Buying a Used Car on eBay

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Client: eBay
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
Star Rating: 2.5

Client: CarFax
Agency: Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.
Star Rating: 3

Once, when the AdReview staff was young, we hitchhiked a great distance. Once, in college, we spent an evening experimenting with LSD and opium. (We never

They're dancing in the streets at eBay.
Driving with the CarFax dog.
tried this again, although it was an extremely successful experiment.) And once, in an act of utter insanity, we bid for an automobile on eBay.

Thankfully, we lost out to another bidder -- one of an estimated 200,000 customers/lunatics who bought a used vehicle online last year, which is approximately like choosing your spouse by voicemail.

Sees a big future
But eBay, the online auctioneer, sees a big future in the $400 billion used-car market, so it is advertising for comers. A new spot, from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, opens with a desperate kidney patient shopping for a new organ via pinata. He takes a ... Ha! Kidding! It doesn't begin that way at all!

No, it's another goofy musical rendition of the old Sinatra standard "My Way," only with a pudgy song-and-dance woman singing "eBay."

And now... my dream car's here. ... I got a deal, of this I'm certain/ Type in your choice... then hit return. ... You want selection. They're not hurtin'/ Cars and trucks... and cycles, too... at the same place as this dress shoe/ If it exists... it can be found. ... You can even buy a town... and do it eeeeeeBayyyy.

Purposely fun
Like the previous eBay spot, in which a pudgy male hoofer belted out the lyrics, the commercial is fun to watch -- which is not an accident. Fun is a critical part of the eBay brand message, along with adventure, value and e-convenience.

The fun element, however, does nothing to mitigate the manifest irrationality of the proposition. Yes, 200,000 reckless adventurers ignored the obvious dangers of buying vehicles sight unseen, but there's nothing here to address the misgivings of clear-thinking Everyone Else.

Until eBay develops a simple, trustworthy mechanism for kickin' the tires, the other 43 million used-car purchasers each year will do it -- the ollllllld waaaaaay.

If you were a kidney-in-the-pinata sort of consumer, you'd still want to know about the car or truck you're buying. Enter Carfax, a service that provides any car's history of title transfers and major damage claims. So if you go

to Trader's Jim's -- or eBay -- you can find out if the alleged creampuff has been in a broadside collision during a flashflood.

Weird storytelling concept
To explain the concept, the Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., produced a spot dramatizing one way such hidden damage could occur, an ad currently in heavy rotation (although the account is now at Lowe & Partners Worldwide, New York). It's not quite informational enough, but it is nonetheless one of the finest and weirdest examples of advertising storytelling we've ever encountered. It opens on a pickup truck passenger. He is evidently exasperated with his student driver, who isn't in view:

"I don't even know why I bother. Do you want to go home?"

Pan right: The driver is the man's dog, who isn't following directions. "No, what are you doing?! No! No ducks!" The truck goes barreling into a pond.