I’m sure most of you are aware that acclaimed film director Ridley Scott, the man behind Alien, Blade Runner and Legend (the movie that inspired the look of Goth girls for decades) occasionally makes a bit of walking-around money by directing commercials for high-paying clients like Apple. Scott also directed a commercial for Nissan, but it aired only once because it caused a number of watchdog groups to freak out. In hindsight, it’s pretty hard to believe this commercial caused such a panic.
The commercial was shown during Super Bowl XXIV in 1990, and it was titled Dreamer. It’s a cinematic retelling of a dream had by a Nissan 300ZX Turbo owner, a person who perhaps was dealing with some fears and stresses in his life that came out as a dream about being pursued, and I suspect, threatened.
I mean, it’s a fun commercial, at least for an ad that’s set in some sort of dystopian wasteland where well-equipped gangs pursue owners of then-new Japanese sports cars.
In the ad, the narrator describes a drive on a long, open and empty road as he’s chased by a pair of motorcycles, then some sort of menacing F1-type car with a matte-black paint job, a mysterious “X” on the front and a bunch of rectangular sealed-beam headlights mounted on the rear wing:
After the motorcycles and race car fail to apprehend the Nissan, an airplane is sent to somehow stop the driver. (I’m not sure how, but not only is this a commercial, it’s a commercial about a dream, so that really doesn’t matter.) Impressively, the Z manages to get away from the aircraft, thanks to the twin turbos kicking in.
It’s clearly a sort of vaguely Mad Maxican fantasy, and while there’s plenty of fast driving, there’s zero traffic beyond the dreamer in his 300ZX and the unnamed members of the X gang, whoever they are.
That’s why I find it so surprising that the commercial was protested by groups like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Governors’ Highway Safety Representatives and others.
The American Academy of Pediatrics? There weren’t even any kids in the ad! And none of the kids who weren’t there weren’t doing anything like eating poorly or swapping hats and getting lice. What’s the problem here?
The issue was that the ad was thought to glorify speeding, which, I suppose on some level it did, in the sense that the excitement of driving fast was a part of the ad, no question. But the whole situation is so removed from reality it hardly seems worth protesting.
But that’s just me. Brian O’Neill, president of the IIHS at the time, wouldn’t agree at all, saying...
“This is the worst example of an out-and-out speed ad that we have ever seen.”
...a statement that implies he has a mental category of “speed ads” that this fits into.
Nissan of course defended the ad, and while the company didn’t pull it from the Super Bowl slot, which would have been a colossal waste of money for them, they didn’t show it anywhere else afterwards.
A New York Times article from January 11, 1990 quotes Nissan’s defense:
“We don’t believe that the Turbo Z commercial encourages irresponsible driving practices,” Mr. Hannum said. He added that the ad was clearly fanciful and thus would not be confused by viewers as representing realistic driving.
Yeah, I’m on Nissan’s side with this one. I’d even go so far to say that any driver who landed in a similar situation — chased by various vehicles from an unknown, malevolent organization in the middle of an empty desert highway — ought to drive fast to get the hell away.
Really, by the logic of the complaints, any car commercial that suggested speed was enjoyable in any way would be as bad, and I think the non-realistic environment of this ad made it even more harmless.
Maybe when the new Nissan Z car finally goes on sale Ridley Scott could to do a sequel to the ad, and if the Insurance Institute wants to complain, they can just bitch about it on Twitter like everyone else in the world does now.