Critique: An American Evolution

In case the thought of rockin’ out with Dick Clark on New Year’s Eve was just too darn depressing, you missed, among other things, the Black Eyed Peas singing “Shut Up.” When Dick wasn’t shivering inside his special booth in the East, the camera jumped to our West Coast hosts, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. They had something up their sleeves. (No, not chicken of the sea—already played out. And not a kiss—so dated and hetero.) Rather, in the new year’s first giant product placement, the couple made a grand entrance in an SSR, Chevrolet’s fabulously bizarre-looking new pickup roadster.

During the next 20 months, Chevrolet will roll out 10 car and truck models, along with a wide-reaching ad campaign that uses the new tagline, “An American revolution.” (The pickups will still use “Like a rock.”) New Year’s Rockin’ Eve was entirely sponsored by Chevy, and sometime mid-rock, the automaker broke its blockbuster introductory 60-second spot, “Car Carrier.”

Directed by major action guy Michael Bay, it’s pretty sizzling and cinematic (a two-minute version will run in movie theaters). “Car Carrier” begins like a heist picture, kind of like when George Clooney’s character gets out of jail at the beginning of Ocean’s Eleven and starts assembling his crew by visiting each in his native habitat; then they all eventually team up to pull off the next big job. In this, the automotive cousin of the heist film, the car carrier rolls across the country, attracting a handpicked assortment of new models. A Corvette speeds off a steamy assembly line, straight onto the back of the carrier; then, while playing lookout from a perch on the West Coast, a red Aveo spots the boss and moves into action, hopping on at top speed in the middle of a city street. Ditto the red Colorado truck, racing over mountains and valleys in order to join up.

Meanwhile, the music—a remix of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”—moves up. There are sparks as the carrier drops its metal ramp for the cars to load, and since we see no human drivers inside, the vehicles themselves become human, and seem to communicate through their intense headlights. Finally, a yellow SSR (the Jessica and Nick admobile) comes out of nowhere, does a 180 at top speed, right behind the trailer, and backs onboard. With all the moving parts, there’s lots of excitement and suspense. But while the backward turn is something, I was imagining a bigger payoff—through a tunnel to another tunnel to hop on an aircraft carrier and then to Mars, maybe. But the commercial does make the cars look fantastic, so I give it an A-.

A nice thing about the entire campaign is the diversity of actors. They are homogenized in that they are all seemingly 21 and gorgeous, but at the same time, they are gorgeous African Americans and Asians and Hispanics and American Indians—this is Chevy, and they are the new America. One such group cruises by in its ’66 Chevelle SS convertible at the end of “Car Carrier.” It’s a nod to the brand’s Dinah Shore, see-the-USA past, but it’s also the future, on the road with the Benetton 5.

In “Car Carrier,” a big and swaggering spot, Bay brings his usual orange-plus level of testosterone to what he does. So it’s cool that “My Man,” a Bryan Buckley-directed spot for the Colorado, fools around with notions of gender. It, too, features a perfectly diverse bunch of guys, riding along in their truck, two in front and three in back. The middle guy starts singing along with the radio, losing himself while belting out Shania Twain’s “Feel Like a Woman.” It’s not revolutionary—certainly, Special K pulled the same switcheroo with “I have my mother’s thighs; I have to accept that,” but not to sell a truck. And it’s fun to watch the scruffed-up fellow cabbers get progressively creeped out. The voiceover—”If you’re ever uncomfortable, it won’t be for lack of space”—is clever.

“Soap,” which will break in six weeks, was also shot by Buckley and is entirely original—it’s a new idea for any category. Featuring interesting-looking kids in quirkily art-directed settings, it’s sophisticated but shocking—each kid is practically gagged, gamely looking at the camera with his or her mouth stuffed with a bar of soap. Didn’t washing a kid’s mouth out with soap go out with, like, girdles? How did such throwback cruelty-to-kids get on the air? Eventually, a kid is shown outside his front door with his mother while in the neighboring driveway a guy prepares to take off in his SSR, pulling back the clam-shell roof. It’s a pretty jaw-dropping sight, watching the vehicle go from truck to cool convertible roadster, and the kid says, “Oh, sh … ” (A motor revs over the “it” ending.) Cut to the “sh” kid sitting at the kitchen table, mouth stuffed with a bar of soap.

No actual children were harmed during the filming of this commercial (the soap is plastic). The spot is funny in a mordant, Malcolm in the Middle-ish way.

“An American revolution” is overstating the case, but this campaign does manage to merge the feeling of the old heartbeat-of-America vignette stuff, the previous spots—which used rock ‘n’ roll songs featuring Chevy lyrics—and something idea-based and fresh, and gives a solid jolt to the American bloodstream. But I hope it didn’t get Dick too worked up—he has to preside over next year’s rockin’ eve.