Al Navarro Does Detroit: Malibu U-Turn Edition

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.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds...Emerson said something like that. So hopefully, I'm entitled to an inconsistency once in a while. A change of heart. Because something like that has happened to me with regard to the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu commercials. Yes, those spots.


When Jalopnik first posted the new Chevrolet Malibu spots, I gave a "HATE" rating to the one featuring a jogger, and a "NOT TERRIBLE" to the bank robbers version. Maybe it's because they are truly not good. Or maybe it's because I was having a bad week that week. Or maybe it's because I have hated the Malibu since, well, since they stopped making them like the one my Uncle Dan used to have.


I find that when you hate a product, it's tough to love the marketing for it. You're caught up in a the aura of hate and it clouds your vision (is it New Year's Resolution season or what?!?). So for this installment of my little ad review series, I decided to give these commercials another go. It was either that or find something charitable to say about the Toyota cow fart/Fresno spot.

And really, on repeated viewings here at my computer or on live/TiVo'd TV at home, even the jogger one is at least "NOT TERRIBLE".

Creative Challenge:
Even before delivering a key message, a piece of advertising has to capture the attention of the reader/viewer. To make you take notice and not turn the page/change the channel. Old school creative directors might have called a concept with the right stuff "a stopper".

But it's not so simple as just getting someone's attention — because if you pull a bait and switch, the consumer goes away mad. And that's not so good for your brand. A former supervisor who studied under infamous adman Sal DeVito at the School of Visual Arts once told me a story of another student defending her concepts in class. The student said that she chose a particular visual because she wanted to capture people's attention (i.e. she was going for a "stopper").


To which DeVito reportedly replied "You could show two dogs f*cking to get people's attention, but that doesn't make it a good ad!" Good point.

So the creative team is faced with the admittedly unenviable job of launching a new Malibu after a long run of forgettable vehicles bearing the same name. They need a big idea.


They need a stopper.

In lieu of two dogs copulating, the creative team has embraced a truth about the last generation Malibu: that the cars were forgettable, bland, invisible.


Of course, they don't name the old Malibu by name in this spot. And maybe they sold it to the client by telling them "By 'cars you can ignore', we mean stuff like Accords and Camrys and the Ford Fusion."

So then they hyperbolically demonstrate what can happen with cars that you can ignore, cutting at the end to show one that you can't: The 2008 Malibu.


And the more I thought about the spots and the product they feature, the more I think it was a pretty smart move.

As I noted earlier, it's important to capture the viewer's attention right up front. Doing this is just as important as delivering your key message. Because after all, if you don't have my attention your message won't get heard, much less remembered.


And I think these two versions of the spot achieve varying levels of success because of their differing ability to grab the viewer's (at least this viewer's) attention.

The shorter (:15) "Jogger" spot starts out by showing us a peaceful neighborhood through which a female jogger is running. She looks both ways (nice touch), crosses the street, and gets hit by a car. Or rather, runs right into a car. Why? Because it's a car you can ignore of course. The spot ends on a beauty shot of the new Malibu, set against a brightly colored background.


And for some reason, this one just doesn't grab me like the "Bank Robbers" one does. Maybe it's because the alarm bell in that one triggers some involuntary tension in me. I'm actually interested in what will happen next. Not so much with the jogger lady. Of course, the "Bank Robbers" version is a :30, so they have more time to play with — though I think the cut back to the cops at the end is unnecessary.

Casting Judgment:
I am generally a believer that first impressions are the most true. When I met my wife again four years after graduating the high school we both attended, I knew we'd get married some day. I've also had bad initial vibes on other people that eventually were confirmed. I'm sure you have, too.


But I also know that my snap judgements are sometimes wrong or too harsh. Like my buddy James. When I first met him in college, I couldn't stand him. I think he felt the same. But now, he's the godfather of my younger daughter and perhaps my bestest friend.

So there you go, Chevy Malibu advertising agency (Campbell-Ewald, I think) and client...good job.


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

Previously on Al Navarro Does Detroit:

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


Episode Two: Al Navarro Does Detroit: Ford to Tears


Episode Three: Al Navarro Does Detroit: Touareg de Force

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Is it just me, or have people been a little tense lately?

I can only add this fact to the ad commentary: I have stopped watching broadcast television since 2003. The reason I did that, was that I couldn't stomach the commercials anymore. Too long, too many of them, and they made me feel bad after I watched them. I realized then, that the social contract which broadcast television makes in America, to give you entertainment at the price of your attention and time on products they want you to purchase, was a bad deal for me. So I opted out.

I still love old commercials. I also love the way the FCC used to actually regulate the airwaves. These days, I am much less sanguine in my embrace of the medium. Sure it is occasionally entertaining, but it isn't worth it to have my attention directed so bluntly. I have more control when I use the InterWeb Tubes, so I do them instead.

(Now back to downloading what I want to watch from iTunes.)