Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Commercials for cars

I like commercials.


I know it's a bit odd, but I do - or, rather, I like good commercials. I recognize that, like a haiku, it's easy to cram content into a minimal form, but to work within the confines of a very limiting medium, and still produce something compelling .... it's an accomplishment. I think that car commercials, possibly because there are so many of them on TV, end up occupying both ends of the spectrum in large numbers. Ford has produced some pretty craptastic ads of late, like the ones for the Mercury Milan featuring a woman in a leather vest (which sounds much more exciting than it is). Of course, local car dealership commercials (with stock footage of the vehicle in question) manage to be almost painfully bad, and yet not so awful to be interesting or amusing - they just suck.

On to better things.

First, the Honda Cog spot. This is a few years old, and you've probably seen it already - a Rube Goldberg contrivance using Honda parts. It's wonderful to watch, and a great example of a good ad. A good ad saunters up to the sixty seconds it has, stretches out, relaxes, and comfortably fills the space, managing to convey enough information to be appealing without feeling rushed.

And then there's the spot that prompted me to make this entry: This gorgeous spot for Shell gasoline:

Here's the thing. I'm a car guy. I'm fascinated by cars, and I think they're great. And, for me, this commercial is compelling on an almost visceral level. I can close my eyes, turn up the speakers, and listen to the engine go from the raucous burble of the vintage Ferrari to the unearthly howl of a modern Formula 1 car, and it's all Very Good. But I'm curious - is it just me? Is this commercial at all interesting to someone who sees cars as appliances? [NB - I'm not denigrating that position in the least - I'm just curious to know if this commercial is compelling for car people, or just compelling.] If you'd like a higher-res version, just download this clip.(QuickTime required). It's slightly different from the YouTube clip, but also excellent. If you do download the clip, it's worth watching a couple of times for all the details - the subtle cues to the evolution of the car; the lens flare between the buildings in NYC, the puff of steam from the cabbie's coffee, and, around 0:43, there's a great shot of the steering wheel -- no longer a three-spoke handle to steer the car, but a hunk of carbon fiber - a driver interaction center bristling with knobs, dials and switches. Craziness. Anyway, there's a neat deconstruction of the commercial here.

It looks like Partizan, the group responsible for the Shell spot, has a pretty good record with car commercials; they're responsible for this automotive eye candy, too.-- a lovely spot for the Audi R8, complete with haunting soundtrack by Simone White. I like this one because ... well, I think most people don't think about how cars are made. Or if they do think about it, the thinking is something like "they come out of factories, like pens and aluminum siding, right?" I think that this commercial captures the way that, even today, passion can be captured in the building of a car.

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