Beauty And The Beast

Modernista! gets artful for Hummer’s kinder, gentler SUT

Does it matter that gas prices are frighteningly high or that environmentally aware, responsible, pious, Prius-leaning citizens and/or tasteful reverse-snobs in general see Hummer owners as totally lame? No. Because if the mega-success of the Republican National Convention is any indication, the cultural and political landscape has changed. Face it: It’s Hummer time, baby.

Post-convention, George W. Bush got a huge push in the polls. And the RNC’s biggest star? The omnipotent action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger. Burnished copper from head to toe (hair, skin, tie, suit), the Governator roared out on stage, his body just like a shiny orange Hummer—all muscle and taking up most of the road—and his self-deprecating humor making his quest for world domination more imminent.

His joke about “economic girly-men” became the most repeated line of the event, and it can go for eco-girly-men as well—those scared of a showing a big gas tank. According to the Boston Globe, Schwarzenegger, inspired by the Gulf War, “spent many months convincing AM General (a company bought up by GM in 1999) to produce these [U.S. military] vehicles for the public.” Not only was Schwarzenegger among the first civilians to own a Humvee, but it’s also reported that he recently purchased a battle tank.

And that got me thinking: Hey, why can’t I get a turret on top? It’s a whole new psychographic: For the apocalyptically minded, what’s the best accoutrement to have, next to your panic room? A place from which to blow away the bad guys or maybe, at least metaphorically, to threaten the sniveling, flip-flopping, sensitive, socially concerned, girly Kia-men out there on the road. (That means you too, Hyundai- and Saturn-men.)

Seriously, Hummers and even the slightly downsized H2s (which unfortunately share a snappy acronym with the not-so-snappy “Hollywood Squares”) are hugely polarizing vehicles in a hugely polarized cultural and political time. But the H2 SUT is not the Hummer or the H2. Even for people who don’t buy into the showdown/show-off sensibility, this new sport utility truck would seem to have more reason to live: It has a 7-foot bed, for sleeping in the great outdoors while protecting trees against loggers or hauling giant boxes of cheese around while doing community service.

Regardless, this latest Hummer H2 SUT spot from Modernista! is smart, artfully done, visually arresting and musically stirring. It cleverly avoids specifics: There are no voiceovers, no images of cigar-smoking drivers, no roads leading to McMansions. Rather, we get a cool kaleidoscopic overhead view of pieces of the truck coming together. The spot took several months to produce. With various Jackson Pollack-like drips and pieces flying and fitting together, it’s hypnotic—total hallucinatory eye candy for car-part fetishists. If it seems a tad reminiscent of “Colors,” Arnold’s breakthrough-beautiful introductory spot for the redesigned Volkswagen Beetle, which also featured kaleidoscopic overhead shots (for a car that is obviously at the other end of the psychographic spectrum), that’s because Lance Jensen, the copywriter, worked on both.

And that’s not even the coolest part of the H2 SUT spot. Modernista! is known for its great use of music, and this commercial features the hard, energetic space-rock guitar of Jack Drag, an indie guy from Boston. Every time the visuals get a little too trippy, the music drives us back to earth.

But speaking of trippy, a previous spot for the H2 is hallucinatory in a bad way. It makes Anna Nicole Smith look rational. Regis Philbin is hitching a ride. “How far is it to Miami?” he asks, sliding into the H2 next to the driver, a Brazilian underwear model who flubs her three words. I was told by a source (who might have been putting me on) that Regis, Joey Bishop’s loyal sidekick, a guy who loves the Mel Torme-ish standards, is “huge in the hip-hop community.” Oh. Then there’s a pullback to reveal that the Hummer is actually perched on the back of a yacht (like a helicopter, see?) leaving an Italian port filled with nasty, rich Euro-hipsters dancing.

The only way to understand the visual accident that was this spot is to see it through the lens of rappers, who delight in the heavy-handed, ostentatious, Versace-like bling of it. The opposite of P.C., they would, just like P. Diddy, love to have their suited man-servants shadowing them with a sun umbrella in St. Tropez.

A brilliant spot before that, using the Who’s “Happy Jack,” showed a soapbox derby, with the kid in the mini-version of the H2 going off-road (i.e., cheating) to impress a girl and win the race. While highly entertaining, it’s probably the most honest ad General Motors could have made—especially if you view the cheating as a metaphor for the tax-code loopholes available to SUV owners.

This H2 SUT spot has no narrative, just retinally engaging visuals, and is completely apolitical. The title card reads, “Transform yourself,” and the layers of cleverness become apparent: The shapes are like little boys’ transformer toys, robots turning into trucks and vice versa.

The spot suggests sheer playing pleasure —big toys for big boys. Although there was a great print ad early on showing a woman driving a Hummer in the city, with the tagline, “Intimidate men,” that sort of thing is no longer on the national agenda.

And the H2 SUT is reporting for duty.



Modernista!, Boston

Executive creative directors

Lance Jensen,

Gary Koepke

Associate creative directors

Shane Hutton,

Will Uronis

Art directors

Gary Koepke,

Will Uronis


Lance Jensen,

Shane Hutton

Agency producer

Charles Wolford

Production Co.


Curious Pictures