Meet Erin Walsh, Manhattan fashion stylist. In a video series, Vogue follows Walsh around New York as she visits celebrity clients preparing for a gala. And because the videos are sponsored by Cadillac, they relay an important message: Walsh could not function if she weren’t being driven around the city in a large Cadillac SUV.
“I think in terms of working in a city like New York, especially in New York, I can’t get anything done without a car,” Walsh says shortly before the 30-second mark, as the video shows her typing and texting in the back seat. ”I might be in the car with my computer prepping for another job while we’re en route to the next one.”
Her SUV, which the videos miraculously never show stuck in traffic, also shields her from the hustle and bustle of the city — you know, other people. “My work demands as much and as many moments of concentration as you can allot. You need that quiet amidst the chaos,” Walsh explains.
But the chauffer-driven car offers more than just a stress-free work space. Walsh gets her inspiration by looking out her car window at pedestrians. “Even between appointments, my eyes and my ears are always open because you’ll see the way a certain woman walks down the street and the way she carries her handbag,” she says over gauzy shots out the window.
Think transit commuters are unwashed, uncouth bums? Subaru does. And the carmaker doesn’t mind telling them so.
In recent Canadian editions of Metro — the free daily distributed at transit stops — Subaru ran a two-page spread spouting just about every negative transit, and transit rider, stereotype you can think of. The ad was brought to our attention by Sabrina Lau Texier, a transportation planner in Vancouver.
“While you’re sitting on public transit, just imagine your commute in a new Subaru Impreza,” the copy reads. “No weird smells, no overhearing awful music, and nobody asking you for spare change.” Classy.
On the first page are “coupons” for an “odour free ride to work” (nothing but that carcinogenic new car smell), “less chance of being asked for money” (except by Subaru and Exxon), savings on “obligatory transit conversations with coworkers” (down with human interaction!), “free confidence” (for $19,995), and our favorite: “half off arbitrary and inexplicable transit delays.” As opposed to the gridlock-free ride we can expect if we all ditch transit to drive a Subaru to the office — alone, of course, to avoid those unpleasant conversations with co-workers.
The ad implies that the Impreza has a better safety rating than transit. Canada had 6.5 traffic fatalities and 500 injuries per 100,000 people in 2010, according to the latest available figures.
Think the folks at Subaru don’t know transit ridership is booming, and not because commuters just need to be sold on “symmetrical full-time All-Wheel Drive”? Ads like this one, as Lau Texier puts it, are “a desperate attempt to stay relevant for an industry with declining sales.”
Maybe a campaign based on the premise that your target audience is a bunch of losers is not the most winning strategy.
If you tuned in to the news earlier this week, you likely heard that in 2011 U.S. road fatalities dropped to their lowest level since 1949. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the media practically consider it cause for celebration that *just* 32,000 or so people were killed in motor vehicle crashes last year. Maybe that’s understandable. In the last six decades, since the time before seat belts and padded dashboards were standard equipment, it’s the best we’ve been able to manage.
While everyone wants to get that 32,000 closer to zero, for some time it’s been socially acceptable to market American passenger vehicles as race cars. Though on one hand auto companies tout safety features that have helped reduce driver and passenger deaths, many if not most ads emphasize horsepower and high-speed handling. As if every family sedan doubled as a rally racer, and every motorist, possessing the keys to that sedan, could pass for a highly-skilled stunt driver.
A new seasonal campaign from Acura is a particularly egregious example. In these ads, celebrities including Dr. Phil and Santa Claus tear through urban streets, their eyes barely on the road as they zig-zag between lanes and speed around corners while lecturing passengers, whom they have plucked from shopping for Christmas decorations, on the finer points of decking the halls. “Listen to the voice of reason,” goes the tagline.
These commercials go a step further than the “need for speed” fantasies conveyed in much auto advertising. The hook here is that the celebs are driving fast, heedless of their environment. Watch the relieved couple hug when Dr. Phil drops them off at the Christmas tree stand. Hear the tires chirp when Santa backs across a sidewalk. Acura is promoting reckless driving. That’s the joke.
Honda’s new “We Know You” campaign includes a series of 16-second spots, presented as a medley of sorts in the ad above, which touts the safety features of the new Accord.
The Accord comes with a “drift warning” that alerts the driver when the car has entered another lane, a “forward collision warning” light that flashes and beeps when a sudden stop is required, and a “blind spot display” screen that, per Honda, facilitates quick lane changes. The gist of the ads is that attentive driving is no longer necessary — Honda has got your back.
The most egregious, and telling, commercial of the campaign has to be “Tired You,” which depicts a white collar type chugging coffee as he tries in vain to stay awake while driving on a flat, straight deserted road. When his Accord crosses the center line, the alarm sounds, the man jerks awake — and keeps driving.
Since I’ve been doing lots of research, analysis and interviews for a future Streetfilm looking at car commercials, this Lexus ES ad, in heavy rotation on football Sundays, caught my eye. It just might be a first (at least in the United States): a major car company showcasing a car on a complete street!
