By on May 21, 2009

How many Mercedes owners change their own oil to save a few bucks? The latest “Meet the Volkswagens” TV ad doesn’t just insult Benz owners’— and everyone else’s—intelligence. It’s also racially insensitive. By depicting a white guy with his face blackened with oil, it raises the specter of 19th century minstrel shows. OK, that’s a stretch. But so is VW’s supposition that reminding customers of their over-familiarity with their local dealer’s service department is a good thing. And what does a Microbus sliding out of a nearby garage have to do with anything, Amigo? Wait . . . cue-up the Routan commercial . . .

There’s that Microbus again, with its “Cars” rip-off happy hippy stoner’s voice (as opposed to the Beetle’s Arte Johnson-esque German accent). In this ad, the Routan asks an Odyssey owner if her van has an “autobahn-tuned suspension.” Instead of checking her meds, soccer Mom replies that there’s no autobahn in Japan. True! Nor is there an autobahn in Canada, where Chrysler builds the Routan. Or Lincoln, Alabama, where Honda builds the Odyssey. Or the rest of America, where Odyssey mom lives. To the same point, the day a Routan driver explores the limits of her minivan’s autobahn-tuned suspension is the day I’m parking my Audi.

Needless to say, VW doesn’t have the corner on bad commercials. Suzuki’s “Supercar” ad makes it look like an SX-4—or any other car— can’t traverse a pothole without shifting into 4WD. How about Saturn’s recent campaign, where they attempt to reassure their remaining customers that they’re still the “just plain folks” brand that they were back when they were barbecuing—I mean building cars—in Tennessee? A Saturn salesman warns viewers that there’s a car company out there that’ll take your car away from you if you lose your job. Jeez. How un-American is that?

He’s alluding to the “Hyundai Assurance” program where you can return the car with no impact on your credit rating if you lose your job and can’t make payments. Mr. Saturn makes it sound like Hyundai’ll hunt you down and pry the car from your hands as soon as you’re unemployed. Then Saturn man assures you that his [temporary] employer would never treat you that way. Really? Anyone want to guess what Saturn will do the day after their nine-month grace period on payments expires and you’re still unemployed and not making the payments?

And what happens to Saturn’s “Total Confidence” plan after GM sells the “ReThink” brand to the Chinese or Roger Penske or whomever shows up with cash in hand? Or no one at all? Call me cautious but I wouldn’t feel too confident about Saturn’s ability to back any of their promises at this juncture.

Chrysler’s latest commercials proclaim that the bankrupt company (shhhh!) builds dugouts, lockers, easy chairs, radar systems, TV stations, starting gates, skyscrapers, fish finders, battery chargers, base camps, luxury suites, transporters, mechanical bulls, sanctuaries, viewmasters, security cameras, troop transports, and moving vans. No wonder their sales numbers looks so bad. They’ve been building all these neat things while everyone else is building cars and trucks. But don’t worry, be happy! It’s all backed by the U.S. Government, so buy your whatever-it- is they build with total confidence!

Ford wants you to know they’re still building trucks. BIG trucks. In fact, one commercial highlights their extra-cost tailgate and bedside steps and tells you how much you need them to get in and out of the bed of the F-150.  Well, if they’re that important, why aren’t they standard? Or even better, if it’s such a chore to get stuff out of the back, why doesn’t Ford make the F-150 a more manageable size so you can just reach over the side to get what you want, like you could a few years back?

If you’re Chevy, and you can’t match the competition’s feature, you just make fun of it! In a Silverado commercial, Howie Long ridicules an F-150 driver (the usual stereotypical clumsy, balding, overweight schlub they use when they want you to know someone’s less than a “real” man) for using his “man step.” It’s the same sort of “you’re a faggot” put-down used by brain-dead high school football players (not to stereotype or anything) on classmates who can program a computer.

