creative campaigns: Lemon Aid

Humorous spots put the truth back in used-car buying
The Martin Agency had a tough call developing its new $20 million TV and radio campaign for, an Internet database containing the histories of millions of used cars.
The Web site ( is designed to help consumers avoid purchasing a four-wheel catastrophe.
“As an advertising person, [the Web site] was a blessing,” says copywriter Raymond McKinney. “Everyone we talked to had been ripped off or was terrified of being ripped off.”
Unfortunately, that experience cuts both ways.
After initial brainstorming, McKinney and art director Ty Harper showed some straight-ahead concepts to focus groups and came up with lousy results. “People were reminded what a pain in the ass buying a used car can be,” says McKinney. “They were turned off or creeped out.”
That’s when group creative director Hal Tench decided that Carfax’s broad appeal dictated another approach.
“If you take wide cuts, people want over the top,” he says. “As long as it’s connected to something that’s relevant, you can’t be over the top enough.” The spots broke last week.
After dozens of false starts, Harper and McKinney went back to their original idea: “Well, what if a dog was driving and his owner had been on the farm too long all by himself ”
The execution of that concept, as directed by Bruce Hurwitt, is hilarious, memorable and intrusive–especially for a startup client.
A second spot, in which a grim-faced granny demolishes her sedan as she tries to back out of a garage, is effective but as subtle as a jackhammer. The third, an over-the-top takeoff on the old turning-back-the-odometer scam, suggests a Lexus commercial directed by Leslie Nielsen.
After each ad, a voiceover says: “People do strange things to cars. That why there’s Carfax. We give you the real history of used cars.”
Creating the spots for the Fairfax, Va.-based client, a subsidiary of automotive market research
company R.L. Polk, generated some interesting challenges. Neither McKinney nor Harper had much on-the-ground production experience.
They soon discovered that an actor–any actor– can be flighty. In “Dog,” the “motivation” that drives the pickup-driving hound and its cringing master off the road and into a pond is a phalanx of ducks.
“The problem was that after you chase [the ducks] two or three times, they know you’re not gonna kill them,” says Harper. “And then they refused to cooperate. They just stood around.”
On the other hand, not having to define and differentiate a parity product from dozens of competitors drove the humans to flights of fancy.
In “Backwards,” a shrieking driver travels in reverse down a twisting country road in an attempt to turn back his car’s odometer. “Let’s have him drive through some sheep,” director Hurwitt decided after reviewing the boards. Sure enough, some impactful stunt sheep were located.
“We had all these animals, ad libs, wrecked cars and backwards driving,” Harper says. “It was like we were 14 years old again.
“Once the client bought the idea of a dog driving, we were home free,” grins Harper. K
The Martin Agency
Richmond, Va.
Group Creative Director
Hal Tench
Art Director
Ty Harper
Raymond McKinney
Judy Wittenberg
Bruce Hurwitt
Production House
Crossroads Films
Los Angle