NAD Takes Mercedes to Task

DETROIT Mercedes-Benz should discontinue an ad in which a crash sled is repelled after slamming into the side of its GL Class SUV, the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus said after reviewing commercials for the vehicles.

The NAD took issue with a 15-second spot that shows the sled strike the vehicle’s side panel and bounce off, causing no damage, as apparently amazed “engineers” look on.

The ad, via Merkley + Partners in New York, is part of a campaign that also includes a houseful of furniture being unloaded from the back of a GL (to portray generous space), and the GL igniting pylons as it cruises through a driving course (representing rapid handling).

While a full-disclosure tag accompanies the crash sled ad, informing viewers that actual side impact tests cause “significant” body damage, the NAD ruled that a typical consumer might not grasp that the crash is metaphorical.

“NAD appreciates that humor can be an effective and creative means for an advertiser to highlight its product attributes and performance capabilities. However, humor does not relieve an advertiser of its obligation to support implied performance messages reasonably implied from humorous depictions,” the decision reads.

“I do respect the [NAD’s] job, but in my mind, this leaves no room for interpretation,” said Alex Gellert, managing director at Merkley. “I think it is clear that the people who are our target are used to a certain amount of liberty in a commercial . . . but this isn’t even liberty, this is over-the-top. And it is very obvious that it is over-the-top.”

“It is farcical, and anyone seeing the spots can tell that it’s hyperbole,” said Mercedes representative Donna Boland. “The typical consumer is smart enough to know that this is not a serious ad. We have received no customer calls on this ad. “

The average education level for a GL consumer is “grad level, and tends to be pretty savvy,” she said. Boland added that the spot in question has not run nationally since June.

Mercedes was given a choice before the NAD’s action to agree in writing to fully withdraw the ad from any potential broadcast and refused, countered Andrea Levine, director of NAD.

“If they represent in writing that they will never use this depiction in the future, we have the discretion to close the case,” Levine said. “In this situation, they were not willing to commit, and we were troubled by the future and wanted to review [the ad].”