Al Navarro is co-founder of Mint Advertising, an independent advertising agency in New Jersey. He also drives a Caterham Superlight R, so don't front.
Over my career in advertising, I've had some great bosses and mentors. Many of whom have uttered truisms I still rattle off to co-workers and clients to this day. One of these phrases is "You can't bore people into doing something." Enter the above Ford spot from the Jalopnik Ad Watch tag. Want to know what I think? Hit the jump.
As I mentioned in my Shell-Ferrari review, every piece of advertising has some challenge before it — some job it has to do.
Generally speaking, advertising is intended to make people aware of a brand, product, product attribute/benefit, or special savings on said product; or to make people want the product and perhaps even BUY IT NOW! Whatever it is — it's something designed to move people forward on the awareness-desire-action continuum.
I guess in the case of this Ford spot, the challenge before the creative team was to make viewers aware that Ford has the most fuel efficient SUV on earth — a hybrid, even. That's a pretty big point of differentiation, right? Should be an easy assignment. Let's see how they did.
After a few days of procrastination and reviewing all the supporting research they most likely received from the junior account executive assigned to this project, the creatives (generally a writer and an art director team) start bouncing ideas off of each other.
Among the concepts they storyboard and show to the client is one that they think will really pluck at the heartstrings of moms all over America..."I know, let's have this Winnie Cooper-esque girl have an awkward conversation with her dad which somehow incorporates the hybrid Ford product our agency has been retained to promote." It's their soft sell in the mix, and probably the only one that does not involve CGI and a bad jingle.
We are to believe the girl is embarrassed of her dad. Not because he appears to be a slightly overweight suburban dad with a receding hairline who probably has the Eagles Greatest Hits Vol. 2 in the CD player of his Escape, but because he drives a big gas-guzzlin' SUV.
And here, my friends, is the fatal flaw with this spot. You see, the average tween whose parents drive a shiny, new, made in 'murrica product that isn't a Pontiac Aztek are generally not embarrassed by the family car. Unless of course, they are the only kid on scholarship at an elite private school a la Will Smith's character in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air (I know...I'm really dating myself now). (I happen to resemble this comment...well, except for the scholarship part. -Ed.)
Sometimes, even when the core concept is weak, a commercial can achieve goodness (but not greatness) through brilliant execution. An old art director partner and I used to call this dressing up of a marginal idea "fonts and mirrors".
However, the commercial is written and shot in a relatively straightforward style. No Wilco soundtrack, no fancy camerawork, no Wes Anderson auteurism. I think the makers were expecting us, the viewers, to find the conversation believable. Aw shucks, Dad's believable. But the agency's built the spot on a flawed premise — thus, it doesn't work for me.
Here's a snippet of dialog that rings particularly false: "People in that part of town are riding bikes...". What the heck is this supposed to mean? That riding a bike is proof of someone's ecological sensitivity? Or does this mean that all the cool kids in this town live near the movie theater? I'm confused.
And here's another problem with this spot, from a location scouting/set design POV. Look at the garage door, the age of the tree on the driver's side, and the pavers in the driveway. All scream upscale neighborhood. There's no way these folks roll in an entry level American SUV, much less a hybrid variant. In my neck of the woods, people with a house like that drive a Volvo XC90 and Audi S4 convertible. Or maybe even a Prius.
I have a final bone to pick with the execution of the commercial — if you're not a car nut like we are, would you be able to remember what vehicle is featured? And what kind of gas mileage it gets? I almost don't remember myself and I've watched it over a dozen times now. If the commercial can't achieve least these basic things, then how good a spot could it be? (Oh my goodness, I'm turning into Tanshanomi.)
A flawed conceptual premise and "meh" execution are not the building blocks of great advertising. So it should come as no surprise that I didn't rate this spot well. The only thing more amazing than its inherent forgettableness is that someone at the agency (pretty sure it's longtime Ford shop J. Walter Thompson) AND the client approved it. Yikes.
On the "Hate/Not Terrible/Good/Shell-Ferrari" Scale: Hate