel”) confirms that things are going his way. But as he settles in behind the wheel, the mood abruptly changes. Blondie’s look of love has morphed into a death stare, and a glance to the Bimmer’s rearview camera screen tells us why: He’s been busted, Big Time. The kid’s boutonniere isn’t the only thing that wilts as he realizes what just happened, but before he can even muster up an excuse she surprises him (and the viewer) by leaning over and planting a big wet one squarely on his mouth. She then shoots him a look that makes me think maybe this isn’t her first prom. There’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the rearview camera not missing anything, and then it’s over.

My take away? I like it. A lot. On a rational level, I find it believable and appropriate that parents who have safe, mid-range luxury cars let their kids borrow them for special occasions like a prom. I understand and accept that there are beautiful women who at some point were beautiful teenagers, and that when they were, they sometimes went to their proms with guys who borrowed their fathers’ BMWs. (My date had to settle for my Dad’s Pontiac.) I accept that just because the kids in the commercial are rich—go back and look at her necklace; it’s probably her mother’s but stunning nonetheless—that doesn’t mean they’re bad people. In fact, I find them rather likable. And I find it totally believable that beautiful rich kids are subject to the same hormonal impulses as everyone else their age. Call me crazy, but I was glad when she kissed him. And that look she gives him. Didn’t the Black Eyed Peas have a hit based on nights like this? So good for him and his goofy sideburns. And good for her, too.

5th GearAs for the rearview camera, its functionality isn’t news and BMW knows it. You can get one on a sub-twenty-grand Kia Rio, for Pete’s sake. But it’s a great excuse to do some brand bonding via a commercial that viscerally appeals to the guys who buy 3- and 5-series: When they see this commercial, they see themselves. They’re the guy with the hot car and the hot date. That’s what this commercial is all about. It has little to do with product features, or their own kids.

So that’s my perception. And I’m sure not everyone agrees. Some might find it sexist, claiming it demeans women by objectifying them, or that the actress sets a bad example by her aggressive behavior. Some might say it perpetuates stereotypes by glorifying spoiled rich kids. Some might deem it senseless because it doesn’t show a practical application of the camera (like every other manufacturer boringly does). And some—if they’re honest—might hate it just because it makes them jealous.

The Ad Section encourages healthy debate, so come on, folks: Am I the only one who thinks this is a terrific spot?

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

2013 Smart ForTwo “Tough” Commercial: What You See Is What You Get, Sort Of [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

2013 Smart ForTwo “Tough” Commercial: What You See Is What You Get, Sort Of [The Ad Section]

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

Welcome to the strange and wonderful world of TV commercial demos, wherein advertisers use impressive “visual proof” to dramatically showcase their products’ superiority. But be forewarned—what you see isn’t always exactly what you get. Because even though product demos are subject to FTC approval, what happens under contrived conditions doesn’t always replicate the real world, which might explain why demos are so often used in infomercials.

Against that background, let’s look at Smart’s new ForTwo commercial. We open on what appears to be a parked ForTwo with a giant Ford Excursion on its roof. But when the little car drives away, we see that in fact the multi-ton SUV is perched atop a Smart Tridion safety cell, which, we are told, “can withstand over three and a half tons.” Even with the sound turned off we would get the message: Smart is small in size, big on safety.

So what’s misleading about that? Strictly speaking, nothing. They really did lower an Excursion onto a Tridion cell. True, it was a specially rigged Tridion cell, but it points that out in type across the bottom. You noticed that, right? Of course, the demo doesn’t prove that Smarts are safe, but it certainly does leave that impression, just as a four-pound brick spanning a 12-ounce drinking tumbler might leave the impression that the glass is strong. But drop the brick on the tumbler—or the Excursion on the Smart—and the result likely will be different, especially if you don’t use a weight distribution platform like the one in the commercial and factor in things that happen in real accidents, like speed and motion. Although I’m not a physicist, I’ve got to believe that three-plus tons of mass randomly plunked down on suspension and tires designed to support an 1800-pound car is going to cause some serious damage, even if the cute little critter is parked at the time of impact. And if I’m wrong, at least it would be a demo to remember, right?

