Creative: Brave New World – The Fine Art Of Supercharging A Print Campaign

Hal Riney & Partners’ winning MPA Kelly Award entry is as revolutionary in concept and design as the product it promotes: the EV1, the new electric car from General Motors.
Mysterious, disorienting, quirky and haunting, the campaign is like no other advertising in the category and has won a shelf full of awards, including a One Show gold Pencil and a D&AD silver. Yet, like another acclaimed auto campaign that has yet to prove itself in terms of metal moved-TBWA Chiat/Day’s Nissan ads-GM concedes that the effort for the New Age two-seater has sold only 176 cars as of May. Like Nissan, the Riney work is a bold attempt to create something revolutionary in the category, as well as establish the idea of the electric car in the consumer’s mind.
“To get someone to consider a new technology, you have to communicate that technology in a completely new way,” says Riney consultant John Doyle, who art-directed the effort. Hence the introductory campaign’s unusual approach. With the car a barely decipherable silver blur, five print executions portray a world where nothing is as it seems and the product is cast not in the role of hero but as extra. Contemplative, haiku-like copy replaces the usual technical jargon.
In one ad, a scarecrow in an empty field seems to lean forward, as if fascinated by the far-off car. Another shows a street with four human shadows standing as if turned to stone, a portion of sheet metal in the corner. Others feature the reflection of sky in a puddle, or willowy reeds against a wash of pale-blue light. Each is accompanied by sparse copy, such as “You will never again use the words ‘Fill ‘er up.’ Or ‘check the oil.’ . . . You will simply say, ‘Unplug the car and let’s go.'”
Doyle, known for his work for Timberland, Dunham Boots and Akva Mineral Water, signed on to the EV1 project in spring 1996 after Riney creative director David O’Hare called and dangled the idea. At the time, Doyle was creative director of integrated marketing on IBM at Ogilvy & Mather, New York. “I thought John was the best print AD in the country,” says O’Hare. “His stuff looked like he sweated the details. He paid attention to type and how it affects mood.”
The EV1 team-Doyle, O’Hare, executive CD Steve Sweitzer and photographer Nadav Kander-set out to create what Doyle calls “theater of the mind.” Doyle adds: “The aim was to create a stream of consciousness about what it’s like to drive the electronic car-a totally different sensory experience because the car is silent.”
The first mass-produced electric car on the market, the EV1, which cost $350 million to develop and is distributed by GM’s Saturn division, became available late last year in the West. Part of a media campaign that included TV, newspapers, outdoor, brochures and other promotions, the print had to suggest just how unconventional driving the electric car was.
O’Hare based the ad copy on how the car would change people’s lives and vocabulary. The decision not to show the vehicle in detail but just to suggest the idea of it grew out of conversations O’Hare had about the car. When describing to others the EV1’s attributes, such as the quietness of the engine or how the battery worked, people could only focus on the idea of the car being electric. “To go into details meant it would be judged in terms of conventional cars,” says O’Hare. “We didn’t want that. We were selling a new technology, so the ads [had] to be disorienting, a little like sensory deprivation.”
But how to pull it off? Doyle immediately thought of Kander, with whom he’d worked on Amnesty International ads. In London, the South African-born photographer is a star. Shooting last summer in Utah, Washington and Iowa, Kander used seven colors instead of three and processed the photos himself with extraordinary results. Focus groups confirmed the team was on the right track and, in December 1996, the ads began appearing in high-profile publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, among others.
“It’s a wonderful solution for something so new and unfamiliar,” says Jeff Goodby, a partner in Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. “It took great advantage of the kind of spooky, unrealistic nature of electric cars. It would have been too much to stop and explain all the details. Instead, it had to get us to step through the looking glass.”
Though the distribution of the electric car will soon be increased, the EV1 was not designed to be an immediate best-seller. “Of course, it matters that the public embraces this concept,” says Doyle. “But the technically savvy already have. This is part of a slow buildup. There’s an infrastructure of change that needs to be put in place, and the cars are still evolving. Even if we get just a small number right now, the aim is to sustain the communication.” The details can wait till later.