Commentary

"First Car Story" Takes Drivers Down Memory Lane. But What's The Brand Behind It?

Pooped-CamryOh, so you want to hear my First Car Story, do you? It dates back to the late 1980s, when I was but a lad with shaky confidence and a few wisps of hair-like filament sprouting in the uncharted terrain between my nose and upper lip. Partly through the frowned-upon sharing of Algebra II notes, I managed to secure for myself a single date with a young miss who I'll call "Phoebe Cates." Phoebe and I had a fine time during dinner, owing mostly to my probing, conversation-fueling questions ("so, what's going on?," "everything good?," "can you please pass the ketchup?"). We had an even finer time during the movie that followed, thanks to the raw, magical chemistry between Carl Weathers and Vanity.

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But upon heading home, Phoebe and I were met with a mood-annihilating surprise. While parking the car, I'd heard a slight rustling noise in the trees above but thought nothing of it. It turns out that what I had interpreted as a breeze or a squirrel was actually a street gang of pigeons in the throes of severe digestive distress. In the three hours that followed, they disgorged the contents of their colons (do birds have colons? whatever) onto my Toyota Camry wagon. That's my "first car story": I went on a date and returned to find a car shrouded in shit. See attached photo, taken after two rounds of clean up. I didn't even receive a pity kiss when I dropped her home.

Hey, you asked. And I'm happy to have shared my little story, along with the accompanying evidence. But here's the thing: Just because you've provided me with a forum to reminisce about the sad intersection of teenage kicks and bird poop doesn't make me more inclined to buy your product or support your brand. In fact, the only impulses First Car Story provoked in me were to spend 14 hours "researching" old classmates on Facebook and to wonder whatever happened to Simple Minds.

And that's why "First Car Story," created by Subaru to promote its redesigned Impreza, doesn't accomplish its goal. While the concept is clever (if notentirelyoriginal) and the execution improbably and awesomely detailed, the program taps far more into our general love of cars than into our curiosity about one specific car. The nostalgia it provokes overwhelms the pitch it delivers.

Don't get me wrong: I loved playing with the "First Car Story" toys. To create an animated video depicting a first car story, the site asks for a bunch of information (model/color/condition) and a name (I went with "The Be-Pooped Love Camry"). It then prompts users to write a sentence or three, promising "when you write a word we can animate, like say banjo, we'll highlight it." After choosing music (I selected the peppy-'80s "Girl Party" over the more-accurate-at-the-time "Broke & Lonely") and recording narration for the clip in my sing-song alto, my transformation into a first-car raconteur, the kind you'd hear on NPR and describe to your droll NPR friends as "droll," was complete.

The finished product exceeded expectations. Though it cut off half my narration - the text I entered apparently only gave the site so much to work with, as opposed to the 285 seconds of voiced-over Larrybabble - the video did a fine job depicting the nine car accidents Phoebe and I almost caused while driving home with a poop-caked windshield. Whoever dreamed up the wackadoo-accident-reconstruction" component of the animated technology deserves a serious raise.

Subaru slips a few plugs for the Impreza into the video tool - as my narration uploaded, I half- saw something or other about a new symmetrical wheel design - but the carmaker doesn't do enough to brand the program as its own. Here's what I'd like to know: If Subaru goes back and polls "First Car Story" sharers five days from now, how many will remember that the Impreza had anything to do with the site? Hell, how many will remember Subaru had anything to do with it? Ultimately, then, "First Car Story" amounts to little more than a really cool techno-trifle.

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