Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Head-On Collision

That old Seinfeld curse just keeps going and going. First, John O’Hurley (the tall, white-haired guy who wildly overacted the part of J. Peterman) was robbed of victory in Dancing With the Stars. Now, fresh off a failed sitcom, Jason Alexander is back as George Costanza in this absolutely pitiful Chrysler spot.

This time, George is somewhat heavier, minus the trademark glasses (did he have Lasik?) and sporting mystifyingly freakish peaks of hair triangulating up on either side of his bald head. And that’s not the only mystifying thing here. Even though Seinfeld went off the air six years ago, the joke is that Alexander reprises his role as total loser George.

He’s seen here in the faux office of his one-time boss, the Seinfeld-ian version of crotchety Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. In the sitcom, the G.S. character was seen only from the back and voiced for maximum irritation by Larry David. But in this TV spot in 2005, the loathsome loose cannon behind the newspaper is revealed to be—drumroll—’80s superstar and former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca!

Bringing back Iacocca is not such a bad idea. Unlike today’s jailbird CEOs, the brandmeister who parted the sea of red ink at a near-bankrupt Chrysler 20 years ago still has some street cred. The crime here is reviving Iacocca only to bury him.

The deal is pretty straightforward: General Motors had a great deal of success with its employee-discount program—selling cars to the public at employee-discount rates. Ford followed. And now Chrysler is playing catch-up. Unlike some other brands, Chrysler actually has some good-quality, innovative models that were popular even before discounts. So, here you have a respected leader, a symbol of honest corporate America (rare) who still has credibility (rarer), plus a decent product to sell at a discount—why junk it up with borrowed interest from an inside joke from a 1990s TV show?

The only reason I can see to set the spot in this badly lit, badly acted Seinfeld bizarre-o world would be if the target demo consisted solely of Seinfeld rerun fanatics. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) In that case, for the next spot, why not show Kramer (played by Michael Richards, who has also gone on to do his fair share of failed sitcoms and commercials) measuring the back of half-naked Steinbrenner, I mean Frank Constanza, I mean Iacocca, to help him into his manzier (otherwise known as a “bro”)?

You see where I’m going here. It’s nice that client and agency wanted to create some popular buzz (mission accomplished), and since it’s a copycat move to begin with, do something different from the usual to announce it (ditto). But it’s a ridiculously overcomplicated and backward-looking concept, many iterations away from any reality you can wrap your head around. The references are dated, convoluted and just don’t link up: Iacocca plays the mythologized bad-guy owner of a baseball team (wha?), while George, the evasive schlump whose famous line is, “My whole life is a lie,” does the selling. Genius.

And what selling it is. George comes into the Boss’ office reeling off a laundry list of features (five-star frontal crash ratings, etc.) and, to conform to his usual subethical standards, gradually reveals that he’s using a cheat sheet—a magazine ad. The list of what Chrysler is offering is made to seem so long and boring that even the Boss admits as much by saying, “Yada yada yada.” That’s another famous Seinfeld line. But why list all these great features only to diss them in your own ad?

And speaking of recycling, compared with the oddly sweaty, pasty-faced George, 80-year-old Iacocca looks quite vigorous. He then says, “You forgot the most important part of all: the deal.” Cut to a title card about employee pricing, and then back to our show.

The coup de grâce is that the nouveau George character delivers the line, “If you can find a better car, buy it.” That was Iacocca’s signature biggie from 20 years ago, when he was pushing K-cars and the spots were created by Kenyon & Eckhardt—an agency name straight out of the wayback machine.

The Boss then adds, “Couldn’t have said it better myself, kid.”

I can appreciate that they wanted to inject some “fun” into the situation, and that Lee was game, but delivering Iacocca’s line in some badly re-created Seinfeld-ian limbo diminishes both our returning hero and the offer itself. Apparently there will be other ads in the series, so perhaps those will let Iacocca be Iacocca.

Sure, if they had used him in a straightforward way, it could have seemed hokey, but at least it would have felt honest. Even though this first spot advertises a legitimate offer from a legitimate company, it’s so decontextualized that there’s no truth to be found in it.

So what have we learned? People, people, as J. Peterman would say, let’s lay off George, Elaine, Kramer et al for a while. By the way, didn’t they already make enough money? Is Jerry the only one getting residuals?



BBDO, Detroit

Creative director

Michael Corbeille

Assoc. creative directors

Dan Councilor,

Matthew Sicko

Dir. of broadcast prod.

Hugh Broder


Mark Nicholas


Greg Kohs,

Edit house

Outpost Digital