After questioning their competition’s customers’ sexuality, Chevy brags about Silverado’s “unbeatable” five year/100K mile powertrain warranty. But they won’t compare their warranty to the Dodge Ram’s lifetime powertrain warranty. Instead, they just belittle the Ram’s less-than-real-man owner for having a heated steering wheel and a manicure.

One good thing that’s come from the auto industry meltdown: fewer car commercials. Unfortunately, the remaining ones are getting worse, as the automakers grow increasingly desperate for sales. They’ll try anything to attract attention, whether it’s lying, belittling the competition or insulting viewers’ intelligence. Come to think of it, what’s changed?

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48 Comments on “Editorial: And Now for a Word from Our Sponsor . . ....”


  • avatar
    f8

    Here’s what I don’t really understand about the latest VW commercials: why do some of them feature an old VW Beetle that sounds like an old Jewish man?

  • avatar
    skysharad

    They way even Honda is making cars today, their quality is just as bad ( Cheap Plastic), even though their commercials are better. Detroit is going down and it will take some others down with them on their way……

  • avatar
    John R

    Oh, man. I saw the very same Routan commercial and I thought my eyes were going to roll out right out of the sockets. “Autobahn tuned” suspension…Jesus…

    Speaking of insulting/belittling the comp, you forgot to mention the Chevy ad where Howie Long pokes fun at Honda for building lawn mowers. Yeah! Thanks, Howie, now I really want that…Cobalt…

  • avatar
    andyinsdca

    Who cares? More ads with Brooke Shields!

  • avatar
    TRL

    A long time ago I stopped thinking of VW’s as “cheap”. There are a lot of cars that cost less than a VW. That’s not all bad. Heck, look how many cars cost less than a BMW and they seem to be doing OK with that. Don’t see them dragging out old Isetta’s for a photo shoot.

    Spend years moving the image to a more up-market place then pretend they didn’t mean it? I’m baffled.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    On the other hand, kudos to Toyota for tapping Petra Haden to lend her a cappella overdubbing goodness to the new Prius campaign.

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    Their ad shows where they really are…

  • avatar
    brettc

    Some VW dealers don’t even know what type of oil a 2009 TDI requires. It states clearly in the owner’s manual that VW spec 507 00 oil is required, but there’s a recent tale on TDIclub of a dealer putting the wrong stuff in. Apparently as long as it says “synthetic” on the bottle, it’s good enough!

    So the “free maintenance” thing could end up costing people big time if they don’t memorize their manual and verify all the correct VW part numbers on their invoice. And really, how many people are going to do that?

    And the voice of the Beetle is Bronson Pinchot, aka “Balki” from Perfect Strangers.

  • avatar
    86er

    The “man step” does deserve ridicule, it is one of the goofiest gimmicks to come around in a while.

    When you build a truck to heroic heights such as the author here indicates, don’t be surprised when machismo meets machismo.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    My personal favorite was always the History of Mercedes commericial where Mercedes solemly parades its 100 year racing and automotive golden years while completely glossing over the Third Reicht and its envolvement within it.

    I have to admit I like the Dodge/Chrysler commericial. I like the fact that D/C has managed to find their nut sack and is willing to give it a good pull. Its too late of course, but when you’re in a last stand, nothing is too desperate.

    Good rant. Always hated the Chevy, “Hey, only REAL men can be identified by the truck he drives” schtick. F-U Howie Long. Go get a new shiny suit and some new hair plugs.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Some VW dealers don’t even know what type of oil a 2009 TDI requires. It states clearly in the owner’s manual that VW spec 507 00 oil is required, but there’s a recent tale on TDIclub of a dealer putting the wrong stuff in. Apparently as long as it says “synthetic” on the bottle, it’s good enough!

    I’ve read more than once that do-it-yourselfers have much better luck with VWs than those who rely on the dealer for service. I think such owners still have a higher tolerance for electrical gremlins than most of us, though.

  • avatar

    86er

    Chevy can ridicule the step. But making fun of your customers—or potential customers—is advertising’s third rail.

