If a thief donates money to his church, is he charitable?
If a car company that sells the 4.7-liter Tundra, the 13-mpg Land Cruiser and the 273-horsepower Sequoia introduces hybrid technology, is it suddenly the eco-Savior?
Just asking. The answer isn't altogether clear, but we're caught up in the spirit of philosophical inquiry, because Toyota is doing the same thing itself. A new spot from Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., is nothing but a series of questions about a better, cleaner world.
The opening shot is very revealing: amber curtains, sheer and translucent, super-slowly billowing in the morning sun. There's some mood about take place. A wistful mood, to be precise. You can just feel it coming, barreling right at you: a heaping helping of, you know, wist, in the slowest of motion.
Yep. Soon we see a tree rustling in the breeze. And a green leaf skittering across the pavement. Nine seconds in, here comes the gentle voice-over, right on schedule:
"What if the air were clean again? Would the grass be greener?"
Now the grass, waving. A willow, swishing. A young lass' ginger locks, tossing. Something sweet is a blowin,' something sweet and innocent. There's a stone skipping across a placid lake, a girl on a trampoline at dusk. A boy with a dandelion, another blowing bubbles.
"Would you travel further?" the nice man asks (he means, we suppose, "farther"). "Would you live longer? Would the day never end? Would you see forever-if the air were clean again?"
Day never end? See forever? Huh? This guy better cut back on Deepak Chopra. But never mind-look at that moon! Look at that sunset! Look at those beautiful folks of varying ethnicities sucking in big gulps of pristine air! Get us to that world, quick!
But how? We all know that, thanks to Toyota SUVs and other crimes against nature, the atmosphere is a sewer. How is a carmaker equipped to bestow the precious gift of purity?
Ah. Right after the wind-blown waves of grain, our understated narrator poses one more question, which we are to take as an answer: "What if all cars released 80% fewer smog-forming emissions? Hybrid Synergy Drive, from Toyota. The power to move forward."
Oh. Turns out, technology has given us a better way. Which is a good thing. In time, Hybrid Synergy Drive and competing technologies will, indeed, reduce the fouling of the environment. That's called progress, and Toyota would be stupid not to talk about it.
Thus does this spot imagine a greener future, and evoke a sense of optimism in the here and now. All well and good, provided they are presented in some semblance of proportion. The problem is that both are laughably overstated. Toyota has very little credibility as an eco-citizen, and it certainly has no business posing as Rachel Carson.
As one of the world's leading merchants of filth, in fact, it owes us the courtesy of being circumspect about its technological contributions-at least until it pulls the Land Cruiser off the market on moral grounds. Sure, millions of Americans like quick acceleration and the feeling of invulnerability conferred by a gigantic gas guzzler. But nobody likes a hypocrite.
Which gets back to where we started. Can the murderer become a hero? That's the wrong question. Here's the right one:
If a prostitute issues condoms, is she chaste?
Review 1.5 stars
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi
Location: Torrance, Calif.