Call it “anti-branded content.” Because for no known reason, the British automotive brand Jaguar has come in for some really brutish jabs on “Mad Men,” the hot AMC series dedicated to the fictional world of advertising in the 1960s.
Last season on the show, agency partner Lane Pryce, (a Brit who pronounced the name with the extra syllable it deserves -- “Jag-u-ar” ) tried to kill himself in a midlife-crisis Jaguar convertible. It got even worse: the car wouldn’t start.
Then Herb, the local Jaguar dealer, a stereotypical pinky-ringed type right out of “The Sopranos,” extorted the agency, offering the account in exchange for a night with the hubba-hubba office manager, Joan. She agreed, did the deed -- and for her services, negotiated to become a partner.
This season, Herb reappears, and wants some crude radio spots that will move metal off the lot, instead of the agency’s usual high-toned work. Don subverts Herb in a meeting by out-lowing him, suggesting direct mail and a strategy that would befit a barker on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
And so it goes. On “Mad Men,” Jaguar, that otherwise innocent and prestigious carmaker, has so far been linked with acts of suicide, prostitution -- and, worst of all, direct mail.
So props to Jaguar (the real brand) for weathering all of that, and coming up with an ad so spot-on for our contemporary culture that it would knock anything Don Draper and crew created right out of the water.
“Desire,” an Internet film launched on YouTube this week (set to play later at Sundance London), was created by ad agency The Brooklyn Brothers and RSA, Ridley Scott's production company. Directed by Adam Smith, it features Damian Lewis (of “Homeland” fame) driving a Jaguar F-Type sports car -- currently selling for a an extremely upmarket $92K.
Like the groundbreaking BMW series “The Hire,” which was launched in 2001, “Desire” is essentially a minifilm based on an elaborate car chase led by a solid James Bondian antihero.
But few people were watching online video during the time of “The Hire.” YouTube had yet to exist. So “Desire” reaps the benefits of the next decade of online innovation.
I generally don’t like car chases -- I’d rather read subtitles and cry. And the length of this one (just over 13 minutes) made me antsy even at the prospect of watching it. I figured I would skip through the middle.
But I sat entranced from the mysterious opening to the bitter end, which featured a real payoff. I loved the comic setup: a domestic dispute in South America between a strongman with guns, weapons, and anger issues that force him to blow into a paper bag, and his supermodel-ish, complaining wife -- played by Shannyn Sossamon.
The clever script is full of twists and turns. In attempting to deliver the car to the crazy trigger-happy kingpin, the Lewis character speeds around a desert landscape in Chile. There’s a soundtrack by Lana Del Rey, but the sounds of the motor changing gears are also awesome.
It’s so well-shot, well-directed, and cast that I actually laughed at lines from the gangster like "Shut your face or I'll rip it into pieces!" (Sossamon is the weak link in acting.)
What’s really praiseworthy is how the car remains the focal point the whole time, but the narrative never seems forced or adlike. There was even a clever way (at gunpoint!) to have Lewis deliver a laundry list of F-Type technical specs.
Sure, other car advertisers hire celebrity endorsers: Don Draper himself, Jon Hamm, is the voice of Mercedes-Benz, and his agency partner Roger Sterling is played by John Slattery, who appears in spots for Lincoln. (Both ads run during “Mad Men.”)
Still, despite the star wattage, car commercials still mostly come off as generic, showing the same corner-hugging turns and sexy interiors. But “Desire” which can be seen on YouTube, adds quirky humor, suspense, and everything else you can't accomplish when you have to include a mention of "unrivaled braking."
I’d say Jaguar finally got some great branded content. Well, except perhaps that the film does include the idea that South American drug dealers drive Jaguars. Still, the cars start up just fine.