  • avatar

    @ 86er:

    It’s sad that the SuperDuty is the size of a dump truck now, and you need a flight of stairs to get into the bed. I like the “man step” commercial–it’s like calling a murse a “man bag.”

  • avatar
    kovachian

    And the Silverado has rain-sensing wipers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21CfZWoZX3g
    because Chevy thinks that it’s customers are too damn stupid to sense when it’s raining, so they give you wipers that sense rain for you. C’mon now, real men just turn the knob on the wiper stalk.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    History of Mercedes commercial where Mercedes solemnly parades its 100 year racing and automotive golden years while completely glossing over the Third Reich

    Well, uh, GM and Ford are just as guilty. You don’t think Opel Blitz trucks were used strictly as ambulances do you? Or that Ford’s Cologne factory was a place to make first aid kits, right? Gee, of the Big 3, it’s only Chrysler who didn’t have factories on both sides of the war.

  • avatar
    ConejoZing

    “Oh, man. I saw the very same Routan commercial and I thought my eyes were going to roll out right out of the sockets. ‘Autobahn tuned’ suspension…Jesus…”

    “How many Mercedes owners change their own oil to save a few bucks? The latest ‘Meet the Volkswagens’ TV ad doesn’t just insult Benz owners— and everyone else’s—intelligence. It’s also racially insensitive. By depicting a white guy with his face blackened with oil, it raises the specter of 19th century minstrel shows.”

    Volkswagen had some of the most pimp ads ever created with the GTI mk5 campaign. From fast to the engineer dude who obliterates lame cars… it was really entertaining and really fresh. It was part of what made me get my current car.

    These recent commercials are just freaking terrible. It started with the (lame Pixar Cars ripoff mixed with yuppie c**p) talking Beetle. Now there’s this. LISTEN to the soundtrack. The irritating yuppie whistle. Commercials like this make me want to bang around a Ford Mustang or “zoom zoom” a Miata off my local Mazda showroom floor.

  • avatar
    threeer

    I, for one, wish that VW would go back to some of the simplicity of the Beetle (original variant, not the rehash based on the Golf that they’ve been selling for what seems like forever now)…it’s what the people want! Sigh…guess I’ll have to settle for a base NB Miata…

    But don’t get me started on the idiotic Routan commercials. I want to scream every time I see them and their pathetic efforts to channel “German engineering” in what is nothing more than a rebadged Chrysler. Are people truly that stupid to fall for this?

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Volkswagen had some of the most pimp ads ever created with the GTI mk5 campaign. From fast to the engineer dude who obliterates lame cars… it was really entertaining and really fresh. It was part of what made me get my current car.

    Those un-pimp my ride commercials were some of the funniest ever, and quite possibly THE best car commercials ever. Though I imagine people that own ricers with huge gaudy spoilers, side skirts, and fake diffusers were probably offended. Now I want to go on Youtube and watch those again.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    Or even better, if it’s such a chore to get stuff out of the back, why doesn’t Ford make the F-150 a more manageable size so you can just reach over the side to get what you want, like you could a few years back?

    I have no such trouble with my 2006 F150. It’s no more difficult to get things from the bed than was in the 1986 F150 my dad just sold.

  • avatar
    brettc

    Yes, DIY with a VW if you don’t want to go bankrupt. VW can build all the nice looking cars they want, but someone needs to realize that if they want repeat sales, the dealer network needs an overhaul. I like my TDIs because I have a tolerance for things that break and also have some mechanical ability. Not so much for most Toyonda owners that VW is trying to sell a car to.

  • avatar
    fgbrault

    There is nothing wrong with this advertisement. It is simply an effective and humorous advertisement that brings to the attention of potential buyers, VW’s 3 year free service program. It is total nonsense to suggest it is racially insensitive. I am fairly new to this site and my first impressions were good. As I read more of the editorials, I detect an awful lot of blustering and overwrought editorializing, rather than clear and rational thought.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    @Lumbergh21

    My favourite is the myfast takeout/delivery commercial.