But like most TV commercial demos, this one is more about general perception than strict reality. Will anyone seeing this commercial think you can really tote a giant SUV around town on a Smart’s roof? Of course not. All Smart wants us to get from this spot is that its cars are safe. So are they? In the IIHS’s 2013 ratings, Smart earned top marks in every test it was subjected to, and the body’s construction probably had a lot to do with that, although in fairness, the 2013 versions of the Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit, Mazda 2, Nissan Versa sedan, and Toyota Yaris hatchback all earned the same top rollover rating (the test that measures roof strength) without having “the world’s only Tridion safety cell.” But that still doesn’t make the ForTwo spot misleading: It never said Smart is making the only safe microcar.

Given the rules of engagement that apply to demos, I think this commercial does a good job. The FTC doesn’t require safety demos to literally replicate real-world accidents, and unlike the infamous Volvo “Bigfoot” commercial of 1990 where the roof of a 240 wagon was bolstered to avoid being crushed, this commercial didn’t cheat to make the honest point that Smarts have strong bodies. It’s merely a dramatic presentation of a true product attribute. It’s up to you to decide its relevance.

3rd GearAnother thing this commercial demonstrates is that it’s possible to effectively make a point in just 15 seconds (most commercials run for 30), and that will give Smart a lot more mileage from its ad budget. That said, I have to wonder about the tagline, which includes the term “uncar.” Smart’s not the first advertiser to use that concept to imply that its products are different. For years, 7-Up billed itself as the “Uncola” in an attempt to position the brand as an attractive alternative to Coke and Pepsi, and while that had some logic to it, I can’t imagine what “uncar” is supposed to mean. Are we to think of it as a four-wheeled motorcycle? A road-worthy golf cart or ATV? Even Smart’s website refers to its vehicles as “cars.” So why go to all the trouble to convince people that Smarts are strong, safe cars only to confuse them with a mysterious misnomer at the end? I’m not sure what that particular line of thinking is supposed to demonstrate.

Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver

Why Does Infiniti Think It’s Cool to Show Adults Being Mean and Irresponsible? [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

Two years ago, Infiniti launched an inane campaign involving two neighbors, their sons, and snowballs. In one spot, the first father is a Pee Wee Herman–looking twit who wears a nerdy coat and drives a BMW. His sons look like Tweedledee and Tweedledum. All three appear to be nasty little buggers and we’re supposed to hate them. The other dad is cool. His name is Dave. Looks like he would hang out with Owen Wilson or Christian Bale. We never really see his son, but he’s probably cool by extension. His wife is probably hot, too. Dave drives a G37 sedan, but he looks like he should drive an Audi RS5. He’s that awesome. We don’t just like Dave—we want to be Dave.

Until we discover that he’s a bigger jerk than the BMW twit. Here’s why: When the spot opens, the Bimmer kids unleash a barrage of snowballs on poor Dave, who did nothing to deserve this other than be cool. Pee Wee not only approves of this boorish behavior, he probably orchestrated it. He then throws down an implied gauntlet, “See you at work,” knowing full well that a fast and furious road race to the office will ensue. I guess we’re supposed to wonder who will win as they tear downhill from their plush ski resort neighborhood, but—wait, what’s this? Dave pulls to the side of the road and makes a snowball, which he strategically aligns before launching it down the mountain. He then resumes the race, barely dodging the ever-growing snowball (which by now looks like it escaped from Raiders of the Lost Ark) as it hurls itself over switchbacks and bridges without regard for life, limb, or property.

By the time Dave arrives in town, the BMW is safely parked in a prime spot between two buildings. He pulls up ahead of the space and waits a beat as the Ball-O-Destruction smashes broadside into the 3-series and obliterates it, leaving more than enough curbside for Dave to park his G.

