RANGE ROVER has embarked this week on the most significant launch in its 25-year history, with a television campaign that succeeds in subverting virtually every advertising convention, not just for cars but for any branded product.
The selling message is, at its most obvious, oblique, while the vehicle itself is only occasionally fleets byglimpsed. The clearest clue that the five three-minute films might be advertisements lies in the caption, 'This is a commercial', which periodically flashes up at the bottom of the screen., and in the fact that they fill the slots customarily occupied by plugs for soap powder and lager.
Dominic Mills, editor of the advertising magazine Campaign, believes that the commercials are among the most innovative ever produced. 'They're very new, very bold and very original. The Range Rover is not a mainstream car, so much better to do something different that really stands out from the crowd.'
Rather than following the big brand launch norm and ploughing vast amounts of money into prime-time national slots during Coronation Street or News at Ten, Land Rover has instead spent a relatively modest pounds 500,000 on seven highly carefully targeted Channel 4 commercial breaks.
The company believes the so-called 'docummercials' will appeal only to discerning minority target audiences who have pounds 40,000-plus to spare for a Range Rover.
Each film begins with the caption, 'Two weeks ago, five groups of people set off from the Royal Geographical Society and embarked on five different journeys', before charting trips to Vermont, Japan, Botswana, Patagonia and the Cotswolds. The film are more an exposition of the destination (the issues facing the people who live there, their values, etc) than a hard-sell of the means of getting there.
In Vermont, for example, an enlightened businessman explains how a sense of community must accompany commercial growth, while a naturalist celebrates the return of the Peregrine falcon to the state. Another film follows Sir Peter de la Billiere to Botswana, where he advises on an agricultural education scheme.
The emphasis throughout is on conservation, craftsmanship and shared community values in a changing world, themes that are presumably meant to reflect on Range Rovers. They end with the line, 'The new Range Rover - it's already travelled the world', and inform viewers of the next screening time and location.
Philip Lancaster, board account director at Bates Dorland, the advertising agency responsible for the films, prefers to view them as 'highly refined and targeted' rather than obscure. 'So many car launches are run to a set formula and it's become so boring. It's not in-your-face advertising, - it does not need to be. We know exactly what issues our target audience face and the films quietly and virtuously play on them.'
Car advertising has moved on from the days of long, loving shots of vehicles majestically cornering to some swirling soundtrack and interminable lists of features with which the with every new car comes as standard.
In the late Eighties, Audi promoted the ergonomic design of its seats using only people walking across the screen. And VW's black-and-white film of a young girl in New York being picked up by her mother barely featuredshowed the car. But in both cases the rational selling messages of design and reliability were clear.
Who knows what was the selling message of Tony Kaye's television essay for Dunlop tyres (Velvet Underground meets ballbearings and a balding Buddha) was earlier this year? A vocal lobby may have tried to get it displayed shown at the Tate Gallery, but at 60 seconds there was no mistaking that it was a commercial. With Range Rover's latest work, you need to be told.