Autumn’s Fall From Grace

The World Series failed to deliver memorable sports spots this year, and Halloween, usually a holiday that brings gripping goblins and ghouls to advertising, gave us only one ultra-pale, glowing sunbather-turned-ghost for Corona. But music, merriment and just plain old information delivered in easy-to-digest, entertaining style produced the best spots of October.

Let’s begin with the straight-up informative spot of the month. After the iPhone’s intro ads touted the super mobile’s unique touch features and small size, it makes sense to now show how people are using it. These new Errol Morris-directed spots keep the black background that we’ve grown accustomed to, but use real people to add a personal touch.

In “Meredith,” a guy relays how the sleek device gets him and his girlfriend out of a potential social mishap. Just before meeting his girlfriend’s boss and his fiancee for dinner, they realize they don’t remember her name. So the boyfriend discreetly uses the phone’s Internet capability to browse the couple’s wedding Web site. They learn her name just in time and are able to say hello properly when the boss walks in.

As the spot comes to a close, it’s revealed that the boyfriend is relating this story not on a sound stage—where most Apple ads are shot—but outside, in front of a black sheet. While there’s no explanation for this, it does help to humanize the phone and make the technology less threatening by taking the pitch outside an antiseptic studio and onto the streets.

Set design also plays a role in an inventive Lexus ad, directed by Stylewar, that features a giant pop-up book in which the luxury RX utility vehicle is the lead character. Each copy point is accentuated with a moving element, set in motion by oversized paper levers pulled to give the story action. As stagehands flip open a book titled The Safest Accident, our narrator tells us its not the car parts that save the day, as rocks fall off a cliff onto the hood of the car, and a taxi skids on black ice. “You see, the safest accident,” he tells us as the book’s pages turn to show the car parked unharmed at home, “is the one that never happens.” He directs viewers online to learn more about the car’s “14 actively-safe features.”

A Lincoln ad uses New Orleans as a backdrop to sell its MKX. Harry Connick Jr. drives the car through his hometown giving viewers a tour of the post-Katrina city. He points out Bourbon Street, where he had his first gig, St. Louis Cathedral, the church in which he got married, and the street where he used to live. “Wow, first time I’ve seen it with no house on it,” he says.

I know I’m supposed to hate this commercial. These types of spots usually reek of emotional manipulation. And yes, Lincoln is piggybacking on tragedy, but it’s done discreetly and respectfully. The car takes a backseat to the story—it just happens to be the car he’s driving—and its features are highlighted by his actions, not an overbearing voiceover. For example, his tour is briefly interrupted when he picks up a call with a press of a dashboard button. Connick’s narration feels honest, and images of the city’s citizens trying to rebuild and preserve its rich culture are stirring despite the underlying pitch.

My favorite car spot of the month, however, came from a Jeep feel-good animal sing-along. Yes, singing animals are an easy bet, but there’s a reason for that: If done well, it connects with a smile. And this menagerie makes me laugh out loud. How can you not appreciate a singing, clapping squirrel?

In the spot, a man is driving the new Liberty while listening to the ’70s hit “Rock Me Gently” when a squirrel drops in through the moonroof. He stands right up on his hind legs and starts singing along. After a brief hesitation, the driver gets comfortable with the unusual company and joins the squirrel. A couple of birds join in, too. The Snow White-like sing-along merrily continues until a wolf drops in and gulps down one of the birds. But the goodwill of the moment prevails. The predator spits the bird out and picks up the tune, delivering one of the funniest moments in the spot with a full-throttle, “baby, baby!” as he and the crew launch into the chorus.

It’s a charming spot that highlights the product’s defining feature, the moonroof, with an uplifting story borrowed from animated classics. It’s also an imaginative take on one of the most enjoyable aspects of driving-singing along to blasting music as you enjoy the open road.