It may be Corsa, but is it any better?: Vauxhall has spent millions dressing up its new car. Jonathan Glancey unstitches the campaign

GENERAL MOTORS missed a trick or two when it failed to name its latest 'super model' the Vauxhall Evangelista. This sounds a lot better than Corsa - rather an unfortunate name for a car trying to be that bit more refined than its rivals. It is also the name of a real-life supermodel, Linda Evangelista, one of the Amazons who has dominated the catwalks of the fashion world for the best part of a decade. She stars, along with fellow 'supermodels' Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Kate Moss, in an operatic television advertising campaign for the car.

Given the amount that Vauxhall, the Luton subsidiary of the American car giant, has spent on the campaign for the Corsa, it will need to sell huge numbers of a machine that - aside from a chic cabin - is little different from others in its class. Vauxhall and its advertising agency will not tell, but the 80-second commercial, in which a red Corsa proves to be more attractive to men than the couture-clad models, cost about pounds 3m to make.

Each of the girls is said to have been paid about dollars 250,000 a day for appearing in this televisual extravaganza and the director, the singularly named Tarsem (celebrated in the media world for his sophisticated Swimmer television ad for Levi jeans and his Losing Religion promo-video for REM) has been paid more for 80 seconds than most British film producers earn for 80 minutes. Again, neither Vauxhall nor its ad agency, Lowe Howard-Spink, is saying. Alongside the TV ad, Lowe Howard-Spink has produced giant ads for roadside hoardings and glossy pull-out ads in women's and motoring magazines.

The car itself is competent, although the motoring press has carped about its allegedly jiggly suspension. Like all small cars bought by individuals, the Corsa and its over-the-top advertising campaign is aimed at women. Of Britain's 12.2 million women drivers (41 per cent of all licence holders), 66 per cent own their own car. A further 1 million women are learning to drive; in the depressed automotive world, women drivers are as in vogue as Kate Moss.

Renault has been selling its likeable Renault 5 replacement, the Clio, to women in television adverts that marry the world of Mills & Boon with that of Manon des Sources; it is the old romantic sell. Rover has employed the odd combination of Joan Collins and Jonathan Ross to push its perky Metro: Joan says nothing as she blasts the Metro around parched mountain roads, but we learn that secretly she finds a drive in this overblown bubble-car more glamorous than her role in Dynasty. Convincing stuff, huh?

In the Vauxhall supermodel ad, filmed lavishly at Shepperton studios on a budget that film-makers can only drool over, we are blasted into believing that men of all sorts are more likely to want a baby Vauxhall than a beautiful woman. Dressed in scraps of immodest couture leather, Naomi Campbell destroys a wimp whose eyes steal past her dominatrix strut to gaze lovingly on the lines of a cherry red Corsa stealing past in the distance. Now, an E-Type one might understand, but an entry-level car from Luton is another matter.

One virtue of Tarsem's film is that, if daft, it is impressive to look at; impressive, that is, in the way that Tim Burton's Batman Returns was; and it is from that film that the Corsa ad draws its imagery and atmosphere. Another is that the ad is touchingly irreverent. Here is a bevy of Amazonian beauties prepared to be upstaged by a mass- produced blob of a car.

The down side is the fact that the ad sells cars through a crude display of female sexuality and that the supermodels just cannot act. Even more important, however, is the fact that although aimed at women, the ad is misogynistic; it offers a trade-off between the charms of Christy Turlington and a Vauxhall Corsa, and the car wins. But then the advertising of cars to women is hardly an art form; in fact, it has yet to become a basic skill. Nevertheless, the Vauxhall campaign - noticeably the roadside hoardings - does appear to understand what most women might expect of a car: safety, room, reliability and 'greenness' (rather than what men seem to want: performance, more performance and loads of gadgets).

Women have a long history of playing a passive role in car advertising; they have simpered in pencil-skirts as their husbands fondled keys of the latest Austin Westminster. Women were occasionally shown driving soft-focus sports cars such as the Triumph Spitfire and Sunbeam Alpine, but only men - ventilated driving gloves, Kangol caps and rakish moustaches - could cope with the brute performance of a full-blooded Austin Healey; in later ads, beefy sports cars were clearly for men with hairy chests, medallions, a well-practised leer and keys to a time-share apartment in Marbella.

The most absurd among recent ads for men is one that celebrates the love affair between a man with a sun-tan and deep voice not for a human being but for a steroid-popping, 150bhp Ford Escort XR3i (the stuff of joy-

riders' dreams). Men, according to the Home Office, are 13 times more likely than women to commit a serious motoring offence; they cause 98 per cent of deaths resulting from dangerous driving, are charged with 95 per cent of drunk-driving cases; of the 2 million motoring offences passing through British courts last year, only 7 per cent were committed by women.

In reality, there is no such thing as a car for men and a car for women; true, more women than men are likely to drive a Renault 5 with power-steering and automatic transmission, and more men are likely to drive tricky and powerful sports cars; equally, however, more American women than men buy big, powerful Jaguar saloons.

Where next? The androgynous advert, relying neither on the Amazonian aggression of the supermodel ad, nor the romantic slop of the Renault Clio campaign? Do such campaigns exist? Yes, they do: the Nissan Micra, for example, among the best of the new generation of town cars, is being sold successfully and without pretension in a cartoon campaign representing the little Japanese car as a bubble on wheels.

Equally, but less interestingly, ads for Volvo estate cars play on the car's role as a safe-as-houses family hack (driven by mum or dad), while those for Skoda Favorits - which sell pretty much on price alone - emphasise its capacity to transport family plus the week's shopping.

The dotty thing about the Corsa commercial is that, at the end, you realise the women have hardly given the car a second glance; only the men have been fascinated. But, however silly, car ads have still come a long way from those of the Sixties and Seventies when women and cars were seen as interchangeable: 'Take me to your husband,' says an ad for 'The unbeatable 108mph BMW 2000'; and 'What if he does fall in love? It's better than having him fall for another woman.'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Account Manager (Junior)

    Negotiable: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Account Manager (Junior) Account ...

    Javascript Developer

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

    Solar Business Development Manager – M&A

    £50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Lead IOs Andriod Developer

    £80000 - £90000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Lead Applic...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried