Posts by Christine Miranda - New York

Chrysler 200’s Super Bowl ad posits Detroit as luxury hub

When you think “luxury,” you likely think of anything but Detroit. Chrysler’s Super Bowl commercial assumes as much, with the narrator asking, “What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about ‘the finer things in life?’” The two-minute ad answers that by showcasing the Chrysler 200 as a car rendered luxurious by Motor City’s “hard work, conviction and the know-how that runs generations deep.”

The ad does a great job of burnishing the image of Detroit, considered one of the most miserable cities in America but also one of our “Things to Watch in 2011,” based on excitement around the city’s progress toward remaking itself as a smaller and more efficient town and the influx of creative entrepreneurs. The spot taps into the hope many Americans feel for the struggling town, which is almost a metaphor for the country itself (the ad contrasts Detroit with the more glamorous America, saying “We’re from America, but this isn’t New York City, or the Windy City, or Sin City”).

While one might feel proud to drive a car built by the people of Detroit, the message is a bit of a stretch. Detroit is still down and out, and it’s not quite convincing that a city’s toughness and resolution translate to an ability to manufacture luxury, especially if “it’s as much about where it’s from as who it’s for,” as the spot proclaims. By contrast, in Levi’s “Go Forthcampaign, we see the people of working-class Braddock, Pa., going to work in their Levi’s jeans. We’re not so sure many more Detroiters other than Eminem (who stars in the spot) will be driving Chrysler 200s around town anytime soon.

We all fall down, but we don’t all get bailed out: A look at GM’s ‘Thank You’

General Motors’ “Thank you” commercial, which aired on Thanksgiving following a remarkable $2 billion profit in the third quarter, thanks Americans for “helping us get back up.” The message was that “we all fall down,” illustrated with familiar examples of falling down and recovering—an early rocket’s failure to launch is later followed by a successful Apollo launch. Some clips are more whimsical, with Popeye getting an upward boost from spinach and a dispirited Animal House frat meeting hearing John Belushi’s humorously inspirational “Not me! I’m not gonna take this!”

Going by some of the reactions and comments to the commercial, people have had mixed feelings about GM’s message, with some deeming it “classy” and others absolutely tasteless. Considering that GM’s “getting back up” was sustained by American tax dollars, “thank you” may not be enough for consumers who think the company should have righted itself on its own. Moreover, could GM be celebrating too soon? One critic interviewed by Paul Ingrassia of The Wall Street Journal said GM is putting cost regulation aside for fleeting marketing benefits. Consumer anxieties about America’s automakers won’t be allayed for long if the companies aren’t making changes in their operations.

Chase’s Blueprint looks to instill confidence in big-ticket buys

Chase’s Blueprint service lets credit card holders customize their payments for specific purchases; in the bank’s words, it “helps you manage spending and borrowing—on your own terms.” Consumers can opt for a gradual payment plan for larger purchases, for example, akin to an installment loan. The campaign comprises several spots in which Chase is positioned as empowering its customers by helping them feel more responsible about their bigger purchases: season tickets, a new bed or an engagement ring (see below). “Blueprint really gives me peace of mind,” says Geraldine K., who bought her son a laptop using Blueprint, in one testimonial spot.

We’re not sure how effectively Blueprint can really help consumers with their purchase planning in the long run, but the message of empowerment is there. With a way to customize payments for some of the more dauntingly priced things in life, consumers might regain some confidence in spending.

Delta’s best asset?

People. At least, this is what Delta’s new “Keep Climbing” campaign conveys as it tackles several current anxieties surrounding the airline industry. In one of two black-and-white commercials, narrator Donald Sutherland says, “Bad weather, congestion, the price of oil—those are every airline’s reality.” In another he acknowledges, “This crazy world of no liquids, take your shoes off, cost-cutting and route cancellations.”

These issues are mostly beyond Delta’s control—what’s not are its employees, and the spots tell us that “it comes down to the people.” The ads assure us that Delta’s people set the airline apart and make all the difference in the flying experience, that the staff “knows how to put themselves on the other side of the counter” and that “someone in this industry still has the passenger’s back.” For travelers contending with ever more fees and discomfort, this is good to hear.

