Mercedes-Benz CLA-class “Soul” Super Bowl Commercial: It’s a Hell of a Spot [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.
About 10 years ago, Mercedes-Benz showed how not to introduce a down-market luxury car. That failed experiment was a strange little two-door called the C230 Kompressor. It featured cloth seats and a hatchback (although Mercedes never used that word in official communiqués). Depending on your point of view, it was either sporty or fugly, but it screamed cheap no matter how you looked at it, an image that didn’t sit well with traditional Mercedes owners.
A decade later, Mercedes wants to dip back into the low end of the pool, with good reason: A lot of cars sold in this country hover around the $30,000 price point (including entry-luxury models like the Acura ILX, Audi A3, and BMW 1-series). Of course, none currently wear a three-pointed star. Enter the CLA-class. Looking more or less like a CLS after a very cold shower, this compact sedan is clearly a Mercedes. You won’t be able to buy one until this fall, but when you can, the car will have the standard equipment you might expect in a Benz (seven-speed dual-clutch auto, Bluetooth connectivity, a 5.8-inch infotainment display, and the mbrace2 suite of smartphone-integrated apps and services) and options you definitely expect in a Benz. The latter include a panorama-style sunroof, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, pre-collision braking, blind-spot monitoring, infotainment system upgrades, lane-keeping assist, and a parking-assist system that even some of the pricier Mercedes models don’t yet offer. Still, the CLA has that decidedly un-Mercedes $30,825 base price—the $29,990 number cited in the commercial doesn’t include destination and delivery—so how does the company tout that without tarnishing its upscale image? You make a commercial that blows everyone’s socks off.
The premise underlying “Soul” is simple: If you want something that you can’t afford, maybe you can get it by selling your soul to Satan. But as the old saying does, the devil is in the details and it’s the ad’s extravagant execution that makes it so powerful. Anybody who has ever written commercials for a living has got to be jealous of the creative team that got to make this spot. Clearly, money was no object:
“Willem Dafoe would make a great Satan, but he’d cost a fortune.”
“No problem, hire him.”
“But we also need a sexy model.”
“You mean like Kate Upton?”
“Yeah, she’d be perfect, but . . .”
“No problem, hire her. And hire Usher, too. And while you’re at it, make sure we keep using Jon Hamm, the guy from Mad Men, for our voiceovers.”
“But what about the music? It would be amazing if we could get the Stones’ ‘Sympathy For The Devil,’ but it’d cost like a million bucks.”
“A million and a half actually, but no problem—get it. And hire a bunch of extras, too. Don’t worry about the budget, just make it great.”
And they did. Dafoe’s screen presence and performance are feature-film worthy. He does make a great Satan, right down to his spooky voice and sharp, pointy fingernails. And Sebastian Beacon, the young actor who plays opposite him, is clearly up to the task. Despite the commercial’s high-intensity star power, he’s the one who pulls it all together.
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And let’s not forget the car itself. The CLA upholds its end of the devil’s bargain beautifully by looking great from every angle. So great, in fact, that it’s hard to believe your eyes when the price is finally revealed. So yeah, I think this commercial will definitely arouse the interest of the primary target audience, and an extended cut of the commercial already has more than six million views on YouTube. But how will it fare with older, more-traditional Mercedes owners? Well, they’re Boomers now, men of wealth and taste, who have been around for a long, long year. What self-respecting Boomer is going to argue with Mick Jagger?
By Don Klein