'Mustang Countdown' And 'Mustang Inspires' Don't Do The Beloved Brand Justice

by , Dec 5, 2013, 4:21 PM
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I am a car person, which is to say that I dissolve into tics and giggles when my car performs as it should. Others may experience the first blush of teenage passion while gliding the tips of their fingers over a Texas-wide tail fin or as they catch a glimpse of their Kenickie-grade pompadour in the well-polished chrome of a classic car. Me, I'm much more mature about my mechanical/carnal appetites. When my seat and side-view mirrors auto-adjust into previously saved positions? Whooo! Friend, I feel tingly in places long since presumed dormant. That's as much a middle-age-suburb-guy turn-on as a new U2 song or Starbucks seasonal blend.

I've nonetheless been following Ford's build-up campaign for the 2015 Mustang, redesigned for optimal power, steering and conspicuous pride in American ingenuity. According to early reports, this isn't just a muscle car; it's a cage fighter with rear independent suspension, one that could simultaneously lay waste to Samuel L. Jackson, Jack Bauer and Seabiscuit. Following a sly teaser campaign online, Ford unveiled it for public consumption yesterday night via YouTube and then at events around the world this morning.

Since my invitation to the local event was somehow misplaced, I don't have much to go on besides the video morsels Ford has parceled out over the last few weeks. Those clips, divided evenly between 15-second "Mustang Inspires" short films and longer "Mustang Countdown" remembrances of the model's heralded past, give the campaign a discordant feel, like a loser-leaves-town match between the model's past and its hoped-for future.

That tonal schizophrenia carries through to the highly anticipated Ford Mustang teaser clip. In 30 dizzying seconds, Ford intercuts teensy bits from the "Mustang Inspires" series with footage of the preternaturally shiny car zooming to and fro. To show that the 50-year-old Mustang is down with the social media thing the kids today seem to enjoy, the clip also tosses out a bunch of Twitter hashtags (#alive, #play, #spirit, #curiosity, #unleash) and shout-outs to specific users (@mrsgrubby, @brahmino).

It's filled with characters, alright. There's Guy Who Looks Like Common, cruising along in the car and stopping to shoot a selfie. There's Guy Who Probably Reeks Of Patchouli, gazing pensively at a mountain landscape while clad in his knit-cap-and-flannel finery. There's Person Jumping On The Road, jumping on the road. Painter Guy's cameo features his masterpiece, a rendering of what appears to be mutant cauliflower. I think I caught a mermaid in there somewhere as well. All these people are clearly #alive with #spirit.

The idea appears to be that the redesigned Mustang invites all comers - the old, the new, the bivalve-curious - to bask in its retro-nouveau nowness. But in attempting to paint the Mustang as a sexy turbo-salve for drivers of all ages, the clip strips the brand of its mystique. Forget the social-media call-outs, which have the can't-watch-but-can't-not-watch appeal of papa attempting to send his first cell-phone photo. And forget the accidentally inauthentic flourishes, like the decidedly non-vintage guitar amp with settings like "UK '80s" and "Cali Metal." In over-accentuating the Mustang's allure to cool young people, the video stuffs its brand legacy in the trunk.

Whatever you think of the muscle machines of years past, the Mustang is one of the two or three models that still plays prominently in the daydreams of car freaks. The announcement of a new Mustang is a news event in a way that the announcement of a new BMW or Audi model will never be. How that gets lost in the first for-the-masses appearance of the new Mustang, online or off, is anyone's guess.  

Maybe this will be corrected in subsequent marketing volleys. But as currently positioned, the Mustang is just another youth-questing car that goes fast. That's a disservice to its legacy and, strategically, an inexplicable abandonment of brand currency. Who's in charge here?

***

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