Kia SUV's tale is tall, but humor is small

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Kia, the Korean carmaker with designs on the American market, is aiming first at Gen Xers. And because federal law mandates that all advertising aimed at Gen Xers employ quirky humor, the introduction of the Kia Sportage convertible SUV goes full-quirk.

The spot, from Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco, is called "Ed's Life."

"I grew up here," says the narrator, Ed, as we see a fish-eye view of the canyons of Manhattan through his Sportage's convertible top. "Had a corner office. Then I chucked it all to become an Indian." Now we see real canyons in the Wild West. "Did that, then, ooh, designed this bridge." That would be the Golden Gate Bridge, also shown ultrawide angle. Then a car's-eye-view of Muir Woods, or some such place. "See these trees? I planted them."

Screen 1 from the spot

Screen 2 from the spot

Screen 3 from the spot

Screen 4 from the spot

Later, the hilarious conclusion. But first a few thoughts about humor in advertising.

It is here to stay. Sure, there are still a few skeptics, a few naysayers, a few (how can we phrase this delicately? Ah, yes) pathetic, aging, has-been, know-nothing, irony-impaired, sour-assed losers who still complain about ads that entertain, entertain, entertain rather than sell, sell, sell.

And, true enough, some ads are gratuitously funny, with no apparent selling purpose, nor any agenda whatsoever beyond spicing up the creative director's show reel.

But much funny advertising does indeed sell, sell, sell. And, when it is done especially well--as current campaigns for "ESPN SportsCenter," Snickers, the Weather Channel and "Got milk?" demonstrate--humor can outdo drama, prod- uct-demo and the hardest of hard sell in cutting directly to the core meaning of the brand.

But here's the thing about humor: It works best when it's funny.

It doesn't work when it's almost funny. It doesn't work when it's obviously meant to be funny, and acted as if it were funny, and cut as if it were funny, and silly or absurd or eccentric in the pursuit of funny, if it isn't actually--this is the key--funny.

Ask Mel Brooks, the genius behind "The Producers" and "Blazing Saddles," who for the last 30 years has been tragically almost funny. Or Dan Aykroyd, the '70s phenom who has spent the '80s and the '90s being pathetically almost funny.

Or Paul Rudnick, whose Premiere magazine column, under the nom de plume Libby Gelman-Waxner, is maybe the most consistently, savagely hilarious feature in American criticism. But he's also the author of the Kevin Kline disappointment "In & Out," which despite the efforts of several brilliant comic actors, had 100% of its comedy in the 2-minute trailer and another hour and a half of not-funniness.

And now, back to the Sportage spot.

After Muir Woods, the car screeches to a halt and the voice-over kicks in: "Introducing the Kia Sportage convertible. It makes the world seem like a bigger place." Then Ed, who is driving two skeptical passengers, says, "Keep going?"

"Yeah," they reply. "Keep going."

Oh, please don't.

Became an Indian? A guy telling big lies can be funny; Joe Isuzu was. But this sure isn't. This spot isn't a great number of things, including coherent, but what it especially isn't is funny. Rather than calling comic attention to the car's open-air wonder, it merely screams of its own pitifully grasping cluelessness.

And because it doesn't entertain, entertain, entertain, it fails entirely to sell, sell sell.

Copyright July 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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