Today's installment of Moneybox marks the beginning of a new, regular feature: The Ad Report Card. As the name suggests, it's a review of a current ad, or series of ads, or set of related ads. After all, ads are much more widely seen, yet are subject to far less critical appraisal, than, say, a typical Broadway musical. The Ad Report Card, appearing Mondays, will do its small part to rectify this curious state of affairs. Whenever possible, we'll also share or link to the ads so you can judge them for yourself.
The debut installment concerns a series of ads from Mitsubishi, in particular an ad for the Eclipse. All the ads discussed below can be viewed at a Web site called Adcritic.com, which requires you to download Quicktime software: "Love at First Sight," "Chat Room," "Gracious Winner," and "Squirrels."
The Ad: "Love at first sight," muses the knowing and mischievous voice of a male announcer of a recent series of ads. "What's that based on?" The imagery is black and white, and vague: An urban cafe shot, some good-looking young folks, and ... ah, a car, it's an ad for a car. Funky music builds slowly in the background.
The announcer (Grooveman, let's call him) continues: "Have you ever looked at someone and said, 'Check her out, she looks loyal'? Or, 'Whoa, look at the morals on that guy'? No. Love at first sight is based on something else." (A moment of silence and the screen goes dark.) "Sight!" (Burst of jazzy horns, from the Average White Band's "Pick Up the Pieces.") And here is the Mitsubishi Eclipse, a sleek little vehicle. "You'll even love what's on the inside," says Grooveman, with a wink in his voice.
What It's Trying To Say: Like other ads in this Mitsubishi series, this one strives for a sort of knowing tone, as in: Come off it, get wise, don't be a chump, tell it like it is. Morals are for losers, punk. Get a good car! The pose is that of refreshing honesty. All the ads follow the same narrative pattern: The announcer muses while some danceable tune burbles in the background, then everything pauses in anticipation of the punch line--some dose of contrarian chic delivered just as the music kicks back in and we're shown one or another Mitsubishi to drool over. The ads look great. The music is great. It all works like a charm.
What's It's Actually Saying: Everything, that is, except for the bottom-line message, which unfortunately is off by 180 degrees.
In another spot, Grooveman accuses the viewer of telling self-serving lies in chat rooms, and that buying a Spyder would mean there is "one less thing you have to lie about." An ad for the Gallant concludes that we are all ungracious winners, longing to chant, "I'm better than you are." The strangest series installment suggests that squirrels are more "beloved" than rats, and that's "Further proof that looks do matter." So, uh, buy an Eclipse, willya?
If you are shallow, if you are petty, if you take things at face value and routinely lie about yourself, well, hey, at least you're ... honest? Come on. The problem with this genre of ads is that they assume you, the potential consumer, are basically an asshole. So if you aren't, it's not likely to work. And even if you are an asshole, chances are you don't really think of yourself as one.
What that leaves, I guess, is the market segment made of proudly self-identified assholes. Perhaps Mitsubishi has done the focus groups to determine that there are enough such people to make for a profitable niche. But even if that were the case, this shtick isn't knowing enough to be cool or funny enough to be ironic.
Instead, you're left just feeling kind of clammy, and suspecting that Grooveman is wearing a toupee and would like you to pay for his drink. The "Love at First Sight" ad, after all, stops just short of making fun of people for concerning themselves with morals, which seems like a bit of a misstep. It's hard to imagine these lines working on anyone except the same people who still think that Bill Maher is a smart, funny guy, with the courage to tell it like it is, and actually there can't be anyone left in America who still thinks that.
The Final Grade: C-. The ads get points for style, but marks off for substance. Then again, I gather Mitsubishi would be just fine with that judgment.