    Spooky voice says, “Myfast thinks delivery is for the weak.”

  • avatar
    shaker

    The Mercedes owner is made to look even more clueless by the fact that he’s changing his oil parked in a driveway with a 20% grade…

    Maybe the Sgt Shultz Beetle should say “I’ll bet he’s vondering vy he can only get two Qvartz of oil in zere!”

  • avatar
    murphysamber

    funny thing about the dealer putting the “wrong” oil in the car; VW just switched what oil they recomend you use in the TDI to something different than what’s in the owners manual. the new stuff is supposed to be better than the original spec synthetic. It’s an example of lack of consistency from the manufacturer that has been going on for years.

  • avatar
    86er

    Farago: But making fun of your customers—or potential customers—is advertising’s third rail.

    If I was Chevy right now I’d be saying “why not?”

    That said, I don’t know how much impact these ads have on truck buyers and their ultimate decisions.

    We could debate all day whether it was the automakers or the customer’s fault (or: chicken and egg) that pickup purchases now involve more than “utilitarian” considerations, but I see the light-duty truck market as the last vestige of the industry where people are passionate about their possessions, as (non-sporting) cars are, well, really bloody boring.

  • avatar
    lowmanjoe

    My Titan doesn’t have one of those flimsy tailgate mansteps (which are kinda helpful if you’re short) but it does have two, very sturdy steps on the sides of the bed which are always there and are never in the way. I call them tires, but manstep sounds way cooler. But hey, at least Ford/GM/Dodge are still making truck commercials, I can’t remember when I last saw a Titan commercial (admittedly, Nissan is killing the Titan after MY2010). Then again, lack of commercials isn’t all that bad is it?

  • avatar
    crc

    I’ll never forgive Toyota for that effing “Saved by Zero” commercial that they had going non-stop. That crap is still in my head.

  • avatar
    Old Guy Ben

    Auto commercials have, IMO, almost always been horrid.

    Here’s a couple that stand out in my memory:

    “Like a Rock.” You couldn’t cram more homoerotic imagery into a commercial if you tried (huge sweaty men throwing massive hay bales or construction materials into steel monstrosity of a truck, driving off into the sunset). Would have been vastly improved if they just hired the Village People. In fact, for years (decades) the “mine’s bigger than yours” theme of truck commercials has prevailed.

    GM’s ‘overnight test drive’ using Meat Loaf’s paradise by the dashboard light as a soundtrack. Sure they just used “will you love me, will you love me forever” but the song is about what? A teenager begging his girlfriend to have sex in his car, she gives in, and then they both wind up regretting it (“I’m praying for the end of time, so I can end my time with you” is how the song ends). Maybe some GM owners feel the same way. (got screwed, regret the choice, try to get past it)

    Saved by Zero, mentioned above.

    “That thing got a Hemi?” Puhleeze, we don’t need any more reinforcing of the stupid redneck stereotype.

    Bad car commercials are nothing new. At least Joe Isuzu admitted to lying :)

    All that said, I wonder how an autobahn tunes suspension would do on the potholes and gravel roads around here.

  • avatar
    chris724

    My ’02 Audi A4 has cost me $10,300 in repairs since the 50K mile warranty ran out 4 years ago. I’m currently at 82K miles. I will never buy another German car.

  • avatar
    Seth L

    The worst thing about the latest Saturn commercials, for me, is that the lighting makes the salesguy look like he’s in the Uncanny Valley, and not really human.

    It’s creepy.

  • avatar
    brapoza

    threeer :
    Are people truly that stupid to fall for this?

    Marketing agencies were the first to realize that 50% of the population is below average in intelligence.

  • avatar
    dcdriver

    A few notable ads that come to mind:

    The Acura TSX commercials touting: “this is a car for a person who starts a company, sells it, and starts another one” luxury and they show the “brash entrepreneur” in the TSX arriving at some nightclub where he makes eye-contact with some plain-looking chick. Please- someone who starts a company and then sells it isn’t going to drive an Acura, let alone a TSX.

