"Sorry," we offered. "You have no idea who that is."
Whereupon this smart-aleck 14-year-old looked at us blankly and replied. "Ohhhh, Wil-burrrrrr."
We were stunned, and confessed as much-something about how could she have so systematically beachcombed the cultural flotsam of her parents' generation. The child rolled her eyes. "Daddy, you have to understand. Your generation is our generation."
Ah, Nick at Night, time machine.
We'll reserve judgment as to whether this phenomenon is a blessing or a curse. But the Ford Motor Co. had better hope the time machine is still humming, because it has spent a lotta, lotta, lotta money going back to the future for icons that will either trigger all the right responses or leave the entire target audience completely oblivious.
The product is the Mustang, the formerly revolutionary, now boring sports car. The idea is to infuse the vehicle with some of the excitement and sex appeal of yore. This is approximately like trying to infuse Warren Beatty with the excitement and sex appeal of yore. It's pitiful, is what it is, because youth loves youth. So, in a fourfold fashion, J. Walter Thompson found some youth and resurrected it.
The first trick was to hire Steve McQueen, who is dead. In fact, he has been dead for 25 years, but never mind. Film magic has given careers-from-beyond to Louis Armstrong, Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, Elton John and many others. JWT chose this particular corpse because his most famous sequence in his most famous movie, the 1968 shoot-em-up "Bullitt," involved a hair-raising chase scene through San Francisco in a Mustang.
Makes some sense-just as (speaking of resurrection) it made some sense seven years ago when Young & Rubicam used the same gimmick and the same director for the same client in Europe.
But why stop there? As long as we're rooting through the pop culture attic, why not dust off another Hollywood antiquity, the Kevin Costner flick "Field of Dreams." The new spot has a farmer plowing up his corn, just as Costner's character did in 1989, only instead of making a ball diamond he makes a racetrack with a layout just like California's Willow Spring. McQueen emerges from the cornfield, grabs a set of keys and makes the 2004 Mustang roar.
Two old movies, one dead actor, one recycled idea; it's a lot to process even for us. And we're old. One genuinely wonders what the 23-year-olds will think. True, Zombie Steve McQueen is pretty damn virile and cool, but will anyone make the connections required to justify the trouble, expense and weirdly mixed cine-metaphors? Well, let's go back to the horse, of course, of course, and solicit an answer that she'll endorse. The kid, now ripened, has seen the ad.
"Katie, did you ever see `Bullitt?"'
"Did Steve McQueen make you want to buy a Mustang?"
"I didn't notice it was for a Mustang."
Ford Motor Co.
J. Walter Thompson, Detroit
Ad Review Rating: 1.5 stars