Goodbye, winter gloom; hello, lawn-mower ads

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Spring is here.

How do we know this? It's easy as 1-2-3.

1. The Philadelphia Phillies, at this writing, are unvictorious, albeit not yet arithmetically eliminated.
2. The cherry blossoms have come to Washington. In fact, thanks to yet another mild winter, they're almost gone. If the Republicans continue to dismiss global warming as a scientific "controversy," the Cherry Blossom Festival will have to be moved up to Presidents' Day.
3. The lawn mower ads are on TV.

Ahhh! That's better! All is right with the world and the great circle of life. There is a time for every purpose under heaven, and now, after the long winter's gloom, it's time to think about the yard.

Which is why the blossoming of mower ads is one of our favorite rites of spring, easily beating:

1. Easter-egg hunts (soggy grass, too much bending over).
2. Seders (do you know what gefilte fish looks like?).
3. Trips to Disneyworld (Disneyworld.)

We've always cherished this dopey annual exercise because the ads have always made lawn mowers look cool, fun and super manly. And they have always made the men populating the ads look supremely satisfied. In other words, as perfectly befits the season of renewal, they are about optimism. And optimism feels good.

A more gimlet-eyed view of reality, after all, would see what that shiny new mower leads to:

1. Work
2. Work hanging over your head before it is actually undertaken.
3. A grimy used mower.

But this is no time to dwell on reality. This is advertising we're talking about, and advertising reality has always been dopey guy-loves-machine vignettes of men looking preternaturally delighted at the prospect of sweating like pigs while breathing in gasoline exhaust and lethal allergens.

So what on earth are we to make of the 2006 Sears spring yard-equipment commercial, from Y&R, Chicago?

Oh, it's about mowers, all right. And it's about spring. And it's a bona fide masterpiece. But it's so ... different.

If you're not paying strict attention, you might not recognize this as an ad at all. It looks like something from a nature program: time-lapse photography of springtime flora coming to life. As a guitar softly plays, buds bud, shoots shoot and petals unfold. It's gorgeous.

But a closer look reveals the real springtime miracle: As the flowers open up, instead of pistils and stamens protruding from their throats, we see gas grills, and patio furniture and-above all-lawn mowers. Push mowers, riding mowers, gas, electric, popping out as if nature had decreed so itself. It's a beautiful effect, accomplished with a little digital editing and a lot of imagination.

Not the sort of imagination that says, "We're bored with the formula. Let's do something totally different," but the sort that says, "Since our consumer culture has made hard-goods shopping a rite of spring, let's be literal about it. Let's make it look truly natural."

Which, come to dwell on it, might be some sharp strategic thinking. For all the goofy optimism of the prototype mower ad, there was always that inherent conflict with our heart-of-hearts understanding of grass-cutting's miserable reality. This ad doesn't ask us to posture or pretend. It simply expects us to accept that spring is here, and all that comes with it:

1. Stuff grows.
2. That stuff must be cut short in its prime.
3. Just like your weekend.

Review: 3.5 stars
Ad: Sears
Agency: Y&R
Location: Chicago
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