BMW ad message sinks in N.Y. canals

By Published on .

ADVERTISER: BMW
AGENCY: Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis
RATING: 2 stars

Headed for New York on vacation or business? DON'T DO IT!

The place is dangerous--and not just muggings and shootings, either, because the crime rate is actually going down. Nor is it only the AIDS situation, or the crack houses, or those charming Middle Eastern holy warriors playing jihad-and-seek with high explosives at major landmarks.

What you've got to watch out for in Manhattan these days are stampedes, falling buildings and an extremely alarming rise in the water table.

Seriously. We saw it on TV. If it isn't the headlong rush of angry rhinos in the financial district, such as we noticed in a recent Mercedes-Benz ad, then it's gigantic skyscrapers tumbling like so many dominoes, as documented in a spot from New York Life. It's getting so you can't walk the streets anymore.

No, really. As we learn in a new spot for BMW, there are no streets anymore.

Only canals.

Anyway, that's what Fallon McElligott would have us believe. A woman is tooling around midtown in her new 5-Series BMW, while all the other traffic floats. On Fifth Avenue, the New York Public Library looks like Marina del Rey with all manner of luxury craft tied up in slips out front. But most everybody with a boat isn't at anchor; they're out cruising. The BMW has to dodge and weave like a jet ski in a yacht basin to avoid colliding with a 60-footer on the starboard bow.

At one point, the woman looks up through her sunroof and does a double take. There's a guy on a window ledge, fishing. Then he gets a tug on his line and makes a stupid, surprised face. Then she makes a stupid, surprised face. Then after a moment the voice-over comes on. "Why float through life . . . when you can drive?"

A reasonable question. Here's another one: Huh?

Is this spot supposed to be about how well the new Beemer handles in water, in the way that last winter's cute penguin spot was about how well the car gets traction on ice? Because, if so, who buys a car based on how well it handles in water? Or is this about how the BMW is the ultimate driving machine, while Lincoln and Cadillac and Lexus are boats--big, soft-riding, luxurious boats?

The answer, of course, is that this spot isn't about either of those things. What it's about is the visual effect of replacing New York's streets with canals. Fallon has taken a notion from 1963, when a Chevy negotiated the canals of Venice, and applied the digital compositing technology that Barilla pastas used in 1995, turning those very same canals into fields of wheat.

No crime there, of course. Let's call this a homage to classic work of the past. The crime is letting the cart push the horse, permitting a reasonably interesting visual effect to distract from, rather than stand for, the selling message. Factor in the ridiculous mugging in the fisherman sequence--mugging like out of a Pringles commercial--and what you're left with is expensive, overwrought, very unFallonlike advertising.

But don't worry about that, because we've changed channels, and now we're looking at an Aurora spot, and the Statue of Liberty has come to life and is tromping through New York Harbor.

Hurry! Scramble aboard a yacht. Shove both engines to full throttle and float! Float for your lives.

Copyright May 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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