Remember when a spontaneous discussion of favorite commercials -- at say, a family gathering not devoted to the Super Bowl -- was an actual thing?
These days, I rarely hear anyone (whether civilians or those in the biz) chatting face to face (not tweeting) about TV spots; obviously, that’s for all the reasons that are covered so richly, and in depth, 24/7, in this here digital media publication.
But what the hell. It’s the dog days of summer. Why not go back, back, back to those pre-Internet days, a time when a) people watched TV in real time, and b) every now and then a TV commercial popped up that was so clever, surprising, strikingly beautiful, or funny that it became the subject of next-day water-cooler chatter? (Now, I guess that would be cappuccino/Red Bull/Nature-Valley-bar chat.)
I’ve actually seen two recent car commercials that have stayed with me. Not necessarily because they were crazily out-of-the-park brilliant. Certainly, each carries a cringe-worthy note or two. But at the same time, each offers a moment of human connection that got me to blink -- and think about what I was seeing. And that goes into the category of memorable.
Number one: The Land Rover Discovery Sport commercial showing a young couple driving off to get married in a downpour. (From Spark44, Jaguar’s in-house agency.) Sure, the set-up is sketchy: They’re already dressed as bride and groom, standing on the porch of a ramshackle cabin that’s decorated in streamers, with their small wedding party (sized magically to fit inside the Land Rover) waiting to go to the ceremony? It would make more sense for the ceremony to have just taken place and show them heading to the reception. But the action is quick and frenetic, and that’s why I bought into it.
One of the commenters on You Tube complained that the groom seemed to be pulling the bride along. Of course, it would be nice if the couple was equally matched in the adventurous department, but then there’d be no tension. More importantly, there would be no baked-in message about the groom’s absolute fidelity to the reliability of his ride: that it could deliver his bride and the rest of the party to the odd location in the middle of nowhere in the midst of a monsoon. (Now, if the car belonged to the bride, and she was the driver pulling him into the car, that would be far more novel.)
Still, I liked the direction, the pacing, her dress, and the insouciance of the plan. What brought it all home was her little swoon. Once she gets drenched and relaxes into the unexpected messiness of it all, she laughs hysterically and they have a genuinely passionate kiss. That’s the sweet moment that connected for me. Who needs sunshine (or a preacher?) or guests? The couple will remember this makeshift ceremony forever. The voiceover says “Land Rover Sport: It’s in our DNA,” and that ties up the love-marriage-baby-carriage aspect of the merger.
The second spot, for the Honda Pilot Elite (from RPA), delivers equal parts surprise and cringe. Warning: Do not watch if you have a cappella-phobia.
So we indeed get to see how roomy this rig is: a family with two rows of kids (and Gramps) all fit inside. And it’s appropriate that while the kids are shown focused on their individual tech devices, they are getting out of sorts -- technology is stealing our souls, after all!
That’s when one of the little ones in the back delivers the staggering surprise of singing the line “What’s with these homies dissing my girl?” (Which is mildly creepy coming from a little kid, and probably the reason that most American families don’t turn into the von Trapps for Weezer.)
I have to admit that I had no idea this was coming, and was sort of glued to the bizarre choice of song (“Buddy Holly”). It is downright weird that any eight-year-old would know Weezer lyrics, because the song is from 1994, and not terribly famous. Although it probably does appeal to the male, 30-something target.
So perhaps the dad trained his family to sing Weezer with militaristic zeal. At least that’s what I’d like to imagine, given that the family is otherwise so saccharine and nauseatingly perfect. Indeed, the creepy factor emerges when the mom earnestly sings, “And you know I’m yours” to the bearded dad, and he sings back as sweetly. As if they’re the only two people in the world. If I were a kid in the car, I’d vomit.
But then other family members chime in, and there’s one girl who has an astoundingly great voice. (Even though the vocals are obviously sweetened and over-vibratoed.) The spot also picks up on the "American Idol"- and "X-Factor"-family-viewing zeitgeist.
So they are family, and they got all their Weezer and me. Well, not really me, in that I’m not in the market for a Honda Pilot Elite, and now I have the damn song stuck in my head, like an ear worm.
But they did get my attention, and that counts for something.
Now to the fun part: What does everybody else think?