So what, exactly, are they trying to tell us? The voiceover says absolutely nothing about the car or its attributes, and the product shots only serve to confirm that the car hasn’t changed in years. But the campaign must appeal to someone, or they wouldn’t keep running it year after year, right?

Here’s who it appeals to: haters. In advertising, this is called the transfer effect. The idea is to transfer viewers’ feelings about something—for example, patriotism—to the product being sold. That’s what Chevy did with their old (and now new again) baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie campaign. Done right, it’s a beautiful thing. In Infiniti’s case, not so much. Clearly, Dave’s mantra is, why settle for mere revenge when you can choose annihilation? Especially when the guy you’ve got it in for drives a BMW. (A BMW! What a freakin’ snob! Thinks he’s better than everyone else! I’ll show him!) Never mind that he’s my next-door neighbor and co-worker, his kids threw snowballs at me and so he deserves to have his car trashed. And so what if the occasional skier or innocent bystander gets put in harm’s way? That’s simply collateral damage. The point is that I won, right?

1st GearSadly, there must be enough car buyers out there who agree with this sentiment: Infiniti and their ad agency are way too sophisticated to spend millions of dollars on a campaign without at least focus-group testing it for red flags. Sadder yet is that both fathers have turned this into a teachable moment for their children. Based on these commercials, it’s not hard to visualize this dinner table conversation:

Dave: So how was your day?
Son: The Bimmer family’s poodle crapped on our lawn.
Dave: So what’d you do about it?
Son: I poisoned the effer and set their house on fire.
Dave: Good boy! When you’re old enough, I‘ll get you an Infiniti.
Have a nice day.

Source: Car & Driver

Volvo’s “Little Red” Commercial: Good Example of the Tail Wagging the Wolf [The Ad Section]

By Don Klein

Volvo’s “Little Red” Commercial Is a Good Example of the Tail Wagging the Wolf [The Ad Section]

Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.

Upon casual viewing, Volvo’s S60 commercial appears simply to be a modern take on an old fairy tale wherein good triumphs over evil. The commercial opens in a dark, spooky forest. Cut to distant headlights piercing the misty fog. A series of beauty shots reveals they’re coming from a blood red S60 being driven by a handsome young father. While all this is taking place, we hear Sam the Sham and the Pharaoh’s iconic ’60s hit “Li’l Red Riding Hood,” freshly (and excellently) covered by Laura Gibson.

Suddenly the Volvo screeches to a halt as it encounters a wolf roadblock. Well, it consists of just one wolf, but this particular critter (a professional stunt animal whose name in real life is Kane) is pretty big and has a nasty, toothy snarl, so he gets the job done on his own. He holds the Volvo at bay by baying until the S60 revs up and lets loose a snarl of its own, at which point Kane turns into a sniveling puddle of wolf pudding and sulks off.

Triumphant, Volvo Dad drives on, turning as he does to ask his adorable little daughter (who is art directed to the teeth in a red hooded jacket), “What does the wolf say?” Safely ensconced in her Volvo OEM child seat, she leans back, closes her eyes, and reels off her best Sam the Sham “Ahooooo!” (Although, based on what she just witnessed, shouldn’t she have made little whimpering noises?)

Thanks to top-notch cinematography and directing, the spot is eye-catching and fun to watch. And its implied message that Volvos are safe havens in an unsafe world is totally in keeping with the brand’s DNA. But the commercial commits the ultimate sin of hanging its hat on something that’s not specific to the product: Any car will trump a wolf. It doesn’t need to be a Volvo, it doesn’t need to have a turbocharged engine, and it certainly doesn’t need to be red. Even wolf pups know that sheetmetal of any make or model wreaks havoc on the fangs, not to mention the digestive system. Besides, people don’t need much “protecting from” wolves anyway: The number of fatal attacks by wolves in the past 100 years is minuscule. So even if you’re wearing Lady Gaga’s meat dress and driving a Miata with the top down, you’re probably going to live to tell the tale.

