Ad of the Day: Mitsubishi

The brand starts an electric-car revolution in an unlikely place: Normal, Illinois

Normal, Ill., is one of those American towns—like Intercourse, Pa., or Goobertown, Ariz.—that's known mostly for its goofy name. But unlike many oddly named places, Normal has the added authenticity of largely living up to its name. Sitting inconspicuously amid the corn fields of Illinois and projecting a stubborn Midwestern unpretentiousness, it is indeed one of the most ordinary-seeming places around.

All the better for a marketer to swoop in and remake it in its own image! That's the somewhat exploitative but mostly well-meaning idea behind 180LA's new campaign for the Mitsubishi i electric car. (By the way, you couldn't come up with a brand name that's more invisible in print than "i," which handicaps this vehicle at the starting line.) Mitsubishi operates a manufacturing plant in Normal, so it has a bit of an excuse to use the town like this. It has promised to make 1,000 of the new vehicles—out of 15,000 being made in the first batch—available to the town's residents. (They have to pay for them, but they skip the waiting list.) The automaker is also helping to install 30 high-speed Level 3 electric quick charge "refueling" stations in town. All of which is designed to turn Normal into "the new Normal"—i.e., a model electric vehicle (EV) community—which it's documenting in a series of folksy commercials from 180.

It may seem like just a play on words, but the marketer hopes to truly make Normal seem revolutionary. "Normal EVTown is a community that is embracing new technology in an environmentally sound way," says Mayor Chris Koos, who came up with the idea after visiting Mitsubishi executives. "It is a way of imagining the future, and Normal is that future." (Koos has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to get Mitsubishi to actually make the new cars at its Normal plant.) William Gelner, executive creative director at 180LA, adds, "Normal challenges the preconceptions of where innovation is coming from today. What if it's not coming from the coasts, but from somewhere in the middle of America. Maybe it's not coming from the large automakers, but from Mitsubishi."

The work has a Hal-Riney-era Saturn vibe—it's certainly a different kind of car, and Mitsubishi wants to be seen as a different kind of company. The documentary style of the spots never drags (which is a rarity in this kind of work), and the residents profiled are pleasantly goofy and guileless, giving the whole project a rustic charm—a nice counterpoint to the futuristic vehicles and forward-thinking green message. Also, the real-world nature of the campaign—a particularly munificent gesture in a time of recession, when gas prices are sky high—clearly has the potential for a load of positive press (or negative press, of course, if something goes wrong). It's ambitious and feels like good timing.

And who knows, maybe Mitsubishi could help some of America's other strangely named locales. It could straighten out Oblong, Ill., for one.

Client: Mitsubishi
Campaign: "Normal"
Agency: 180, Los Angeles (180LA)
Executive Creative Director: William Gelner
Creative Directors: Gavin Milner, Grant Holland
Copywriter: Michael Burdick
Art Director: Michael Bokman
Head of Production/Managing Partner: Peter Cline
Producer: David Emery
Group Account Director: Amy Call
Account Director: Sandy Song, Mary Friedrich

Production Co.: TOOL of North America
Director: Matt Ogens
DP: Antonio Calvache
Managing Director: Brian Latt
Executive Producer: Oliver Fuselier
Producer: Kelly Christensen
Stylist: Annie Bloom
Casting Company: Claire Simon Casting
Casting Director: Amy Newbold
Shoot Location: Normal, Illinois
Shoot Date: 9/13, 9/14

Editorial Company: BEAST Editorial
Editor: Charlie Lee
Executive Producer: Sybil McCarthy
Assistant Editor: Chancler Haynes
Completion/Special Effects
Colorist: Bob Festa
Transfer Facility: NEW HAT

Recording Mix
Recording Studio: ELEVEN SOUND
Date: 10/04
Final Mix: 10/04
Mixer: Jeff Payne
Asst Mixer: Ben Freer
Executive Producer: DJ Fox-Engstrom

Music/Sound Design
Creative Director: Steph Altman
Executive Producer: Michael Frick
Producer: Shelley Altman
Client Credits
Senior Vice President Marketing: Greg Adams
Director of Advertising: Francine Harsini
Manager, Advertising: Matt Mendez