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Pitching an alternative Ford commercial

Published October 22, 2012

There’s a campaign underway by Ford and SHFT.com – among others – to promote sustainable living by giving it a beautiful, sexy, seductive image and narrative. The idea is to portray sustainable living – meaning the kind of life you could achieve by, oh, I don’t know, maybe buying a Ford Fusion – as something for people to aspire to. Living sustainably is beautiful and cool. Living unsustainably is ugly and lame. Pick your side.

And that right there pretty much sums up the concerns I have about this approach. In many ways, I love it; selling not just a product but also a story that the product tells you about yourself, and which you can then, with the help of the product, tell to the world. It’s brilliant, if slightly diabolical.

But what if that story does not move you? What if, in fact, the story of the cool, beautiful, urban hipster is actually alienating to you? How are you supposed to feel about sustainability then? Isn’t there room for a story about people who want to live sustainably, but have different kinds of dreams and aspirations?

So, I asked John Fiera, Ford’s Global Sustainability Director, what Ford had for people who aren’t into this particular vision. How will Ford get them to buy into sustainability?

“We’ll also market it on the basis of cost savings, for people who aren’t able to aspire to this particular lifestyle,” he said.

Cost savings are nice. But don’t people from these other populations also have a story they tell themselves? Don’t they have a vision of how they aspire to be? How would you speak to that?

“Right now, we’re pretty much looking at it through cost savings,” Fiera said.

I had a whole rant prepared on the inherent snobbery, elitism, and ignorance embedded in the idea that some people have cultural identities and everyone else just has price points, but listen, Ford: I like you, and not just because you flew me to your Go Fordward event last summer and gave me a cookie iced with blue frosting in the Ford logo. I like you because you seem so incredibly earnest, and earnestness is deeply uncool, and I admire that. So here’s what I’m going to do: instead of ranting, I’m going to give you my idea for a promotion aimed at the Aunt Lindas of the world, people that understand and appreciate the sustainability thing, but don’t necessarily feel compelled to put a one inch candy wrapper in the plastics bin. I could probably sell my idea on the open market for literally untold sums, but instead I’m donating it to you, free.

A bunch of extremely cool, heavily pierced and tattooed hipsters are hanging around in front of a cafe called Bean and Got the T-Shirt. On the street in front of them are two cars: an enormous old gas guzzler and a trim, midsize hybrid. A few doors down, a respectable-looking middle-aged guy is buying a newspaper. The hipsters start mocking him and his car, speculating as to all the other earth-hating, uncool things he’s probably planning to do with the car that day – go to the state fair, update his stamp collection, get his lawn mower serviced. Then, as they watch, the guy walks up and gets into the hybrid. Noting the hipsters’ shock, he says, “Use less gas? Spend less money? Emit less pollution? Fellas, it just makes sense. Have a nice day!”

Another hipster who is even more pierced, more tousled, more hip than the group on the street arrives and gets into the gas guzzler. The group gapes at him. “What?” he says defensively. “I’m driving it ironically!”

We cut to a shot of the middle-aged guy arriving at the state fair in his hybrid with his kids. They run into the fair, whooping and laughing, while the announcer tells us that there’s lots of leg room in the backseat, or some such boring, non-hip practical matter.

Back on the street, the ultra-hip dude is trying and failing to start his car, when he realizes he’s out of gas. He can’t believe it. One of the guys in front of the cafe turns to another and says, “Well, it is kind of ironic.”

There you go. If you use it, you can send me a car or something, whatever you have around. Not a cookie, though. Frankly, that cookie was revolting.

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