Papa! Let the ads take a back seat

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The Independent Online
How do you visualise the typical TV car commercial?

I visualise it as Tom Conti falling off the top of a skyscraper, landing smiling on his feet, saying, "Handspring durch Technik" and walking off into the sunset with a beautiful girl.

The only snag is that I don't seem to have included a car in the ad, but otherwise it represents a fair cross-section of car cliches. In fact, I sometimes think that the makers of TV car ads must be at their wit's end where to go next. They seem to have tried everything to make their client's car seem glamorous and romantic, yet trustworthy and reliable, safe yet sexy.

They have sent cars to the end of the world, they have brought cars back from the ends of the earth, they have filled them with exotic models, they have taken the exotic models out and put actors in, and made them enact little stories, tiny playlets, in which as often as not a French girl gets to say "Papa".

Very occasionally they have even taken the actors out and put real people in cars in real situations like a fast-moving traffic jam. Recently they have started getting silly as when, in the case of the Renault Megane ads, they started making the car talk. When a car starts talking in an ad, I think we are running out of ideas. It only remains for a car to call another car "Papa".

People who make car commercials must now sit around at meetings and say things like: "There is absolutely nothing left to do in car commercials unless you want to have the car fly through the air!"

And somebody else says: "That's been done, too".

"Well," says somebody else, "we could always as a last resort take the mickey out of car ads."


"Well, sort of deconstruct them by doing a piss-take of them. Look, you could start off a car commercial with an exotic location, you know, then a shot of an iguana, twisty mountain road, glamorous drivers, funk music over, then a voice comes in saying, 'We don't need all this junk! The car says it all!'"

"And then what?"

"Well, you get the camera to pull back. You see that the car is not actually in the countryside, it's on a stand in front of a film of the countryside. You put out the lights, fade down the funky music and you're left with a studio in which everything is fake and tawdry - except the car!"

And now this has actually been done. I am sketching a description there of the new TV commercial for the Mitsubishi Carisma, which not only breaks the barrier of the spelling of the word charisma, but breaks the mould of car ads by sending up car ads. At the end of the commercial the only person visible is not a glamorous actor but a cleaner with a brush, sweeping round the glittering car, and - nice touch this - roughly whistling the music we've just heard faded down on the funky mouth harp.

Of course, the voice-over doesn't end by saying: "The car says it all", because that might remind people of the Renault Megane, which seems to have cornered the market in talking cars. So the voice-over says: "The car has it all". But otherwise it seems to be the first honest car ad, because what it is saying in effect is, "WE know and YOU know that car ads are all cosmetic, so we are going to be the first to come out and admit it and just concentrate on the car!"

This message is a slightly dishonest one in that the ad doesn't tell us anything about the car at all except its name and what it looks like - nothing about the performance or how many people can get in it or whether it is licensed to have weddings celebrated in it. No, this is in effect the first car commercial about other car commercials.

"This is an ad for the Mitsubishi Carisma," it is saying. "Why should you buy a Carisma? Because Mitsubishi are the kind of people who don't need to make TV ads. That's why we made this ad. To tell you that we're not making it. Don't believe us. Believe what the car says. Not that it talks..."

Where do they go next? If we now have an ad saying we don't need ads, where do the ad boys go from here? Will we have a sunset, a car driving up, two glamorous people getting out of the new Dippon Oregon Hatchback and one saying to the other, "You know, I didn't believe the car commercials until I drove the Oregon"? Or will we see an actor sitting in a new car saying, "You know, I could have made a lot of money doing this ad. But I preferred to keep the car instead"?

I don't know. But I shall be interested to find out.

Well, moderately interested.