PETER YORK ON ADS N0 285: MERCEDES

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The Independent Culture
Kiddies, assorted, one in each main racial group, Unicef-style 2-, 3-, 4-ish (I'm a hopeless judge). Advertising Mercedes. Not product - no shiny cars, no Janis Joplin - but not quite a regular corporate ad either: none of the usual boasts about scale or scope or standards. It's more a "brand personality" initiative.

But what exactly are they trying to say and, more important, why are they saying it?

It's a very soft sell indeed. We open on a little boy, white and Wasp- looking, in a toy car on a sidewalk in a nice American suburb - white clapboard house, white picket fence. He's smiling and honking away with his rubber bulb horn. Another boy - Japanese-American? - goes by in his little car. Then there's an Ultra-Aryan "Bubbles" type with long white- blond curls showing off his Lego car somewhere else.

From then on you can practically write it yourself.

A beach scene with stripy umbrellas and a dark-haired little girl - dark Mediterranean? light Indian? - sitting in a sand car. An Arab boy, a miniature sheikh with robes and headdress, exits a stone fretwork palace to play with his expensive toy cars - a Thunderbird and a Jaguar.

Another boy wobbles through the marketplace in what looks like French North Africa in a cardboard box car. There's a Japanese boy in a supermarket trolley and a black African child with a basic homemade-looking wooden toy. And they're all of them saying "car" in their respective languages.

At the end - a bit ET-ish - there's a child in his toy car in silhouette on a hill at dusk. More honking and guitar music. Aaah. It's a winsome parade, if you like that sort of thing. But it's not remotely what you expect from Mercedes. Are they Mercedes's future customers?

The sign-off lines give you more idea where they're coming from: "It means a lot to us that `car' is one of the first words after `Mom' and `Dad' (note the `Mom'; this was 45 seconds on Eurosport for, presumably, the International Herald Tribune sort of audience, and may never be screened here).

Fade to "a lot of responsibility". Then it's back to "Mercedes-Benz, the future of the automobile". Why is Mercedes in caring, responsible Volvo territory? What's rattled them? Could it be that, after the A-class initial falling-over problems and the Diana crash, their research is telling them that Mercedes is starting to look a bit delinquent, a bit careless, and needs some corrective work?

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