In a recent Saab TV ad, a fighter jet transmogrifies into a 9-7X. The Transformers shtick tries to convince truck buyers that Saab’s SUV was “born from jets.” There’s one small problem: the 9-7X was born from a Chevrolet. The model’s built in Moraine, Ohio next to (and out of) Trailblazers. And get this. During the transformation the engine rolls down into the engine compartment sideways. Couldn’t the geniuses who made this commercial bother to remember that the Trailblaz… uh… 9-7X has a “north-south” engine, not an “east-west” one like current Saabs? And so car companies continue their assault on pistonheads’ intelligence.
Fuel efficiency is the latest battlefield. Both Toyota’s “Hybrid Synergy” and Chevy’s “we sell loads of cars that get 30 mpg or better” ads may fool most of the people most of the time, but automotive alphas realize both companies peddle vast fleets of gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. We’re also aware that Toyota would prefer their customers to pick-up a profit-rich Sequoia rather than a high-tech loss leader, while Chevy would more happily put you in a Suburban than one its low-powered, low margin base models. And by the way, when did it become OK for automakers to advertise a vehicle’s EPA highway mileage without identifying it as such?
By the same token, we must endure car ads which lure us into a patently absurd, alterative reality. How about that Suzuki ad where Joe Businessman leaves a commuter house, kisses wifey bye-bye, dives off a cliff and parachutes to his Vitara? The scenario inspired my teenage son to ask “If the Vitara is so good off road, why does he have to park it way down there? Why didn’t he just drive it home?” Honda’s recent ad for the Ridgeline is equally ludicrous.
A brown bear blocks fishermen driving home. Instead of simply driving past the beast or reversing out of harm’s way, one intrepid camper gets out, fishes a salmon out of the Ridgeline’s in-bed trunk and tosses it at the bear. It’s a good thing they didn’t have a bed full of camping gear; that bear would have had them all by the time Mr. Sierra Club got to the fish. Actually, it’s a good thing Honda’s customers aren’t generally that stupid; otherwise, simple Darwinism would winnow their market in no time.
And then there’s the “silly little fairy” line in the Caliber commercial. Anyone who knows cars, sexual politics or advertising understands that Dodge is gay bashing to macho-up the po-faced hatchback genre. Hummer’s tofu ad makes the same mistake in reverse, fighting a rear-guard campaign against people who see the over-sized SUV and mutter the word “over-compensation.” You know: the guy buys an H3 just to prove to he has adequate OEM reproductive equipment. The original tagline for the commercial was "Reclaim your manhood." After a few airings it became “Restore the balance.” Apparently they didn’t want to alienate car-savvy eunuchs.
As a pistonhead of a certain age, I know that repetition is the better part of remembering. But how many times can a car mad curmudgeon listen to the faceless voice intone, "It's here, but not forever" about the Lexus model year closeout without wanting to shout “No, it just seems that way”?
And whose idea was it to use bobbleheads in the Jeep Compass commercial? Is the car really so lame The Dark Lords of DCX couldn’t find anything to say about it? While there’s a percentage of the population who’ll nod their heads in unison with their spokesdolls, surely Jeep should make some kind of case to people who are actually interested in cars, rather than assault us with bizarre imagery. Speaking of creepy, how about that Mercedes “Cruise Night” ad with a drag race between Celine Dion and a metrosexual? Why would a German automaker want to show Americans a world where every single car is a Mercedes? That’s just not right.
It’s time for carmakers to try something novel that won’t insult their core clientele. It’s time for them to tell the truth to the people who know what’s what. For example, an ad for a Chevrolet Impala would show shoppers browsing rows of washing machines, refrigerators and Impalas, choosing the Chevy as their favorite transportation appliance. A Freestyle ad could show a divorced couple actually behaving like a divorced couple, instead of acting as if they’re on a date.
“Dr. Z” would confess that Karl Benz invented the car, not Daimler-Chrysler, and sell the 300 as the finest last gen E-Class Mercedes money can buy (including his beloved rear suspension). Mazda would own up to the fact that their CX-7 has more in common with a Fusion than with a Miata, and recommend buying a CX-7 because it’s not a Ford. Oh, and no one would ever claim anything based on JD Power survey results. Then again, maybe not.
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