The Future Is Ford
The car maker's millennial ad posits a happy world of global fulfillment
For the next two months at least, we will see the future, and it's in millennium commercials. "Global Anthem'' is Ford's emotional, cinematic, two-minute extravaganza that last week was shown all over the world. Shot on five continents with a cast of 840, it touts seven brands. Ford is not alone in wanting to take a major millennial stand.
The De Beers diamond ad showing an attractive young couple embracing, as fireworks explode around them in a Times Square-like setting, is affecting. Then you get to the tagline, "Show her you love her for the next thousand years.''
I appreciate that including the next 1,000 years into the equation is a great way to amortize three months' pay. And I applaud the idea of a diamond purchase as a stable investment in our fast, throwaway culture.
But perhaps in their rightful desire to celebrate something big, really big, advertisers are mistaking the millennium for the actual passage of a century. If we think about a diamond that lasts the millennium, we also have to consider where we were in the last one.
That could place our average groom in a feudal world: Let's call him Gorgon the Resentful. Would he ask for his bride's hand by pulling out a freshly carved horse chestnut from the cow-bladder fanny pack he carries? And which would his intended appreciate more: the offer of eternal love or the promise of rotating his bodily weapons and pelts every couple of years? Isn't it romantic?
On the other hand, maybe that's the point. By comparison, our form of modern-day enlightenment--spiritual breakthrough via the miracles of consumer culture--becomes that much more enticing. With the explosion of the mass media in the last 100 years, the culture, for better or worse, richer or poorer, has a consumer foundation and superstructure.
Of course, the Ford Motor Co. not only has a seminal place in the marketing history of the 20th century, but it created a social and economic revolution. Before the invention of the Modelin 1903, there was no mass automobile market; cars were cranky, unreliable play things for the rich.
With the advent of a Modelfor the average Joe came highways and suburbs--and General Motors. But by reinventing the automobile manufacturing system and devising the assembly line, Henry Ford also revolutionized the American class system, giving birth to the middle-class factory worker (and a built-in market).
The power of the well-paid prole also spurred the development of the all-powerful industrial labor union, though Ford hated it.
His other personal failings notwithstanding (and there's a long list, starting with his virulent anti-Semitism), Ford's legacy to the modern industrial world--affordable cars and the assembly line--ranks pretty much up there with fire.
So, given a world of constant brand bombardment, it can't hurt for Ford to attempt to put a human face on the world's second-largest industrial company.
And with this spot it does. Indeed, before I saw it, I tended to have a very insulated, jingoistic vision of Ford. This warming to global imagery in advertising is nothing new, of course, going back to Coke's teaching the world to sing in the late '60s. In the early '90s, the territory got ceded to British Airways by dint of its fantastic "Face'' campaign and, obviously, to Benetton, with its constant parade of global hipsters of every hue.
Lately, most computer, delivery and telecommunications companies have gotten into the act. But what is new is that this mountaintop-meets- Benetton-nation imagery is coming from an automaker.
What I find interesting about the Ford commercial (which will be seen until the end of the year in one-minute form) is its focus on the human hand, given that old Henry himself brought the mechanized trade to manual laborers.
But the hand is endlessly fascinating as a graphic, and especially helpful as a symbol here, given that the spot is all about hellos and goodbyes, openings and closings.
Overall, there's a whole lot of pan-global exultation goin' on. You have to admire a client spending this much money, while having the cars appear so softly and organically in the shots--no voiceover, no claims, no repetition of brand name.
There are scenes of a hero's parade, lovers fighting and Asian people performing martial arts, but every time the spot seems to get too fake and stagey and obvious, the scene artfully dissolves to another scenario in another part of the world.
There's a death scene in Italy that is supposed to be a first--sorry, Benetton's already been there, showing a young man dying of AIDS. (But that was in print.) There's also a scene involving a hearing-impaired girl signing goodbye--which a cynic like me might view as just one more entry into the corporate diversity-compassion sweepstakes of the '90s.
There's no single image or idea that knocks you over; but it's the layering, the pacing and especially the haunting music that by the end are most affecting.
Indeed, the soundtrack is the real emotional hook. Australian Danny Beckerman's ballad is performed by soprano Charlotte Church, the 13-year old Welsh wunderkind whose album is now climbing the charts here. She's shot in modern-day angel garb, singing in a stone amphitheater near Land's End, England. I was waiting for the whole belief in angels-millennial craze to surface, but this is quite subtle. Little Charlotte in Fordland is genuinely moving. So are the pictures of clocks exploding.
While this Ford anthem is not groundbreaking, it certainly is beautiful. And it's built for the way we watch. K