Forgettable Ads for a Zippy Import

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Advertiser: Audi
Product: A4 Model
Agency: McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C.
Rating: 2

Clay Dalrymple had a perfectly acceptable career for the Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles from 1960 to 1971, a 1,079-game span over which he batted only .233 but was a dependable defensive catcher.

Twelve years in the major leagues is no easy accomplishment. Twelve consecutive undistinguished years -- playing in the company of such stars as Elston Howard, Joe Torre, Manny Sanguillen and Johnny Bench -- is on the verge of being a phenomenon. Dalrymple, you could say, was a giant of mediocrity.

Never approaching excellence
And he is in such good company. Think of all those people and institutions, before, during and since the Dalrymple era, which have succeeded while never even approaching excellence:

The Nick Nolte filmography
Black Oak Arkansas, the '70s raunch 'n' roll band.
C.W. Post University
The late Sen. Roman Hruska (R-Nebraska)
Thom McCann
The Seattle Seahawks
Wednesdays on CBS
Just about anything Sara Lee.

Truly, we could go on forever. And that's the point. Isn't there enough mediocrity in the world already? Do we really need any more?

Mediocre ads worldwide
Rhetorical question. Of course we don't need any more, but it just keeps coming. It's piling up, especially in advertising, which is consistently mediocre worldwide for no apparent reason. From our vantage, maybe we should just be grateful when any campaign comes out that isn't an utter embarrassment or outrage, but the cumulative effect of the just-plain minimally acceptable is quite demoralizing.

This gets us to today's subject: the Audi A4, as advertised in print to minimally acceptable standards by Havas Advertising's McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C.

Pretty good car, the A4. They've just relaunched it, with all kinds of new features -- not that we can enumerate them, because the ad doesn't bother to say. What the ad does say, that the A4 is the fountain of youth, is somewhat compelling although unsupported. It's unsupported because, uh, it isn't true.

Zippy German import
Oh, don't take that wrong. The proposition that this zippy, nice-handling little German import is the "elixir of youth" obviously is hyperbole well within advertising's accepted limits. It's not meant to be taken literally. It's just another way to say "fun."

But ... so ... then ... why bother? Why bother to obscure the car's new exterior to set it up in a barren environment next to a coldly stylized sliding board in service of a puffy claim that will be dismissed as silly from the get-go. "Suddenly every ride's exciting!" they say.

Yeah. Right.

Austere and not inviting
The car in this ad doesn't look all that exciting, nor even zippy and nice-handling. It looks cold and austere and not particularly inviting. That is: not fun.

Look, the ad isn't terrible. The layout is eye-catching. The headline is stimulating enough to get you to read the extremely small amount of extremely overstated copy in spite of its extremely small type. And the idea of being a kid again in the A4 is communicated. But not cleverly, not memorably, not persuasively. Not even informationally. It's simply hard to believe that a major advertising agency, working with the budgets and lead time an automotive account affords, cannot -- in a double-truck magazine ad -- make a more impressive showing. (The TV, by the way, is no better.)

So here's to McKinney & Silver for a major-league effort: the Clay Dalrymple of advertising.

Correction: Phallo-extender
In a previous column about the launch of the new Ford Thunderbird, "AdReview" misidentified a black race car pictured in the commercial. We called it "an Italian phallo-extender." We have since been flamed by many readers such as Sterling Sahaydak who points out that the car is actually a Lotus Esprit, and adds, hilariously, "Maybe you should have stuck with being a critic of lasagna, Garfield!" Our mistake: It is an English phallo-extender.