By on March 13, 2018

Humanizing animals is the easiest way to help kids sympathize with the plight of small, cuddly forest creatures, and thus the easiest way to turn them into staunch environmentalists. People do this because it works. It’s easy, and it sticks. How many non-hunters picture Bambi’s ill-fated mother when they consider taking up the outdoorsman life? Probably quite a few.

In the auto realm, humanization of cars is mainly the domain of Disney and Pixar and schlocky horror directors. Movies like The Love Bug, CarsChristine, and The Car appeal to very different audiences, but they all succeed in humanizing their subjects to some degree. A car can be a living thing, menacing or cute, cuddly or lethal, if deep-pocketed filmmakers or marketing types desire it. We can even put ourselves in the shoes (brake shoes?) of a car.

Well, those deep-pocketed people have now humanized the Jeep Wrangler. It was born. It lives. It has a voice. But does it speak to you?

Jeep won plenty of kudos for what it chose to do with its mega-expensive Superbowl slot, and rightly so. It’s one of the best car commercials I’ve seen in ages. A simple, stripped-down ad that matter-of-factly trashes the “grandiose” manifestos put out by insecure automakers, the Superbowl spot showed a rugged vehicle doing what a rugged vehicle does best (and in one uninterrupted shot, no less).

The message was simple: Flowery language is unnecessary, and existential promises of what a vehicle can do/be are misleading. Just watch this.

In its new ad campaign, however, the redesigned-for-2018 Wrangler JL takes its self-promotion in a different direction. Jeep isn’t showing us what a Wrangler can do (even though it does, constantly), it’s having the Wrangler tell us about its life. We even see its parents. Sort of.

Titled “Freedom and Adventure,” the ad, narrated by a gravel-voiced man seemingly borrowed from past Ram commercials, showcases a life through a series of film clips dating back to World War 2. “This is my story,” he growls, speaking both as the Wrangler (and its Willys ancestor) and as a man conceived by a “gung-ho” American G.I. and his free-spirited bride.

“I was born in a hurry,” he continues. “The world made war. My parents made love, and I screamed into life.”

What follows is a retrospective: childhood, the pedalling of a bike, a young couple riding off in an open-top Jeep Commando, “Just Married” painted on the tailgate, then scenes of modern-day young people having their own mud-splattered adventures. Notably, a young woman appears, driving her Wrangler on a freeway — not off-road — with a pack of girlfriends in tow (I understand there’s a need to show a vehicle performing many tasks at many points in a person’s life, but this could be problematic, Jeep).

“Did mom give me too much freedom?” the voiceover continues. “Did dad make me lust for too great an adventure? My scars and bruises tell their own story.”

More off-roading. Water. Mud. A bison rams the vehicle. More water and mud.

“So, here’s to you, mom and dad.” Then the tagline.

A couple, viewed from behind, speeds away from the camera in a WW2-era Willys Jeep. We see a snapshot of the original ’40s couple — G.I. and Free Spirit — carefully tucked into another Wrangler’s sun visor, before yet another JL crests a hill and roars past the camera, kicking up clouds of dust. Like the Wrangler, we’re all descended from that couple.

So, when did the sense of vague annoyance start for you? I’ll bite. Not long after it began. Putting aside the odd human/car lineage thing, the ad leaves me unmoved, and I’m a sucker for nostalgia and libertarian dog whistles. To me, the words chosen seem somewhat out of place. For whatever reason, they grate. Could it be that the issue described in the Superbowl Wrangler ad — marketing types surrendering to indulgence — came to pass here?

Watch the Superbowl ad below, then watch this one again. I’ll wager you’ll think less of the newer ad on second viewing.

[Image: Jeep/YouTube]

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10 Comments on “Meet the Parents: Who Knew the Jeep Wrangler Was Human?...”

  • avatar

    If one is going to state up front that humanizing animals makes them harder to kill then you must also state that the dehumanization of ones foes makes it easier to kill them. That also applies to those on the low end of the socioeconomic scale when it comes to their suffering. We see it routinely in the realm of political discussions. Each side tends to dehumanize the other.

  • avatar

    I have no problem with this ad. Sums up the Wrangler pretty well, and definitely calls out to your adventurous side, if you have one.

  • avatar

    I don’t see what everyone is getting all worked up about. I actually really enjoyed this ad for the Mahindra Roxor.

  • avatar

    Anti-Manifesto is pretty good. The Lion’s Back was better. They weren’t jumping a man-made waterfall with a Wrangler Unlimited, instead, Jeep convinced the National Park Service to let them drive up the Lion’s Back on the 100th anniversary of NPS and 75th anniversary of Jeep. I don’t think it aired on TV though so maybe apples to oranges.

    Yeah, Freedom & Adventure is cloying. The annoyance started with the gratuitous shot of what appears to be an Airborne ring, followed by an contrived, generic (and fake) RockyMountain-ish accent. The opening vignette of the gritty Greatest Gen warrior (in a $400 Filson Mackinaw) was followed by imagery of young people killing, then young people f**king, then a brief overture to the screaming bloodbath of birth.

    The ad sucks because it was made by people who’ve never adventured, thus, they merely fused a bunch of focus-group-tested themes like war, sex, hippies, kids who love astronauts, etc, into an sensationalized nostalgia created to loosen up the purse strings, and help “adventurers” adventure their way into debt.

    I think the under-50 crowd will be turned off by the ad because society no longer tolerates risk. Most of life is sterile and expensive. Furthermore, learning-by-failing is how you end up crying in your mom’s basement because you’re a Starbuck’s baristo with $80,000 in school loans for a drama degree. Or maybe you spent most of your 30’s living in an apartment with your wife and kids because you defaulted on your mortgage during the Great Recession. Or maybe you filed for bankruptcy after an unexpected Jeeping accident generated six-figures of medical bills, most of which were unnecessary defensive medical procedures to benefit the doctor’s insurer.

    On a positive note, there is a way to live a life of outdoor hijinks. Spend the summer working for BLM, NPS, DOI, USFS or similar state institutions as hospitality, trail maintenance, chainsaw tech, tour guide or whatever you can get. You get paid reasonably well, you are generally around plenty of young people, and you have access to emergency insurance and care. Mind, this lifestyle is afforded to you by the taxpayer, who is hopefully enjoying use of his public property, but at least it exists. To my knowledge Jeep isn’t really focusing on the substance of the lifestyle, only the pot of gold at the end of the 84-month rainbow.

  • avatar

    I think it’s a pseudo-masculine ripoff of a Subaru ad. However I feel about it, there’s a chance it might work. For me I guess you might say it’s the latest CUV to the brown, diesel wagon of the super bowl ad.

  • avatar

    I like both commercials, but the second one would have been better with no talking at all.

  • avatar

    His parents made love?

    It was a bit more complicated.

    In reality, Bantam got cuckolded and Willys and Ford lived happily ever after.

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