MasterCard “Summer’

Marlon Brando (in his Wild One incarnation) wearing pleated slacks? John Wayne clad in Capri pants as he swings up onto a horse in one of his Westerns? An oddball spot for MasterCard (via McCann Erickson) invites us to imagine such unlikely spectacles as it shows these and other pop-culture icons (Marilyn Monroe, Carlos Santana and the Ramones) wearing the jeans in which we know they actually appeared. The idea is to publicize a summer promotion for MasterCard in which you can win a free trip, plus a pair of jeans to break in while you’re on the road. Let’s concede that the spot has its hands full in making sense of the “Break in Your Jeans” promotion, given the absence of any innate connection between MasterCard and denim. But I wonder if the spot makes life harder for itself by giving an ironic tone to the voiceover and onscreen supers, as when it says (while showing Brando), “One pair of pleated pants: I don’t think so.” Characters like Brando, Wayne and Monroe remain alive in the public mind as paragons of authenticity in part because they pre-date the Age of Irony we now inhabit. (Nobody’s going to make a commercial 30 years from now built around the idea that it would be absurd to imagine Stephen Colbert wearing pleated khaki Capri pants.) It’s understandable that MasterCard wants to sustain the familiar rhetorical formula of its advertising (here’s an item: here’s the price) as it builds up to saying, “The perfect pair of jeans: priceless.” Still, one doesn’t come away feeling that MasterCard has succeeded in aligning itself with the legendary characters the spot has displayed. –Mark Dolliver