I too am fascinated by the Honda Weezer-song commercial. I don't find it weird that the 8-year-old would know the song, though - we shared our music with our sons from the time they were little and they therefore have a pretty good 80s-90s rock education. In this little scenario, those Weezer-fan parents could have been playing those songs for years on road trips.
The Buddy Holly commercial is a sequel to a commercial for a similar car, featuring a similar family singing Ozzy Osborne's Crazy Train. Both spots are a lot of fun to watch, but I give the first one a slight edge due to the kid shaking a paper cup full of ice to simulate the sound of a high-hat. The ensuing all-family head banging is a hoot, too.
Nice catch, Bill, although echoing Barbara, now I have two songs stuck in my head, like ear worms. There's def some kind of dark undertone running through this spot, but it's not off-putting. In fact it's just the opposite - kind of addictive. Nice col Barbara.
What I like about the Land Rover commercial is the sequence where the bride puts her hand on the groom to thank him for driving, and it's a sweet moment. Seconds later a groomsman puts his hand on a bridesmaids arm, and she gives him the "get your damn hands off me" look.
I like that the groom firmly corrects his bride, saying rain is actually GOOD luck on a wedding day. And I rush to mute the TV every time the annoying singing family comes on.
I love discovering new music through TV commercials and have bought several CDs on the basis of hearing just one song by an artist (like Richard Buckner singing Ariel Ramirez for VW and San Ilya performing Bellissimo [I believe in love] for Revlon). This week I spent a tortured day trying to figure out the rest of an ad song I woke up hearing -- it was like a men's military choir in my head singing, "They said it couldn't be done, they said nobody could do it . . ." At the end of the day I cracked and looked it up: "But L&M is low in tar, with more taste to it." James Arness (in a dress suit instead of his Gunsmoke getup) appeared in a little cameo, saying "Don't settle for one without the other." I have no idea how the song got in my head.
Speaking of road trips -- I still laugh when I think of the guys in the Passat who learn fluent Spanish between gas stops (why does "papitas" sound so funny?). I also laugh when I think of the Orkin ads with the creepy con-man insects who sound like psychopaths ("My car broke down. Is that oak? I wanted to call my brother in law.")
The Orkin one with the cockaroach crawling along the screen was better. It creeped so many people out, it was pulled or so the story I remember that was being told. If the spots didn't sell your interest to put the car on your shopping list and investigate (Let alone remember which product they are selling or which car), then they both went the way of the speecy spicy meat balls. "Mother, I can do it myself!"
Speaking as Barbara was of car commercials, to me nothing beats the late 2014 Fiat 500x Little Blue Pill commercial which plays like an Italian movie, from the Richards Group and filmed in Tuscanyhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lcc62nrl9Y
An excellent commentary about past and present ads, culture and media. Especially for me, as I'm a jazz fan who never followed pop music this way. It also reminded me of the ancient past when I actually watched shows on TV with other human beings around me and we discussed the shows and the commercials. The column also gives (usual from Barbara) a great deep dive into subtle messages embedded in the ads. All I need now is a Land Rover, a free parking space, and a country home to drive to in the Rover. Perhaps the next ads in the campaign will provide that.
As much as I usually loathe perfect-ending wedding-spot commercials, the first one was pure art compared to the icky kid-singing/couple grossness thing in the second one. ("And you know I'm yours.") Vomit, indeed! As always, Ms. Lippert is spot on.
Agree completely, Barbara. Speaking as an ad civilian (consumer, not creator) I found the wet-wedding ad much more creative and interesting - a brief story that draws you in within seconds. The family, on the other hand, is too good to be true - and very annoying at the same time. Excellent column, as always!
Re: cars-and-love ads, nobody does it like Subaru and my hands-down favorite is the TV spot where the wife gives her husband an easel for his birthday and he sets it up everywhere -- forest, ocean bluff, desert, all places his Subaru can handle -- and creates a whole gallery of amateurish but endearing paintings. His face when he first sees his easel is priceless and the camaraderie he and his wife share is evident in every frame. I want the car they have because I want the relationship they have.
Thanks Barbara. Am still laughing at "Old Wives Tales" campaign for Volkswagen from Deutsch/LA. Loud, obnoxious, and just a little bit naughty, the three elderly ladies are laugh-out-loud funny. What an original idea.