Barbara Lippert’s Critique

An average Joe who grows a car on his head. The other shows an anxious fellow licking the keyhole of the last silver VW on a dealer’s lot to keep other inter ested parties at bay. If these two new Volks wagen spots seem cruder and much less transcendent than the usual magical, category-leading work, that’s because they are dealer spots.

Dealer spots are among the industry’s bottom feeders. They’re there to scream, “Get down here now, because we’re givin’ ’em away!” during the off-season—so any non-screamer, no matter how lame or dated, is, by comparison, artful.

That would appear to be the case with the recent local Lexus dealers’ commercials, which recommend giving the luxury car as a gift. The shocked recipients include a college-age girl whose parents first tell her she’s getting a CD player. (She’s at least 18, and she doesn’t yet have a Lexus?) Each gift receiver finally gets the picture after spying the Lexus in the driveway. It’s submerged under a humongous, roof-concealing bow—which, as a device, was corny even 50 years ago, when it was used to dress up the Maytags on Queen for a Day.

In the VW spots, no single model is promoted or mentioned. You’re supposed to feel warm about the family of Volks wagens.

One spot starts out like a parody of a PSA (Fox Sports Net did something similar a while back with the spot where a guy neglects to help his fallen grand father). “This is Doug McDonald,” we’re told as a guy gets out of bed in the morning. “Doug is a normal, healthy man. We see him in his pajamas in the bathroom, shaving. But there’s something different about Doug.” He looks at himself in the mirror, and he has a matchbook-sized car growing out of his forehead.

By the time he’s at his office, the auto-postule is the size of a 1995 cell phone. By dinner, the mass of steel and wheels has grown to the size of a large, fetching metallic chapeau, tilted at a rakish angle on the side of his head. “There’s something that’s on his mind,” the announcer says, “and the sooner he deals with it, the better he’ll be.” Then the title card pops up: “Doug, just get the VW.”

Many people spend time dreaming about a certain car, so I understand the nudge. But the head thing hurts. Symbolically, and sometimes in our dreams, the head is the center of creativity and fertility, and things grow there. In the mythological world, Zeus gave birth to Athena through his head. In the world of advertising, however, growths on the head are rarely a good thing.

This was demonstrated dramatically in the dark British movie How to Get Ahead in Advertising, in which a stressed-out creative genius fails to come up with a proper phrase for a pimple cream. Soon, a pimple on his neck grows until it becomes a hairy, filthy troll who screams lewd epithets. That’s a lot to carry around.

The second spot has its creepy moments too, but it works better. Open on a VW lot, where a younger Jerry Seinfeld-style guy is on his cell phone. “Get down here real fast,” he says. “They got the silver one.”

He’s standing in front of the car, proprietarily, when he spots a couple with the dealer, who’s pointing at said car and heading toward it with the key. Then the world moves in slow mo: They can’t take the car away from him; he can’t allow it. Desperately, he leans down and licks the keyhole. They stop in their tracks, disgusted.

OK kids, I won’t even go near the imagery of applying tongue to keyhole. I guess it could have been worse: He could have decided to mark the territory like a dog. But we can all understand the impulse to save the last really great something for a friend.

The spots are mildly amusing, and they don’t scream, and they don’t offer 0 percent financing as an act of patriotism. But why can’t they transcend the usual dumbness of dealer spots? As low as the joke is, though, I’d take a piece of steel on my head over a giant bow any day.