It’s also good to hear after recent negative news about airline employees. Last year came the stunning news about the pilots who forgot to land at their destination. And who can forget Steven Slater, the JetBlue ex-flight attendant who stuck it to the man when a passenger took it too far? With human foibles only adding to airlines’ many problems, Delta’s decision to position itself as a place for the Captain Sullys of the industry seems like the way to go.

Braddock, Pa., wakes up in Levi’s commercial

We’ve talked about how Levi’s “Go Forth,” which puts an optimistic and empowering spin on the decline of the skilled blue-collar worker, attempts to address American anxiety over the country’s manufacturing decline. The effort revolves around the brand’s donations to the working-class town of Braddock, Pa.

The TV spot acts as a tribute to “the new pioneers” of Braddock, showing the sun rising on a town once dispirited. We see inspiring images (complete with an abundance of jeans-wearers): a man and a dog warming themselves at a small fire in a vast field as a freight train rushes by, the rising sun shining on an abandoned building, an old car under a fallen tree and a small child jumping into bed with his father. Horns and strings play as a child’s voice explains, “A long time ago, things got broken here. People got sad and left.” Then we see people waking up and moving and work being done; the music picks up momentum, and the voiceover concludes, “People think there aren’t frontiers anymore. They can’t see how frontiers are all around us.

Levi’s gets right at the heart of the anxiety-fueled question “How do we rebuild in a modern, digital society?” and shows that going back to the basics is doable. One commenter on the brand’s YouTube page aptly exclaims: “Very inspiring and so true! There are hundreds of Braddocks all over America and we need to put down the remotes, video game controllers, cell phones, iPads, blackberrys and what-have-yous and get back to work! This country is worth saving.”

Subaru sends subtle yet poignant message to anxious parents

Subaru hits an emotional chord (with some at a dealer meeting even reportedly tearing up) in a commercial that aptly addresses the profound anxiety felt by parents as their children get behind the wheel. A concerned but proud dad softly cautions his daughter, an adorable 6-year-old: “Leave your phone in your purse. I don’t want you texting, OK? … Call me—but not when you’re driving.” The daughter driving away is a teen—but, of course, still the little girl in her father’s eyes.

When we discussed Oprah’s efforts to tackle distracted driving, we asked how brands could appropriately address the issue and help to improve road safety. Subaru subtly speaks to concerns about teen drivers texting—a problem that has even spawned mobile monitoring software—rather than further heightening anxiety (as we’ve seen with spots from Liberty Mutual).

Moreover, the tone is spot-on. It may help that both girls are real-life daughters to the actor here, Andy Lyons, adding to the authenticity. Subaru successfully projects a real understanding of parental anxiety—both that which stems from today’s road dangers and the more timeless “anxiety of handing over the keys for the first time,” as Lyons put it—to help convey its trustworthiness and reliability.

A surprising message from J.R. Ewing: ‘Shine, baby, shine’

Larry Hagman, best known as oilman J.R. Ewing in the hit 1980s television show Dallas, is now the face of SolarWorld, a German solar energy company. Long a solar energy enthusiast, Hagman recently told The New York Times he was motivated by the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico to speak out. He added: “Since Sarah Palin is saying, ‘Drill, baby, drill,’ I’m saying, ‘Shine, baby, shine.’”

That’s just what the actor says, with his trademark cackle, in a spot for SolarWorld’s new advertising campaign. We see J.R. looking disapprovingly at a portrait of his younger self in an oil field while a background TV screen gurgles with oil-spill images. He walks out of his house and we see a roof lined with solar panels. SolarWorld does an interesting thing here: It’s not only tapping into anxieties around the Gulf spill and the target consumers’ likely aversion to the “Drill, baby, drill” mind-set but is also showing how perspectives can change, even if J.R. is fictional.

Spirit Airlines, New Orleans make light of BP crisis

Playing off an anxiety-provoking crisis is a tricky act for a marketer to carry off. Last week we spotlighted how the U.K.’s Nectar is managing this in the wake of the country’s austerity measures, and we looked at how Dawn detergent may see a boost from the BP spill (messaging spotlights how it’s used to clean oil from wildlife). Now two marketers have come under fire for making light of BP’s tainted image.

