Eliot “Calamity” Janeway. The Doomsday economist. When I got to FCB, he was the “face” of Mazda commercials. Janeway had been an economic advisor to a number of U.S. presidents, going as far back as FDR. His theme was always to save for a rainy day, to survive a credit crunch or depression. In one Mazda spot, he sternly told the viewer to have at least “six months salary put away in safe investments.” Of course, we convinced him to say that buying a Mazda was a good investment. As with many spokespeople, however, the well runs dry. Mazda was preparing to launch the RX-7, a sports car using the rotary engine. Its introduction was expected to make Mazda a player again in this country. We were tasked with coming up with a series of RX-7 launch spots that could “cut through the clutter.” Back then that was a lot easier as TV stations and the networks still honored the 10 minute separation rule, which meant that no competing car commercial could run within 10 minutes of yours.
An up-and-coming young copy writer named Steve Hayden was brought in to develop some TV ideas. I should point out at this time that there was a very popular TV show, based on a movie of the same name, called “The Paper Chase.” It starred the great actor John Houseman as the imperious and terrifying law instructor, Professor Charles Kingsfield. His line delivery was unique, given more gravitas with his English accent. We gathered, without the Mazda client, to hear what the concepts were. The different teams presented their ideas. When it was Steve’s turn, he began by telling us that his spot would feature Houseman reprising his Professor Kingsfield role for the Mazda RX-7. I loved the casting against type. Steve began. “The spot opens with John standing behind a podium in a lecture hall. He begins by intoning, ‘The new Mazda RX-7…it will not make ugly men handsome (scenes of the car performing on winding roads, then back to John) it will not make timid women brave (cut to more impressive performance footage then back to John again) but with its new rotary engine it will go 120 miles-per-hour. But………that’s illeeeeegal!'” I thought it was great! So did the rest of us. Unfortunately, the client didn’t, saying that Houseman didn’t convey the “youthful image” of the car.” We were crestfallen, as was Steve Hayden who left the agency shortly later. I wonder what ever happened to him? Quite coincidentally, a few months later Smith Barney broke this campaign, which was to become iconic.
This might be a good time to discuss something I’ve seen happen in the auto ad biz over the years…Great ideas never really go away, they just get recycled. It happens in other categories too. Greater minds than mine have also noticed this phenomenon. I’m not accusing anyone of plagiarizing, or retooling someone else’s work. Sometimes a good idea is sold to a client without anyone realizing how close it comes to something that has come before. I offer several examples for your review.
TOYOTA TUNDRA PULLS A SPACE SHUTTLE
This spot very effectively shows off the Tundra’s towing ability by lugging the space shuttle Endeavor for a quarter-mile stretch of its journey of 12 miles from LAX to the California Science Center. It was quite a show of towing ability, made more so by the fact that it was pulling an American icon. Another American icon is the Boing 747. In 2006, VW used a Touareg to pull a 747 down a runway. But both of them were beaten by a Chevy pickup truck that towed a 300,000 pound 747 down a runway in 1972. It went so well that the Dallas airport police were going to cite Chevy for pulling the plane faster than airport regulations. The moral here: To show how much you can tow, go out and find something really big and tow it.
Ford launched this new theme line last year. It was created to urge shoppers to check out Ford products, as well as to maximize their potentials. Matt Van Dyke, Ford’s Director of Global Communications said, “What we aim to do is inspire behavior. “Go Further” is more than an advertising tagline. We want to institutionalize it as part of our culture.” In a video put out by their Investor Relations people, Ford says,”Ford goes further to build great, environmentally sound products, a strong global business and a better, more humane world.” Admirable! Also admirable was the Isuzu advertising that broke in 1997, urging people to Go Farther. It became the ad slogan and company motto. As the 20th Century drew to a close, Isuzu was urging millions to Go Farther. My friend Jean Halliday, in her Auto Adopolis Blog, points out the subtle difference between Go Further and Go Farther. The letter “A.” Just kidding. She really didn’t say that. The use of Further connotes more of a metaphorical distance. I was lucky enough to be the Director of Advertising Communications at Isuzu during many of the Go Farther years. We wanted people to Go Farther in everything they did. The Army had used the “Be All You Can Be” line already. In Go Further, Ford wants people to, well, I guess Go Further. Isuzu wanted them to Go Farther.
ACURA – MADE FOR MANKIND
Well, Made for Mankind if you are what Acura calls a “doer,” like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Google’s Sergey Brin…who are both Acura owners. They are made for a mankind that can afford $50,000 automobiles. An Acura executive described the campaign saying, “Our hope is we can take a human focus and put that into our advertising so we can push the world forward (further?). “Doers” are wealthy, but non-ostentatious, people who want to make a difference in the world via their work.” While Acura products are now “Made for Mankind,” 26 years ago Nissan declared that their products were “Built For The Human Race.” Nissan’s claim may ring a little truer as they offered everything from econo-boxes,, to iconic sports cars, to off-road trucks. At least the advertisers who develop very similar campaigns have the decency to wait until the other one has run its course. Please don’t think that I’m throwing stones…I can’t even afford a glass house. And, after all, I was the Account Man who was working on Chevy Nova when we launched our TV spot showing it tooling around Germany the same week as Ford launched a Granada spot using the same idea. For more on that fiasco, see my 9/21/2013 post “Adventures in Creativity.”
But I digress. We had been tasked to come up with something that could “break through the clutter” for the RX-7 launch. We finally all agreed on a direction. With only a little sense of hubris, we felt that the new RX-7 was the latest incarnation of what a classical sports car should be. The heir to the legacy of such cars as the MG-TC, the Corvette, and the Datsun Z Car. We launched with a print ad which used an overprint of silver ink. “The car that you’ve been waiting for is waiting for you.” The car-buying public would go crazy knowing that we had the car that they’d been waiting for. They would be driven into paroxysms of ecstasy when they saw the companion launch TV spot. To add to the excitement of the spot, we told the viewer that it was actually filmed at a real raceway.
The launch was a huge success. Several people at FCB were given RX-7s as company cars. Except me. I inherited a navy blue Mazda Cosmo. No. It wasn’t named after Cosmo Topper, or Cosmo Kramer. It was one of those strange naming things that will be discussed in an upcoming post. But, it was bigger than my GLC, and drove like a rocket. All I knew was that I had moved up a notch in the free car sweepstakes.
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