The idea of investing in transit is popular with Americans, even among those who don’t depend on it. But trains and buses, buses in particular, have always had an image problem. U.S. transit providers could take a cue from this Danish ad, which makes light of the mundane nature of bus travel (free handles!) in a way that actually makes transit look “cool.” Turn on the captions for the full effect.
There are a lot of gasp-inducing moments in Red Bull Racing’s new video to promote the Formula One Grand Prix of America, scheduled for Weehawken and Union City in June 2013.
First, there’s the introduction: the national anthem being played by the dulcet tones of a revving engine. Then there are shots of the driver speeding along the walkway at Liberty State Park and through the streets of Weehawken, before heading down an empty Lincoln Tunnel to really open up the throttle.
The Lincoln Tunnel shots are spliced with images of crowded Manhattan streets — implying, but not actually showing, the danger of a high-speed tour of the Big Apple. Then there’s the finale: a Formula One driver burning rubber and doing donuts as two cyclists circle around him in what might be a bizarre share-the-road message.
It’s a video that lots of carmakers would drool over as a way to sell their driving machines.
According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the shoot occurred on August 13 and 14, closing the Liberty State Park waterfront walkway to the public. We’ve reached out to the Township of Weehawken Police Department and Red Bull Racing for additional comment on how the video was shot.
Mazda and Universal couldn’t leave awful enough alone. In addition to the odious television spots featuring the defender of Truffula trees shilling for SUVs, Mazda is attempting to lure children and parents to showrooms with the promise of a Lorax encounter. And now the coup de grace: The carmaker is zoom zooming right into your local elementary school, abetted by the National Education Association, as sponsor of the “Read Across America Tour.”
At Polk Elementary on Tuesday, more than 100 kindergartners and fourth- and fifth-graders crowded into the multipurpose room for a rendition of Seuss’s classic environmentalist tale.
The kids listened as the little furry Lorax tried, furiously and fruitlessly, to defend his beloved Truffula Trees and Brown Bar-ba-loots from being destroyed by the Once-ler, that greedy Thneed magnate.
Afterward, a Mazda representative — Dan Ryan of the government relations office — stood up.
He unveiled an oversized $1,000 check meant to help beef up the school’s library collection. “We think reading is very important,” Ryan said. The audience cheered.
Ryan then told the kids they could help raise up to a million dollars for other schools’ libraries — and qualify for a sweepstakes entry (trip for four to Universal Studios).
All they had to do was persuade their parents to go to the nearest Mazda dealership for a test-drive.
In these advertisements Mazda and Universal claim that a new automobile is “Certified Truffula Tree Friendly” and imply an endorsement of their product by the cherished title character of “The Lorax.” By airing these advertisements, Mazda and Universal have shamelessly turned a character who has inspired millions of children to care about their environment into a car salesman. Cars–even ones that pollute a little less–are neither kid-friendly nor good for the environment.
We are calling on Mazda, Universal Pictures, and their partners to immediately remove any advertising that associates “The Lorax” with automobiles from all forms of media: print, television, radio, movie trailers, the internet, merchandising, etc.
And now, a few more revolting reasons to sign the petition:
Hey kids: Test drive a Mazda, and you could meet the Lorax.
A cobalt blue Mazda CX-5 crossover SUV (26 mpg city/35 highway) coasts along a remarkably roadkill-free asphalt strip through a bucolic landscape of fluffy Truffula trees. Against an audio backdrop of chirping birds, lightly strummed strings, wistful whistling, and angelic harmonies, a narrator asks: “Who delivers outstanding fuel efficiency without compromising the joy of driving?”
A roadside forest critter — seemingly a shoddy approximation of a Bar-ba-Loot — shrugs its shoulders and turns up its hands. The Bar-ba-Loot is completely ignorant of the fact that Mazda and its SkyActiv technology are delivering its species from the ravages of global climate change, habitat loss, and mass extinction the likes of which hasn’t been seen for millions of years.
The charismatic mammals and birds of the Truffula ecosystem simply have no idea that Mazda is the only brand of carmaker to receive “The Certified Truffula Tree Seal of Approval.”
But not for long, because the Lorax, incarnated as a gruff wise-acre, doesn’t need to be told twice. He knows that if you want to combine the satisfaction of saving the planet with the unadulterated joy of cruising on twisty, traffic-free pavement, you need to drive a Mazda.
Yes, it’s come to this. Theodor Seuss Geisel’s 1971 parable about environmental stewardship is now being used to make people feel less guilty about purchasing Mazda-brand motor vehicles. The Mazda cross-promotion, it turns out, is one of 70 sponsorship deals that Universal has worked out to increase the return on its investment in a feature film version of “The Lorax.”
Not pictured in the ad: The Truffula tree forest that was clear-cut to make way for the four-lane highway the Once-ler built to sell more Thneeds. (Today Mazda CX-5 owners use that highway to get to their outrageously wasteful, greenhouse gas-spewing subdivisions.)
Absent from Universal’s cross-promotions: The hard-to-commodify solutions like walkable neighborhoods, bicycle-safe streets, and transit-oriented development that we’re going to need in order to avert catastrophic climate change.
“The Lorax” debuts on March 2, which would be Dr. Seuss’s 108th birthday if he were still alive. Already there are rumblings of a nationwide boycott.