Comparison Test: 2012 BMW 328i vs. Audi A4, Infiniti G25, Mercedes C250, Volvo S60
Comparison Test: Buick Regal GS vs. Volvo S60 R-Design
Instrumented Test: Volvo S60 T6 AWD

But of course, this commercial isn’t really about Little Red Riding Hood. It’s about Volvo’s massive product placement investment in the Twilight movie franchise. That handsome Volvo Dad? He’s supposed to evoke Edward, Twilight’s leading vampire, who’s really a decent and nurturing chap despite the fact that he wants to suck your blood. Apparently, women find him irresistible. Or at least the kind of women who buy Volvos.

3rd GearIf you’re not a “Twifan,” this might not make a whole lot of sense. But millions of people—often young, often female—have paid big cash to see the Twilight films. In its first two weeks alone, Breaking Dawn: Part 2 grossed $237 million in total domestic ticket sales. And guess what Edward drives in the flick? (Hint: it’s Swedish and begins with V).

So in fact, this commercial is designed more to reinforce the product-placement deal and its extensive social-media effort than meets your big eyes. And given the franchise’s phenomenal success with a big chunk of Volvo’s target audience, that’s not a dumb thing. Yes, the spot sort of stands on its own, but in the absence of a Twilight deal, do you really think this is the way Volvo would pitch the ostensibly male-oriented S60 sports sedan? Neither do I.

Source: Car & Driver

Why is Lincoln Now The Lincoln Motor Company? We Ask Matt VanDyke, Its New Global Director

By Justin Berkowitz

As if being on the penny hadn’t made Abraham Lincoln ubiquitous enough, our 16th president has moved into the non-copper world of motion pictures. Honest Abe is the focus of two biographic films this year—one that may have stretched the true extent to which he hunted vampires—and, starting earlier this month, he’s making a cameo in an ad for his namesake automaker. “Introducing The Lincoln Motor Company,” the TV spot ends. It’s not quite as old-fashioned as a Civil War–era president, but Lincoln’s new name is meant to be a serious nod to the brand’s heritage. What gives? (You can read a great analysis of the commercial from Car and Driver‘s own ad man, Don Klein, here.) For more, we talked to Matt VanDyke, the man who has just been appointed to head up Lincoln globally, for the full story on what the change to “Lincoln Motor Company” means to the brand.

Why Lincoln Made the Change

Officially, Ford’s aim is to “return Lincoln to its original branding” and to “restore Lincoln to its luxury status.” We can put that in plainer English: Lincoln doesn’t sell enough cars, and hasn’t since the 1990s. When Ford started selling off its Premier Auto Group brands—Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Aston Martin—a few years ago, the primary aim was to raise cash before the financial storm that took down GM and Chrysler. The plan then and now was for Lincoln to be the division of Ford that sells luxury cars, bringing in profits and image for the Blue Oval.

Matt VanDyke tells us that Lincoln isn’t aiming to sell 250,000 cars—about what the big German players each did this year in the U.S.—overnight. The Lincoln Motor Company branding helps to reposition it, though. “We’re aiming to change from ‘smart luxury,’ ” VanDyke says, referring to the way Ford tried to portray Lincoln for the last decade or so as a brand selling cars based on price. “Lincoln will still be a good value, but we want to be considered in the same mindset as a Lexus or Mercedes-Benz,” cars that people want because of image or features first. “But for customers who want something different.”

2013 Lincoln MKZ

Can Lincoln Be a Premium Brand Without a Real Halo Product? 

Indeed, Lincoln does and will offer alternatives to Lexus and Benz in the biggest segments in the luxury market. The MKZ, MKX, and upcoming compact MKC crossover aim directly at the Lexus ES and RX, two sales behemoths. The difference between Lincoln and Lexus and Benz, though, is that the latter two brands have the LS and S-class, respectively. Those flagship sedans exist not just for sales—those are modest—but to justify the entire rest of the brands’ lineups. Sixty-thousand Americans bought a C-class in 2012 because it’s a Mercedes, and because Mercedes is the S-class.

