Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Jeep Rocks The ’70s

Hey, is it 1977 or something? There was nary an 8-track or “golden harvest” shag rug in sight the night I saw this Jeep Liberty commercial on network TV. Nevertheless, it provoked the oddest retro-nostalgic reaction in me: a genuine laugh. In response to a bunch of goofy animal tricks done on green screen (no CG!), backed by a super-corny karaoke-like soundtrack, yup, I actually guffawed.

The overall feel was Disney meets Babe for the not-so-rugged urban couch-warrior set. There’s a big surprise at the end, and it’s refreshing and appealing at a time when we could all sure use a laugh.

So thanks, Jeep Liberty and its newest agency, Cutwater, for “Pouring In,” the spot that follows the giant sandbox commercial that ushered in the tagline “Have fun out there.” It’s a theme that suggests you don’t necessarily have to be communing with the elements to get back to the elemental idea of fun.

Perhaps the ’70s resonates so heavily in “Pouring In” because it opens with a shot of a thirtysomething guy driving his “new all Jeep” 2008 Liberty, listening to the ultimate bubblegum teen-pop radio entry of that era: “Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim. For the Kim aficionados among us, the Canadian crooner also co-wrote “Sugar Sugar” a major hit for The Archies. (“Sugar, ah honey honey. You are my candy girl, and you’ve got me wanting you.”)

Actually, “Rock Me Gently” is worse than “Sugar Sugar” because it has pretensions of non-bubblegum, country-music greatness. (“Ain’t it good, ain’t it right, that you are with me/Here tonight, the music playing, your body swayin’ in time….”)

Thankfully, the sheer annoyingness of the song is interrupted when, out of nowhere, a squirrel drops into the passenger seat, then stands up and sings with incredible presence, like a teeny tenor at the Met.

He’s joined shortly by two birds, who sing along in harmony, if not exactly on key. (Hey, it happens.) One of them looks as if she’s perched on the driver’s shoulder, just like a scene out of Snow White or Brer Rabbit. (Zip-a-dee-doo-dah!) By the way, all this cleverly sells the 4 x 4’s new “Sky Slider” feature—a moonroof that looks large enough to allow all creatures great and small in for a cheesy stanza or two, or perhaps a pizza.

What makes the spot a grabber, however, is the unexpected arrival of the wolf. He sits up in the backseat, and, true to his nature, scarfs down one of the birds. The rest of the passengers, now a communion of man, rodent and avian beast doing their version of On the Road, give him a communal look of, “Dude, that is so not cool!”

I never thought a spit-out scene had much dramatic potential, but the second shocker here really makes the spot: With a “bwyahhh” the wolf ejects the bird from his mouth, just like Sylvester spitting out Tweety Bird. Wolfie never loses a beat, though, and starts baying at the moonroof immediately, singing “Baby! Baby!” The sight is so hilarious that we don’t really have time to be grossed out.

Of course, showing what comes naturally to a wolf—but then cleaning it up with funny fake editing—is a sort of genius subliminal way to deal with the whole environmental issue: It makes the gas-guzzling car seem green, but not holier-than-thou.

A second spot, “On Road/Off Road,” gets more of a smile than an actual yuk, but it’s still smart and beautifully produced. Timing is key in terms of the perfect comic execution, and it’s the disconnect that makes it work. As the car heads down a desert highway, an announcer starts describing the SUV— “smooth ride with more comfortable seats”—but the car has a mind of its own and won’t behave: It keeps swerving off road. Like an embarrassed parent, the announcer keeps trying to get back in synch with the vehicle, but the naughty Liberty won’t play along.

Overall, the sense of humanity and emotion combined with intelligence suggests a definite Volkswagen in the mid to late-’90s vibe. The print work goes one step further, however, and suggests the famous DDB Volkswagen work from the 1960s. There’s a series of long copy ads, featuring a picture of the car and a headline that ties in with the nature theme: “The lug nuts don’t fall far from the tree,” for example.

There’s also synchronicity with Jeep.com, where a micro-site by Organic features the wolf, a bird and the squirrel. Unfortunately, the page is still loading on my laptop—but there are cute silhouettes to watch and some loading jokes along the way. I understand that users can make each animal sing about specific features. (The wolf sings about the moonroof.)

The campaign mixes a sampling of American pop culture along with the Jeep “¿Quien es mas macho?” heritage.

It gives the Liberty a real personality, and makes a viewer want to seek out adventure— even if it’s just opening the moonroof and listening to the birdies in your head.