3.1.19

I'M NOT THE BIGGEST CURMUDGEON ON THE INTERNET.

Yes, I have slagged on seasonal advertisements for upscale automobiles, but give Christopher Borrelli of Chicago's Tribune high marks for bringing the smack.  "[C]an we agree that Christmas TV commercials for cars are among the most obnoxious, borderline sociopathic cultural phenomena that operate in plain sight, patently ridiculous yet so relentlessly ubiquitous we almost welcome them, as just another patch in the everyday fabric of a perverse universe — the wallpaper of capitalism." Pedant's note: the normal state of affairs is the Hobbesian world, whilst a world in which there are upscale cards might be a blessedly perverse departure from that norm.
And who are these commercials for — people watching “Monday Night Football” and “Seinfeld” reruns and bingeing Hallmark movies? And where do they get the big red bows? Do the spouses in these ads ever wake in the dead of night sweaty, wondering where the money came from for matching $60,000 SUVs? And does the percentage of couples in these ads who divorce outpace the national divorce rate?
Way ahead of you, Mr Borrelli, on that last question.  "I must confess to imagining a voice-over to the commercial with the guy looking at the bling and then noticing the Lexus cute-ute outside the jewelry store. Don't know whether I want him mulling 'will she forgive me for boinking the nanny?' or 'this should keep her pacified if she finds out.'"  Was that really thirteen Christmases ago?
December. Some were gifts, some necessary purchases that conveniently doubled as gifts. Said Akshay Anand, executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book: “The thing that isn’t talked about much is that the big luxury manufacturers are all competing in December to claim they were the ‘luxury brand sales leader of the year.’ ” Which is partly why Lexus, BMW and Mercedes’ Christmas ads are so frequent.

At McGrath Lexus of Chicago, “it’s our busiest time of the year,” said Heather O’Malley, the sales manager for new cars. She said McGrath sells about 120 cars each December at its dealership on Division Street. Maybe five or six are Christmas gifts. “And I have done the whole surprise car-gift thing like in the ads. A husband takes his wife to breakfast and arranges for us to leave the car in the driveway with a big red bow when they return — I love doing that.”
Lexus, Mr Borrelli notes, is no longer the most over the top: he gives full marks to GMC. So much for Chevrolet as in baseball and apple pie.  Now it's matching pickup trucks for people who probably wouldn't know an acetylene torch from a branding iron.
But every holiday there is one stunner, and this season the award for most obtuse Christmas car commercial goes to GMC’s luxury truck campaign. So much to unpack here (notwithstanding 63 cubic feet of cargo space). The ad begins with a woman in a lovely sweater approaching her husband, also wearing a lovely sweater, staring blankly into the void. They seem to live inside Crate & Barrel, one awash in the soft blue tones of a December dusk. She bought an early gift, she says. She presents two watches — “one for you and one for me.” Which reminds him — he got them “a little something too.” They step outside their spotless home, and two new GMC vehicles, one black, one red, wait in the driveway (without bows, alas). She runs to the black one and before her husband can say the red is hers, she clasps hands on the black — “I love it,” she says.
Lexus,we note, has dialed back its messages,  but there is a regular rogue's gallery of annoying car commercials each year.

By all means, read the column in full.  Mr Borrelli establishes his curmudgeon credentials with this passage.
This is, in a sense, an ecosystem of fantasy.

“Very few commercials appeal to everyone,” said Derek Rucker, a professor of entrepreneurial studies at Northwestern University who specializes in persuasion. “The fact that the brand might annoy some people could still be fine from a business perspective.” He said car commercials like this often create a “positive halo” around a brand even when buying a car for someone as a gift is not possible.

It can also sound insanely tone-deaf.

A remnant of the 20th century, with none of the side-eye of “Mad Men,” tacked onto something more contemporary: the idea that the fundamentals of togetherness and good cheer are just acquisitions.
We'll do the social science of positional arms races another day.

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