Acura’s Holiday Sale Spots: Dr. Phil Is Barking Up the Wrong Tree [The Ad Section]
Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.
Acura recently unleashed a trio of holiday sales commercials that have several things in common: They all show people who are minding their own business getting kidnapped and subjected to unsolicited tough-love harangues by personalities we’re supposed to respect, they demonstrate driving techniques that are outrageously dangerous and irresponsible, and they make no sense whatsoever.
In two of the commercials, the tormentors are played by Suze Orman and Santa Claus. (Santa is jolly and kind, however, so this must be his evil twin.) But let’s focus on the one starring Dr. Phil. We open on a couple at a Christmas tree lot, gawking at a tree that’s frosted and “so big.” I guess we’re supposed to think that hubby wants it and wifey doesn’t, but before they can discuss the giant shrub, Dr. Phil screeches to a halt in front of them in an MDX. Like a scene out of Argo, he barks at the husband to get in the back and then proceeds to race around the block, lecturing him that buying a big tree is an unreasonable way to deal with “size-compensation issues” and instead he should get a smaller tree without tinsel. And based on that inanity, we’re supposed to buy an MDX?
To divert our attention from the illogicalness of that illogic, the commercial’s creators decided to have the car weave dangerously in and out of traffic and careen through intersections. Worse, Dr. Phil has his eyes off the road virtually the entire time he’s driving. With one hand. And that’s safe compared to the way Suze manhandles her TL. Santa’s wheelmanship is just as bad, but I’ll cut him some slack because he’s used to driving reindeer that pretty much aim themselves. Seriously, though, what defensible reason could Acura possibly have to condone irresponsible driving like that? Especially when they’re exhorting viewers to “listen to the voice of reason.” I’m sorry, but people who drive that way aren’t reasonable. They’re crazed. (Or testing for C/D. Zing—Ed.)
Before anyone tells me to “lighten up,” please remember that commercials aren’t made simply to entertain. They’re designed to sell you something. True, the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive (witness Dos Equis’s brilliant “World’s Most Interesting Man” campaign), but what exactly about these Acura commercials—entertaining though they may be— is supposed to make you want to buy a vehicle? Because it’s funny to hear Dr. Phil make penis jokes? Or say “Tough tinsel?”
- Photos and Info: 2014 Acura RLX
- Instrumented Test: 2013 Acura ILX 2.4 Manual
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Yes, sometimes commercials aren’t meant to be taken literally. They’re little allegories, constructed to communicate by analogy. But even then, this commercial makes no sense. The metaphorical message is, “Instead of buying a big, glitzy SUV that you don’t really need, buy a smaller, less flashy, and more practical one like the MDX.” OK, fine. But what does “you want to be smart and buy something that lasts” have to do with that? Do MDXs last longer than other SUVs? They may turn out to be more reliable, but they’re not going to “last” longer, no more than little Christmas trees last longer than big ones. And besides, how often do people looking for a mid-size SUV cross-shop ostentatious behemoths like Cadillac Escalades and Mercedes GLs in the first place? The whole big, small thing is way too contrived and irrelevant.
I think what Acura is really trying to do here is excoriate the idea that “luxury” is more about image and status than practicality. But image and status are at the very heart of luxury goods marketing, and if guys with fat wallets think the way to impress the neighbors is with a huge, stout, “look at me” piece of lumber, then a five-foot Balsam fir ain’t gonna do the trick. No matter how much Dr. Phil tries to humiliate them.
By Don Klein