In anticipation of the imminent passing of my current jalopy, I recently test-drove a few cars. While I relished the consequence-free fiddling with seats and mirrors and the opportunity to register my disgust with heated seats - in my book, as much an over-luxe scourge as platinum-rimmed toilets - there's only so much one can learn about a car by piloting it through suburbia on a sunny day. Upon returning to the dealership, I asked if it would be okay to return on a snowy, rainy or otherwise weather-impaired afternoon. The sales guy scoffed: "No, that would be dangerous." To this I responded, "My middle name is Danger." He glanced down at my driver's license and said, "No, your middle name is Michael." I didn't buy the car.
Thus I love the thinking behind "Ride the Storm," a campaign in which Mitsubishi tasks the ruggedly be-scarf'd storm chasers at Weather Underground - the thinking person's weather site - with roadtripping from California to Kansas during what the constitutionally timid might call a "winter weather event." By documenting what its minions encountered along the way, Weather Underground would show the world that Mitsubishi cars (or at least the ones equipped with "All-Wheel Control" and some kind of new road-whisperer computer dealie) rank among the safest on the highway.
The branding kick is long overdue. When I asked my wife about her Mitsubishi brand associations, first she looked at me blankly and then she said, hesitatingly, "Airport rentals?" Since Volvo no longer owns safety, Mitsubishi is smart to make a play for the safest-auto-brand title belt. (Separately, Volvo has cemented its grip on the crucial "best car in which to transport soccer balls from one traveling-team match to the next" trophy.)
My problem is with the execution. Simply put, the road-trip weather isn't harrowing enough, despite Mitsubishi's attempts to hype it in the site copy. The video from the third day of the trip is teased with the following blurb: "Avalanche warnings. Trucks sliding off the road. How's that for ominous?" I got myself all revved up for some serious car-on-car pinball action, only to be treated to 50 seconds of a dude yapping about how "the computer is reading the conditions as you drive, in real time." Be still, my beating heart.
Similarly, copy for the second-day video reads like subterranean-grade Hemingway ("we're finally starting to hit some serious white stuff north of Flagstaff") and the footage belies the text. It depicts - and I'll try to make this sound somewhere near as exciting as it is - a Mitsubishi model safely and respectfully passing a snowplow on a road that, to the untrained eye, looks a bit slick. After witnessing this Faces of Death-level encounter, my only hope was that Weather Underground only assigned single men without wives/partners or children to a task of this level of brutality, and that those men didn't sign any kind of we-know-what-we're-getting- ourselves-into waiver.
Admittedly, it's a tough call. On one hand, if you're going to commit to a campaign of this ilk, you can't do it half-assed. At the same time, to get the footage that would prove the safety and bad-weather bona fides of Mitsubishi cars beyond a reasonable doubt, the marketing team would have had to send drivers and cameramen and grips and heaven knows who else into a storm so vicious and unpredictable that it legitimately threatened their well-being. Mercifully, nobody crossed that line.
That's why the last video in the campaign feels the most honest. Against a blue-sky backdrop, a Mitsubishi ad manager dryly describes the trek as a success ("we got rain, we got snow - and five days later, here we are"). In terms of preservation of human life, sure, mazel tovs all around. But few viewers will come away from "Ride the Storm" believing that Mitsubishi vehicles are any safer or road-warrior-y than Fords or Toyotas or Mazdas. More evidence, please.