Let's, for a minute, pretend that this Buick LaCrosse advertising isn't strange and retrograde and view it as a collection of visionary images that strike chords in women.
OK, so in the latest spot, "Deafening Dream," this woman has parked her new Buick under a waterfall and sits in the driver's seat, writhing ecstatically. (Just another day in Detroit, I guess.) Hey, it could happen! On a deeply symbolic level! With Aerosmith's early '70s "Dream On" playing in the background!
It's a gutsy choice—water is the source of all life and symbolizes creativity, health, renewal, birth. Unfortunately, getting pounded by billions of gallons of it in an enclosed, airless, soundless box (damn that exclusive quiet tuning!) doesn't say birth/renewal. Unless you're Houdini, this is more tomb than womb.
Instead of a watery vault, let's say the car is meant to represent a female sanctuary—outside, waters may be raging, but inside, she's ... keepin' the love alive! Huh? I always hated the cheesy double entendre of Herbal Essences' "organic experience" joke, but by comparison, that was genius—the soaping and groping was obvious. But why is this woman fondling the upholstery? Lack of oxygen?
It turns out the waterfall thing is actually a dream—our LaCrosse gal is in the shower, staring up at the nozzle. That device allowed J.R. a good deal of fantasy rope. But it doesn't work here, because in dream sequences, the person is generally brought back to reality. In these spots, there is no grounding reality—how does being in the shower bring us any closer to driving a Buick?
I'm trying. Let's go back to the auto-eroticism. Yes, sex has always been part of selling cars. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that hawking new Buicks should not be all about the O (unless one of the options is an Orgasmatron). In doing so, the campaign dredges up the two most laughable ad approaches of the late '50s and early '60s: a) that housewives' egos were so invested in using a new appliance or cleaner that they got orgasmic over the results, and b) that women like to be seen as hood ornaments, draped over the fronts of cars. Dream on, indeed.
Let's look at another elemental power used in this LaCrosse campaign: fire. It also symbolizes magic, conversion, life, death and charred meat. When the tribe has spoken, your torch is snuffed. "Quiet Sanctuary" shows a room filled with hundreds of flickering candles, all beautifully arrayed. Sting used a similar setup in a video, and even the memory of it is powerful. The car is parked in the front of the room, as if on the pulpit or stage of a house of worship. The LaCrosse follower, dressed in a sort of Gothic floor-length robe, makes her way to the car, past all the candles. This is no easy task, and first I worried that the hem of her garment would catch fire—a bottoms-up version of the Michael Jackson Pepsi incident. She makes it, and the scene seems extremely liturgical and reverent, except when she casts off her gown and gets inside the car (as if to say, "Yes, Buick LaCrosse, you are still my Roadmaster!"). But she does so almost robotically, as if this could be some Wiccan ceremony and she's a human sacrifice.
Cut to Aerosmith. Yes, silly us—the whole time, she's been sitting in a bathtub surrounded by candles. "The quiet space you've been dreaming of is the quiet space we've been dreaming up," the voiceover says. Calgon bath-oil beads, take me away!
There's more. The first of the spots, "Stylish Dream," featured a beautiful young woman of color wearing a fabulous white crocheted gown, standing next to a white LaCrosse. She changes outfits four times to match different-colored cars and, while not dreaming (or maybe when she is dreaming), stands in front of a three-way mirror, admiring her curves. All during the fashion show, she runs her hands over her hips and rear, up and down, as if her waist-to-ass ratio conveys some sort of hidden benefit, like rack-and-pinion steering. Meanwhile, we hear a voiceover line about the "always chic, always flattering Buick LaCrosse."
It looks contemporary enough—the gowns are great. The production values throughout are high. But the feeling seems to bubble up from the days when designers thought they'd appeal to women by making cars pink. It's not impossible to link fashion and cars in a way that's not offensive. There is a Pontiac ad that I like—a woman leaves her house, flashes her (faux) Birkin bag, then puts a well-shod foot on the accelerator, as an announcer counts down to "blastoff." She accelerates and leaves.
I guess that's one of the key elements that's missing from this female-targeted Buick work —a sense of forward motion, of making one's way in the world. The car is static and fixed; the women are limp and dreaming. I don't get it—except that maybe water is the force of life, of reflection, of, um, liquidation sales?
McCann Erickson, Detroit
Chief creative officer
Executive creative director
Rob Hendershot, Michael Quinlan, Bob Guzsgand
Meghan Busch, Erin Morley,
Director of broadcast production