The effort from Spirit Airlines, a discount carrier that has run cheeky promotions in the past, is insensitive but deliberately so. To promote discounts to Spirit’s coastal destinations, the airline’s home page showed a series of tan, oil-marinated bikini-clad women with copy urging travelers: “Check out the oil on our beaches.” Their sunscreen? A green and yellow bottle of “Best Protection.” Not surprisingly, the reaction has been negative, with people calling the campaign “tasteless” and “offensive.”

new-orleansMeanwhile, a New Orleans tourism campaign attempted to use anti-BP humor to allay tourist fears about the nearing Gulf spill. TV and print ads used the slogan “This isn’t the first time New Orleans survived the British” with an image of the French Quarter statue of Andrew Jackson, which marks his Battle of New Orleans victory over the British during the War of 1812. BP itself had supplied the funds for the $5 million campaign, part of a larger donation to the state of Louisiana.

“We thought, with all the grief, we would try to turn things a bit lighter and more tongue in cheek,” the president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau explained to The Telegraph. But the ad was pulled after The Guardian noted that BP had in effect funded the “anti-British” campaign. Again we see BP making an effort, but no one seems willing to take it seriously, even a recipient of its funds. It’s too bad the slogan was retired—it might be the only amusing (and hopeful) message to emerge from the entire mess thus far.

Photo Credit: David Paul Ohmer

Health care reform ads stir Americans’ anxieties

A series of anxiety-provoking commercials—featuring ominous music and overwrought narrators—are sensationalizing and skewing the facts about the U.S. health care debate as the congressional battle over the issue draws to a conclusion. Groups on both sides are spending millions to target the remaining undecided Democratic votes, many using scare tactics in a bid to drive constituents’ anxieties through the roof and all the way to Washington.

Health care reform activists have been sticking to the message that it’s Americans against the insurance giants. In a recent ad from Health Care for America Now! that’s been running in Washington, the narrator says, “If they win, we lose.” And a number of pharmaceutical companies have invested $12 million to fund campaigns supporting this week’s last-ditch effort to pass the legislation.

On the other side, various business groups led by the Chamber of Commerce are reportedly spending $10 million on ads that warn of the bill’s high price tag—telling Americans they will see “billions in new taxes” and “more mandates on businesses.” And the Republican Governors Association’s What Happens in D.C. campaign is behind spots such as one condemning Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (below) for being “quiet” on the health care bill, with cricket sounds emphasizing the point; these campaigns stir anxieties in districts that count the most come voting time.

Both sides are rousing anxieties in hopes more people will come around to their point of view—and at the same time helping to create a frequently misinformed debate.

Toyota responds to warranted anxieties with ‘Restore’ message

In a post earlier this month we talked about how anxious consumers might respond to the global recall of Toyota vehicles and pondered how Toyota would take action. Toyota’s response to complaints had been too slow and had fallen extremely short of expectations, eventually leading to the recall of now global proportions. Unfortunately, the brand’s steps in addressing consumers on a public platform have been all too slow as well.

On the upside, has been serving as a hub for news and updates surrounding the recall, with a page wholly devoted to the matter. And today, CEO Akio Toyoda will be addressing Congress and issuing a formal apology to those affected by the faulty vehicles. Toyoda will declare his goal to restore confidence in his cars: “You have my personal commitment that Toyota will work vigorously and unceasingly to restore the trust of our customers.”

The brand also recently released its “Restore” spot (see below). The TV commercial leverages the history of Toyota with black and white images of old warehouses and models, ending on a grainy, colored shot of a smiling little girl jumping into a red car. The more striking aspect of the “Restore” ad is how transparently it addresses the recall, acknowledging that the company has made mistakes—from which it will learn, the voice-over assures. The commercial is an attempt at Maximum Disclosure, and an effort to win back those hesitant to trust the corporation again. Toyota tells the viewer, echoing what the CEO will tell Congress today, “We’re working to restore your faith in our company.” Considering the constant stream of negative details surfacing from the recall, renewed confidence in the brand could be a long way off. It will take more than nostalgic images and assertive words to convince customers at this point.