The Surprising Sell Of Mercedes And Its 'Succession' Spokesman

“A caaah is a caaah,” says actor Matthew MacFadyen, elongating the single syllable in his native British accent at the start of this dashing Mercedes-Benz commercial.

Titled “Defining Class Since 1886,” this forward-looking manifesto is crafted with all the zippy precision of the car itself.

Emerging from a black hole, or perhaps a wrinkle in Mercedes time, the spokes-actor shows up in a tuxedo, as a roguish James Bond-like figure racing through history and contemporary brand features that offer cool new elements of a spa, an office, a “cinema” and sound stage.

The attention-getting production tricks are clever, as when MacFadyen says “office” and goes through a passageway featuring people sitting in front of sexy-looking futuristic lit-up dashboards.



As he mentions “spa,” however, tennis great Roger Federer’s squished face emerges through the padded hole of a massage table. This is an unexpected (comic?) distraction in the 30-second version. The 60-second has additional cuts of an always oddly inserted Roger, acting as DJ at a circuit board seemingly in deep space.

Both guys sport tuxedos and can be considered elegant. But I don’t get the connection -- or the need for a guest star like Federer as a diversion in a spot that tells a linear story.

The ad also seems to have a surprise subtext: the “defining class” part of the slogan. It’s clever, but the c-word is a subjective and slippery term here in the U.S.

We’re ostensibly a democracy, and have always boasted a less rigid and stratified system of social class than countries like Britain.

Though these days in the U.S. there’s much more distance between the billionaire class and everybody else, we still believe, somewhat, that anybody can make it, given enough hardworking talent and “spunk.” (Although even by the time of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the early 1970s, Mr. Grant famously hated spunk.)

That said, “wealth” and “class” are not interchangeable. Nowhere is that made clearer than in the billionaire-eviscerating drama of “Succession,” which ended its award-winning four-season run in 2023.

Though MacFadyen starred as Darcy in the 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice” among many other TV and movie roles, I will always think of him as Tom Wambsgans, a priceless American character with a perfect slightly Midwestern accent -- and one of the great Dickensian names in “Succession.” (Penis glans and womb, anyone?)

MacFadyen recently won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his powerful acting as the woebegone Tom, sad supplicant husband to Shiv Roy, daughter of the tyrannical media empire owner Logan Roy. Though  a suck-up, he was also as hungry for power and status himself as any Eastern European dictator.

In the final episode, with all three of Logan’s younger kids fighting viciously to take over their late dad’s CEO role, the prize ends up, shockingly, going to Tom, who is put there to be the puppet of the new, Elon Musk-like owner.

I just went back to look at the finale. In the second-to last shot, Shiv and Tom are in the back of his company car, staring ahead, looking terribly pale and uncomfortable, like bloodless royals on their way to a funeral. They both seem humiliated.

Their armored sedan pulls out of the underground garage, turns -- and sure enough, we see it: a signature silver, three-pointed star twinkling on the front hood.

It’s probably a Maybach, at the tippy top of Mercedes modern craftsmanship (and sticker price.)

That moment conveys that no amount of prestige and luxury makes up for the emptiness and misery of the haunted people trapped inside.  

Proving that in the end, just as the British Matthew told us in the beginning, a car is just a car.

Well, anyway, happy motoring, kids!

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