Al Navarro Does Detroit: What Kind of Commercial Does Three-and-a-Half Enzos Buy You?

Al Navarro is a co-founder of Mint Advertising, an independent advertising agency in New Jersey. He also drives a Caterham Superlight R, so don't front.

I apologize in advance that this first in a series is on the long side. I use the extra words to explain some things here and there, including the overall format I'd like these reviews to take. Future posts will be shorter.

Regular Jalopnik readers should already know me from my trail of Caterham parts, or perhaps the infamous Slut Machine QOTD. But if you don't, my name is Al Navarro and I've been a commenter and occasional guest poster here since about May 2006. My day job is in advertising; I co-own a small agency in the middle of nowhere New Jersey. We do a little TV here and there and have a major auto parts distributor as a client, but no car makers or dealers on the roster right now. I have worked on car clients in the past, including some award-winning stuff for the Mercedes-Benz M-Class launch years ago.

For some reason, I wanted to start out with a write-up of a good car ad. The best ever, perhaps. And that of course, could mean none other than the Shell-Ferrari spot (that's what they call commercials in the biz).


Sure they have a product that practically sells itself: Ferraris. Okay, so technically the commercial is for the Shell gas (and presumably oil) that goes into Ferraris. But this spot makes the most of that opportunity. From concept to execution. And those are just two of the angles I'll use to deconstruct this and other Ad Watch spots down the road.

Creative Challenge
Most advertising projects start with a creative brief, a concise document that summarizes what the ad has to communicate, who the target market is, where and when it will appear, and hopefully some insights into why the audience will not be inclined to TiVo past the 30, 60, or in this case 120 seconds with which you have to work. I don't have access to the briefs for the Ad Watch spots, but I can speak to the challenge before the creative team.

In the case of the Shell-Ferrari spot, the challenge was not to make a complete hash of things. I mean, its not like they had to sell a nail fungus cream. Or a Toyota Solara.

Armed with the brief, the creatives — generally a copywriter (words) and an art director (pictures) — sit around and read Jalopnik try to come up with a concept. The concept is the core idea of any advertising, whether it be a direct mail insert or a magazine spread or a tv commercial. It's the "big idea" — to steal back a term that Donny Deutsch co-opted for his TV show.


In the case of the Shell-Ferrari spot (which is officially titled "Circuit"), the concept is to illustrate the long association that Shell has had with Ferrari (glossing over the Agip years, of course) by showing a moving timeline of sorts, a parade of great cars fueled by Shell through the years. The genius here is that, instead of having some talking head (industry speak for an on-screen narrator) walking through a garage full of dusty vintage cars droning on and on about the technical merits of Shell fluids, they let the cars do the talking. Believe me, that this concept was approved is a credit to both the advertising agency (JWT London) and the client.

Once the concept is approved internally (sometimes the hardest fight of all) and with the client, it's time to make the commercial. To turn storyboards into reality. Many a commercial has lived or died on execution. Thankfully, the folks at Shell were kind enough to bankroll what is one of the more expensive (no, it's not the most expensive, I checked) commercials made — estimates put the production budget for this at $3.9 million. Or roughly 3.9 Enzos.


And it shows. The footage (by the production company Partizan...who also did the famous Honda "Cog" spot) is beautiful. That they borrowed the cars, closed the roads, and got the shots with minimal CGI is simply amazing. No seriously, go watch it again. With your speakers on 11. Tell your office mates you're doing important research. Then watch it again.

Casting Judgement
With a simple, smart concept and pretty much flawless execution, this commercial is among the best automotive spots I've ever seen. Some people might say "Sure it's great, it cost $4 million dollars." But I assure you that the Ford "I like to live on the Edge-uh." commercials set the blue oval boys back at least half an Enzo. Those spots are forgettable. The Shell-Ferrari "Circuit" spot, on the other hand, will probably enjoy life on YouTube long after the Edge's replacement's replacement is on the road.


Artistic merits aside, the spot succeeds because it makes me aware of Shell's relationship with the Scuderia, but also because it makes me feel good about filling up my lowly Audi TT with Shell product. I pass 3 gas stations on my way home from the office— so if the commercial can make me more inclined to stop at the Shell instead of the Hess or Gulf, which it does, it's working.

Which is why, on my 4 point rating scale, the top mark is called simply "Ferrari-Shell". It really doesn't get much better than this.


Thanks for reading. See you on Madison Avenue sometime.

On the "Hate/Not Terrible/Good/Shell-Ferrari" Scale: Shell-Ferrari

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Al Navarro

Boy, I hope the successive articles in this series generate as much traction as this first one. Thanks again all.

I think the two camps (perhaps there are more than two?!) are split over what the role of advertising is and what constitutes a good ad.

I started my career in direct response - which until the web meant mostly mail and those TV spots where a female operator prefaces the commercial with a "Hi, I'm Judy. Stay tuned for a special offer from [INSERT NAME OF CLIENT HERE]." We were judged mostly on response rates and cost per lead. My life was about trying to beat control packages. Part of me still looks at every project that way.

But you know and I know that "below the line" (as it used to be called in the UK) advertising like this isn't what people talk about at the water cooler (unless you happen to be in the industry). It's not what people tune into the Superbowl to see. It's not the side of the business that gets chronicled on TV shows, even reality TV shows.

Of course I agree with Tanshanomi's POV that the ultimate goal of advertising should be to make money for the sell product. But the line from awareness of a product to actual purchase is, for many products, not entirely direct. Let's stick to gasoline. What if I've seen the Shell-Ferrari spot, but there are no Shell stations in my area? You might say it's a bad media buy, but could you say that the advertising was bad or failed?

I wouldn't say so. In the same light, I also loved the BMW "Hire" films CarDesignMike mentions. Those came out when video compression and bandwidth were bigger issues than they are now. But I still took the time to engage with them - online and later, by buying the DVD. Did I buy a BMW? No, I have an Audi TT and a Honda Pilot. But did BMW succeed in getting me to see past the "overpriced yuppie mobile" image that had been ingrained into my Gen-X head? Yes. And that in many ways is priceless.