Mazda's New 'Feel Alive' Campaign Has Us Worried About Brand's Upmarket Push
Mazda’s new “Feel Alive” advertising campaign places consumers as its focal point as the company tries to market itself as an upscale and hip, enthusiast-oriented brand. On Monday, Mazda launched the first commercial — a borderline insulting collection of superficial phrases intended to get you excited about the brand’s new identity.
The spot itself is about as boilerplate new-millennium luxury car commercial as it gets. It opens with a series of attractive actors, all on the cusp of an important moment, as the narrator offers bizarrely simplistic lines of encouragement like “do that thing” and “take that step.” Granted, auto ads became far getting far less chatty about specs during the 1990s. But, over the last decade, too many car spots seem to be copying perfume ads — strange adventures in abstraction that say nothing about the product and cost a fortune to produce.
Perfume ads have to be weird because it’s difficult to discuss the merits of purchasing a fancy smell through a visual medium. This doesn’t have to be the case with cars, as they have a clearly defined purpose and most automakers usually have an identity they can cling to without running down a list of specs. I’m thinking specifically of Honda’s “The Cog,” (from 2003) where a Rube Goldberg machine of auto parts rolls an Accord into frame as a voice says, “Isn’t it nice when things just work?”
The consumer target is enraptured by watching the contraption unfold for over a minute, before having a forced epiphany that banks entirely on Honda’s famous reliability. “Oh yeah,” they murmured from their collective sofas. “Honda builds a quality item. I should buy one.”
While Mazda does attempt to capture some of the Zoom-Zoom magic by asking drivers to “turn off the highway and soar,” it’s only a small portion of the spot. The brand is building some of the best-looking consumer goods on the market right now and probably could have showcased them a little more. Two-thirds of their first “Feel Alive” ad is devoted to people experiencing tender moments with no car in sight. Then you briefly see a branded race helmet, the Vision Coupe Concept, and updated Mazda 6 before more people swim with whales, play the drums, and perform other activities that have absolutely nothing to do with cars.
The commercial ends with people passionately spreading their arms in triumph, presumably because they own the right kind of automobile, and we close on a man standing next to a Mazda MX-5 RF. While not identical, the whole affair smacks of Cadillac’s “ Dare Greatly” campaign from 2015 — a series of ads widely criticized for being sanctimonious and unrelated to automobiles. Even General Motors acknowledged the ads left a lot to be desired and decided to focus more on the physical product for 2018.
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