Valvoline Gets Philosophical in Gritty Ads Aimed at DIYers and Car Buffs

Your motivational ride is here

Do philosophy and motor oil mix?

Valvoline does its darnedest to find out in ads that fuse gritty, documentary-style car, truck and motorcycle footage with voice recordings of British philosopher Alan Watts and American author, motivational speaker and media personality Les Brown.

Watts’ metaphysical musings on the nature of time and space fuel the first spot, “Run,” in which he asserts, “There is rhythm and there is motion. You can’t catch hold of it. You can’t describe it. But you can imagine. And so, the clock is just like a ruler, and is as abstract as a ruler. And time then obviously is a way of measuring motion.”

Watts, you may recall, did time in commercials last year, voicing an appeal for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a lobbying group. His weighty words seemed more in sync with that message, which dealt with issues of life and death, than they do for Valvoline, which lubricates internal combustion engines.

Still, his voiceover provides a poetic counterpoint to the moody cinematography. It piques our interest, though still seems a bit out of place.

Brown fares better in the next ad, “Jet,” his rousing spirit and rising inflection more attuned to the racetrack/gearhead ethos as he asks, “What are you afraid of? What are you scared of? … You can have fears. but don’t surrender. Don’t let your fears have you.”

Developed by agency Big in Birmingham, Ala., and featuring the tagline “Never Idle,” the work targets car enthusiasts and DIYers “who are always looking to do more, to get better, and to get the most of their rides,” Valvoline vp of marketing Jamal Muashsher tells AdFreak.

The speeches by Watts and Brown, Muashsher believes, “captured the spirit of individuals the brand serves every day.”

Hey, at least it’s not the same old vroom-vroom-keeps-your-car-tuned copy coming down the pike.

“Authenticity was essential in how we approached these spots,” says Muashsher, “so we took a different track in our casting selection. The directive was to find real DIYers and car buffs that actually get their hands dirty and are passionate about what they love.”

To that end, “all of the people that appear in the spots are either motorcycle riders, drift racers, motocross racers—or they work to rebuild vehicles of their own,” he says.

This led to some fun and challenges during the shoot in the streets of Los Angeles.

“We worked with a local gentleman who was part of a low-rider club,” recalls Big producer Dan Atchison. “They held an event just for our crew, and when we arrived, we had over 50 cars to select from. The shoot stalled, interestingly enough, because of an impromptu rap concert in the parking lot with some of the club’s members. When filming, sometimes you simply have to roll with it. We moved around and shot in a run-and-gun style, using as much natural light as possible—which lent itself to the organic and authentic feel we were going for.”

Client: Valvoline
Agency: Big
Chief Creative Officer: Ford Wiles
Director, Agency: Brian Curtin
Mark Ervin, Chief Brand Officer
Associate Creative Director: Matt Harris
Producer, Agency: Dan Atchison
Account Supervisors: Nathan Stuckey & Mary Jane Cleage
ValvolineTM Vice President of Marketing: Jamal Muashsher
Production Company: Variable
Director: Salomon Ligthelm
Producer: Alex Friedman
Director of Photography: Kate Arizmendi
Editor: Brian Curtin
Colorist: Mikey Rossiter
Sound Design: Gavin Little, Echolab

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.