    Also the Lincoln MKX commercial featuring Harry Connick, Jr eating crawfish with some poor New Orleans people seemingly devastated by hurricane Katrina

  • avatar
    dcdriver

    What? The voice in those VW commercials is Balki. It doesn’t sound anything like I remember. Good to see Balki landed on his feet after Perfect Strangers ended. LOL

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    Thomas Hayden Church is obviously the voice of the ‘Bus. And has obviously used up all the money he made from ‘Broken Trail’ (and ‘Wings’). If George Carlin were still here, I’m sure they would have recruited him.

    I never would have guessed Balki, though. That show was hideous.

    I could just see ANYONE who drives a Mercedes ghanging their own oil. They don’t even realize what oil is much less where they would drain or install it, unless they work for Exxon. (Another story for another day. Gas is up a dollar over 3 months. They just couldn’t stand it, could they?)

  • avatar
    Monty

    Most are horrid, but I really like the Subaru commercial featuring the German engineers, who are supposed to be studying their competition, joy riding in the competition (the Impreza) on a test track.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool anyone into buying a Routan. Production has already stopped, and I’m sure it will be gone completely from the VW roster in a few years.

    Audi has finally found their ad mojo – the Meet the Beckers ads especially were great.

    I wonder what future M-B ads will be like now that they are drastically cutting their prices on all new models. M-B – sure it’s crap but its now cheaper than a BMW!

  • avatar
    B. Filthy

    @Old Guy Ben – thanks for the Joe Isuzu memories!!

  • avatar

    I didn’t think people watched commercials anymore.

    -fast forwards his DVR-

  • avatar
    rjones

    chris724 :
    My ‘02 Audi A4 has cost me $10,300 in repairs since the 50K mile warranty ran out 4 years ago. I’m currently at 82K miles. I will never buy another German car.

    Misery loves company. My 02 A4 cost me about half that in the year and half between when the warranty ran out at 80km and when I dumped it at 120km. “German engineering” my ass.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    +1 @ dcdriver: those Acura TSX ads just screamed “This is not traditional luxury, this is d-bag luxury”

    At least the Chrysler ads are optimistic and try to relate the attachment people have to their cars.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    By depicting a white guy with his face blackened with oil, it raises the specter of 19th century minstrel shows.

    You must really be racially hung up if that’s what you see in this commercial. The libs have you trained well, I think. For crying out loud, it’s a commercial for the service department, and not a commentary on race relations. It seems that political correctness has created a nation of people who just can’t wait to engage in self-criticism. Welcome to the new improved American Cultural Revolution.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    never in a million years would you see a mercedes owner change his own oil let alone mess it up that badly… a CLS owner nonetheless

    aren’t they parked outside the red light district for the 30 mins when the owner is ‘finished’?

  • avatar
    NoSubstitute

    Love the Eichler’s, sort of the the VW Bugs of residential architecture. Mid-century, compact, air cooled and of iconic design. Oh yeah, and the heating systems are part of the structure and a pain to repair.

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    For anyone who bases their manhood on truck-attributes, your Unimog awaits.

  • avatar
    dgduris

    You know, to change the oil and filter on a Passat, you have to drop the whole aerodynamic tray under the engine.

    To do same on a Subaru, you twist a couple of fasteners and slide out an access panel from said undertray.

    Less time, less money, fewer mistakes for home or non-dealer oil jockeys.

    So much for German engineering.

  • avatar
    sutski

    One of the golden rule of sales.

    Never put down or slag off your competition to the person you are selling to.

    Why?

    Because the person you are selling to may have been using this competitor for years, so if you say your competitor is run by muppets and only produces lousy products, you are also implying that HE is a muppet for having previously choosen them!!

  • avatar
    like.a.kite

    hahahaha “you’re a faggot”

    I love you TTAC.

  • avatar
    like.a.kite

    Unfortunately, the remaining ones are getting worse,

    Notice how more premium brands have superior ads.


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