But it would cost several billion dollars for Lincoln to develop a fully competitive, all-new flagship vehicle, and that’s not pocket change for any company. “Those conversations are fun to have,” VanDyke says, but for now, Lincoln is oriented toward on the existing core models. “We have to focus on re-launching the brand Lincoln for now. We’ll have four new products in the next four years. We have to re-establish MKS and MKX.” He also mentions a new product debuting at the Detroit show, which we know to be the Escape-derived crossover likely to be called the MKC. (Lincoln execs, like managers at any car company, would take issue with the word “derived,” but that’s the easiest way to describe “shares certain significant architectural components” for now. Except we just used all those extra words anyway. We digress.)

What Matt VanDyke didn’t talk about—but our insiders have—is that there’s an internal debate within Ford about using some of the Mustang’s architecture for a real-life, rear-wheel-drive Lincoln sedan. We’re hearing that it would be technologically difficult to build something larger than a Cadillac CTS or BMW 5-series, so you can wake up from dreams of a Lincoln in S-class territory. The political and financial challenges might be even bigger than the mechanical ones. All told, we’re not expecting this to happen.

Luxury car brands need great products and great image to be successful, and these days an automaker just isn’t considered premium if it’s not selling a true high-end, justifiably north-of-$70,000 luxury car. For evidence, just ask Acura, which is undergoing a reboot to now focus on younger, less-affluent buyers, or Infiniti, which thinks so little of its current image it just renamed every model in its lineup after a popular model it hasn’t made in over a decade.

Lincoln is using this set of images for marketing. It’s not fair to put anything next to that ’61 Conti.

More Heritage, But Philosophical Rather than Retro

The situation, then, leaves us with mixed feelings about the repositioning of Lincoln and the new ad campaign. It’s really great to see older Lincolns on screen, from the Mark-series coupes to 1950s and ’60s Continentals. But they diminish the look of the MKZ sedan that appears elsewhere in the ad, not because it’s generic looking—that rear end is probably one of the most distinctive styling features on the road today—but because it’s almost impossible to compete with designs from the Golden Age of American cars.

Instead of trying to duplicate those by going retro in designs, we can expect the company to pull more from the philosophy of that era, VanDyke forecasts. “We want to capture the spirit of the older cars,” he explained, but “to show that Lincoln has always been innovative” and different. He talks about Burberry as a company that has done a great job of bringing its heritage into the modern era, and would similarly see Lincoln mix contemporary image with old-school class. We’ll see that not just through styling, but by Lincoln finally making a big play in social media and through some celebrity connections. (John Slattery, the actor who plays a charismatic white-haired, Scotch-swilling, womanizing ad exec on Mad Men isn’t coming back for more Lincoln work, unfortunately.)

2013 Lincoln MKZ AWD V6 – Instrumented Test
2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid – Instrumented Test
2013 Lexus ES350 – First Drive Review

Lincoln is still in the midst of a huge project to upgrade its dealer network, from improving physical showrooms to pushing dealerships to improve their level of service. VanDyke says this effort has come a long way and still has more to go, and he’s right to make it a priority—a reputation for hassle-free, accommodating service departments helped build Lexus’s reputation and fortunes in the 1990s. Dealers won’t be changing their signs to reflect “Lincoln Motor Company,” by the way. Although it would be hideously expensive, we’d rather see Ford foot the bill for the dealers to do this, as it’s a beachhead of brand image in the real world.

That small issue is indicative of the challenge Matt VanDyke faces in helming Lincoln, though. The brand’s new director unequivocally knows what Lincoln has been and where it should go in the future. Whether anyone can justify undertakings—from dealer signs to new product platforms—that would mean eye-watering costs, however, is the real challenge.

Source: Car & Driver