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Barbara Lippert's Critique: Drive My Car

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God, Death and Satan take a spin
I have to admit that when I first saw this Jeep commercial, euphemistically named "Peak Experience" (a.k.a. Grim Reaper), I thought it was a new low in shockvertising.
Here's Grim, in full Reaperosity, holding his signature scythe and dressed in an ominous hood-to-toe burlap sack. All we see are cadaverous fingers. That's upsetting enough, but to make it even more irksome, he's shown frolicking around in nature--bright, sunny nature--with birds singing.
Now nature is the space Jeep owns; and, at least in car buyers' minds, nature means speaking to the American spirit and love of the frontier--even if that frontier is your own hard-won driveway.
Jeep originated the idea of the four-by-four in the great outdoors, and owns that space by dint of its consistent, brilliant advertising past.
Jeep commercials have done a terrific job of maintaining a high standard for that brand. The ads usually rely on a simple graphic idea, executed beautifully, with a clever twist for an ending.
That was the case for "Blinker'' the spot that won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Festival in 1994. It opened on a vast, snow-covered landscape. Everything is pristine and white and frozen over, except for a line that appears to be moving under the snow. We can't quite make out what it is until it stops, and we see the familiar rhythmic blinking of red lights. It's a directional! We're saved!
In fact, it reminded me of Doyle Dane Bernbach's famous Volkswagen spot from the 1960s that shows how the snowplow driver gets to the snowplow.)
Granted, it's hard to sustain that sort of simplicity, smarts and authority year after year. And certainly, given the explosion in competition in the off-road automotive category, moving on is a necessity.
Therefore, several spots in this year's Jeep work go in for something grander. Most telling, in trying to go higher, the creatives seem to call on the Big Guy himself.
God seems to be an undercurrent in Jeep country. A second spot in the campaign, called "Hand,'' is unexpected and clever. Indeed, it shows the giant hand of our maker, in the beginning, creating Earth.
There are explosions and rain, then land, rivers, trees and even sheep. Finally, in the 70th or so frame, God rests, tapping His hand, thinking. Then He places a tiny little Jeep in the landscape.
But back to Mr. Grim. I'm all for change, but still, is death necessarily the ticket? Especially when you're thinking of buying a car?
The answer came from above.
I walked into a room where a TV was droning on in the middle of some sports broadcast, and the Reaper came on. In the midst of that tedium, he was a breath of fresh air. I was thankful for the spot's outrageous humor. First, there's the music, which in this context is hilarious: John Sebastian's "What a Day for a Daydream'' (the original recording, by the way, for all you Lovin' Spoonful fans).
On closer inspection, we see that Grim is not his usual sullen, wet blanket, death-of-the-party self. Instead he's busy putting a tiny newborn bird back in its nest, skipping stones, riding a bike and playing golf with his trusty scythe. (And in an inspired visual detail, his golf bag is shown, filled with scythes.)
"There's only one Jeep Cherokee,'' we're told. "How will it change you?'' And I say, if it's good enough to change Grim, it's plenty good. Speaking of death, driving and black humor, we also meet a certain Mr. Satan in one of FCB's new spots introducing Chrysler's PT Cruiser.
This vehicle is a shocker. Believe me, it takes getting used to. Visually, it's a cross between Herbie the Love Bug and a Third Reich roadster.
There are several spots that allude to the sheer visual shock of this new PT Cruiser. "Time's up, Bob," a Satan in Regiswear (black shirt and jacket, red tie) says to an unsuspecting rich guy in his home. The menacing figure is here to take Bob away, but Bob doesn't want to go.
He offers Satan anything in order to stay--his da Vinci, his vacation home, his priceless jewels, but it doesn't work. He's being taken down in the elevator when sniveling Bob finally comes up with something the devil has never seen before and is willing to accept: a PT Cruiser.
By this point, however, Satan is getting too creepy and upsetting to take. He's heading into Grim Reaper territory, and we want relief. But the ending of the spot delivers. We are redeemed. Bad to the bone gets into his new vehicle and speeds ahead. He gets pulled over by the police. "Mr. Sa-tan? the cop asks, reading from his license.
A second spot shows a mom walking in a park, pushing her young daughter in a stroller. (Why no women drivers in this campaign or in the Jeep work, by the way?) The kid points to things and names them as they pass: "airplane," for example, and "bike."
This is cute, and a common enough experience for parents and their kids. But in this particular
execution, cute as she is, the little girl seems a bit old to merit sheer parental surprise and pleasure that she would master the word "bus." When the kid spots the PT Cruiser, however, she says, "What the ---!"
Faced with this New Age Magoo vehicle, that's exactly how a kid of any age--even 45--would respond. But just the shock of how new it looks gets old. The best spots illustrate the Cruiser's intriguingly designed interior--with its unique seating configurations and cargo capabilities.
Plus, in what seems to be design one-upsmanship with the Volkswagen Beetle's bud vase, this PT Cruiser has a little table in the back that swings down and catches on a leg, for tailgate parties.
A spot I also liked shows an inspector at a Swiss Army knife factory doing due diligence as each of the little knives passes by on an assembly line. He opens the device and makes sure each of the functions operates properly. A Chrysler PT Cruiser comes down the line, and we see it from above, open and full of interior options and functions, just like the aforementioned knife.
Another fave opens on a guy stopped at a tollbooth and stuck for change. Luckily, inside his PT Cruiser, he's able to fold up the seats and take advantage of the different interior configurations to search for gleaming coinage. He finally finds a quarter somewhere in the cargo space in the back. He throws the coin into the toll booth basket--and misses. Another of life's curve balls neatly illustrated. It just goes to show you.
America, you can't sit back and rest on your laurels. Sometimes, you have to drive softly and carry a big scythe. K

Jeep
Agency
FCB/Southfield, Mich.
"Peak Experience"
Exec. CD
Gary Topolewski
Creative Director
Bill Morden
Art Director
Robin Chrumka
Copywriter
Mike Stocker
Executive Producer
John VanOsdol
Director
Steve Chase/
Reactor Films,
Santa Monica,Calif.


"Swiss Army"
Creative Directors
Gary Topolewski
Bill Morden
Art Director
Sam Sefton
Copywriter
Rick Dennis
Executive Producer
Paul Saylor
Producer
Tom Hillebrand
Director
Keir McFarland,
Propaganda Films
Los Angeles
Production
Spotwelders
Los Angeles

"Hand"
Creative Directors
Gary Topolewski
Bill Morden
John VanOsdol
Art Director
Sam Sefton
Copywriter
Rick Dennis
Producer
Jack Nelson
Director
Andrew Douglas
Londo