In these days of streaming internet videos, ‘skip ad’ buttons, and hard disk recorders attached to TVs, it is much harder than it used to be to sell cars on the telly. The audiovisual brainwashing that we all used to accept as part and parcel of being an avid Emmerdale fan has lost much of its power, which means that advertising agencies have been forced to make more adverts that people actually like. In an effort to forestall the viewer’s ad-skipping tendencies, the modern car ad is making much more widespread use of humour. Commercial breaks which were once full of throbbing gearstick’s, swift-rising tachometers and questionable animal imagery are now replete with in-jokes, edgy humour, and memorable characters.
Audi R8 Godfather
A prime example of this trend is this ad from 2008, in which a cyclist makes the (literally?) fatal mistake of drumming his fingers on the bonnet of a Fiat at the traffic lights. The driver takes exception to thi, and throws the car into reverse, causing the cyclist to come off his bike. Haha! He loves his Fiat car so much that he is prepared to injure another road user in a jealous rage! While anyone who has ever been unfortunate enough to witness a real-life road accident may fail to see the humour in this, there is no doubt that this tongue-in-cheek ad was very effective in catching the attention of viewers.
An even edgier ad for the Volkswagen Polo was launched in 2006, and immediately received a worldwide ban. In it, a terrorist dressed in combat fatigues, sunglasses, and an inordinate amount of neck jewellery climbs inside the ‘small but tough’ VW with a bomb in tow, and pulls up outside a café. Upon arrival, he presses the detonator and blows himself up. Remarkably, the car remains intact, a testament to the build quality for which German automakers are renowned.
VW Polo ad
The spectre of death rears its ugly head once again in this Audi ad, a spoof of the Godfather scene in which movie producer Jack Woltz awakes to find the severed head of a racehorse in his bed. In this case, the head has been replaced by the front end of what appears to be a Rolls Royce, but Jack’s reaction is no less hysterical for it.
Thankfully, a car ad doesn’t have to involve violence in order to grab our attention, and in many cases gentler humour can be just as effective. Take the recent UK ad for car hire firm Enterprise as an example. This commercial sees a brash, ignorant American salesman called Brad and a stereotypically mild-mannered Englishman called Dave attempt to explain the advantages of Enterprise’s vehicle rental service.
Brad bungles his way through the sales pitch, for example by getting in on the wrong side of the car, and is impeded further by Dave’s constant, and often mistaken, corrections along the way. Matters almost come to blows over the spelling and pronunciation of Aluminium/Aluminum, but the pair manage to put aside their differences for a slightly awkward high-five at the end as explosives go off behind them. It’s all in good fun, and nobody gets hurt, although the explosion at the end of the ad does startle Dave a bit.
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