Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Larger Than Life

Welcome back to Dodgeland, where the men are testosterone-tested (100 percent pure man, that’s fer sher) and the women are … child-abusing maniacs?

For fun, a new commercial called “Teddy” seems to want to top the classic no-wire-hangers moment with a little bunny burning. And actually, a Mommie Dearest reference doesn’t seem that outlandish for Dodge, a brand that has thrived on provocation during the last few years. The ads gleefully grab life, not to mention bad taste, by the horns. The classic example, of course, was the spot that showed two black guys at a urinal as one says, “Mine is seven inches longer.” (He meant his Durango.) A Super Bowl spot showed a guy vomiting a plug of beef jerky onto the truck’s windshield (that’s stopping power). Then there was the animated commercial with a kid urinating on the logo. … Need I go on?

So, I have to admit, the first 20 seconds of “Teddy” really got me going. I was prepared to be outraged.

It opens on your basic youngish, good-looking, slightly frazzled, multitasking suburban mom standing in her driveway next to her Dodge Caravan and removing a toy teddy bear from its packaging. She proceeds to beat the stuffing (and everything else) out of it. She gets her vehicle involved in the massacre—assault with a deadly van—as she mercilessly wallops the bear, running it over, banging a fold-down seat on its sad, limp body, etc. As mesmerizing as this freakout scene is, when this apparently loony woman pulls one of the animal’s eyes out, I almost had to look away—the poor little bear is such a powerful and poignant metaphor for a child.

I was hoping it was going to be some sort of message about preventing child abuse (that even attractive soccer moms with minivans are capable of it). Instead, the creators turn on a dime (one of the few product benefits not demonstrated here), and the mom goes from heinous to hero in less than six seconds. She picks up her daughter at school and tells her to look in the (ever-clever, practical) toy box built into the floor of the back seat. “You found Teddy!” the girl says.

Most parents have tried a similar thing, and it usually doesn’t work: In real life, either the kid discovers the difference and screams more or the truth comes out 30 years later, resulting in the now-adult child feeling betrayed and hating you. (One out of every five sitcom episodes revolves around the latter scenario.)

But the spot has a fine-looking topper—the pummeled bear rides proudly, protected and seat-belted, next to the obviously cared-for kid. And it’s certainly a fresh demo— the interior features look good and are clearly child-friendly. My only worry is that crazed moms may relate a bit too much.

But we leave them and move on to man country. And really, isn’t that the best place to park a truck named the “Dodge Ram Mega Cab”?

As it turns out, this spot draws on the basic American tall tale of Paul Bunyan (so the size jokes can be somewhat less disturbing). Five guys on a fishing trip (the Ram is hauling a boat) pull into Paul’s Pancake House, which is flanked by a 40-foot statue of our giant among giants. We are immediately struck by the legendary lumberjack’s immense, immobile head.

I’ve written before about the sudden popularity of giant plasticized heads in advertising. As with the pinky-ringed King for Burger King and the white-wigged Quaker guy, there’s something about the eerie stillness of the Paul Bunyan face here that packs a punch and stirs emotion, if not the creeps. Using a plasticized face is a way of taking a conventional sight and layering it over with irony. (A giant Paul Bunyan was also one of the visual gags in the movie Fargo: The two idiot hitmen go to the Blue Ox Motel to meet up with hookers.)

Here, Paul boasts the same sort of Luciano Pavarotti-style beard and eyebrows that seem so extra pervy on the King. It’s funny (and with the dark music, vaguely ominous) that the spot is shot from Paul’s point of view. The crew look tiny as they go inside for their flapjacks (a basic part of the whole Bunyan myth, when he wasn’t eating 40 bowls of porridge). And just so the Ram gets its due (“the world’s biggest cab”), and perhaps as a homage to previous Dodge spots, one of the flannel-shirted diners inside, who appears to be straight out of Deliverance, stares out the window at the red Ram and, with his mouth full of food, says, “Geez, that’s a big truck!”

By the time the would-be fishermen finish their pancakes and walk outside, the giant Ram is gone. Speaking of parental abuse, and though the story is that he rescued her once, the lumberman leaves his ox behind. (It’s a shame, though, because Babe would have looked great riding shotgun.)

Yes, perhaps beginning a search for more mahogany-shaded Just for Men, Paul B. has taken the Ram and hit the road. The final shot is hilarious: He’s speeding along with his enormous ax firmly entrenched in the rear bed. (Still, about 59 feet of the handle dangles off the bed, and a tiny super flashes the phrase, “Safely secure all cargo.”)

Both spots are funny, memorable and offer unexpected demos. And needless to say, they sure beat the tar out of showing regurgitated beef jerky.



Dodge

Agency

BBDO Detroit

Chief creative officers

Bill Morden,

Gary Topolewski

Creative directors

Rick Dennis,

Sam Sefton

Art directors

Tim Teegarden, Jason Oswalt

Copywriters

John Curtis,

Earl Buck,

David Colucci



Director of broadcast

production

Hugh Broder

Executive producer

Mike Menlo

Production co.

@radical.media

Director

Rick Lemoine

Editing co.

Mad River Post