Mazda ad shows passion for the rote

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Advertiser: Mazda
Agency: Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco
Rating: 1-1/2 stars (out of 4)

In a last-ditch effort to avoid a review on the Mazda account, Foote, Cone & Belding--in the client's words--"brought all of the resources of the agency to bear" on developing a new brand-image campaign.

You can say that again. All of the agency's resources. All of the good ideas, all of the bad ideas, all of the in-between ideas, all of the gimmicks, all of the cliches--all crammed into one furiously paced 30-second spot for the Mazda 626.

The campaign is titled "Passion for the Road." But it doesn't suggest much in the way of passion. What is suggests is desperation, the frantic pressing of every imaginable imagery hot button to ignite the senses of car buyers and, more to the point, Mazda dealers.

What does "Passion for the Road" have? Hey, what doesn't it have?

It's got an overheated voice-over listing copy points in almost lewd tones: "160 horses. V-6 power. 626. Priced like a 4-cylinder Camry. 626. Smooth, smooth, smooth in everything it does--Car & Driver. 626."

Smooth, smooth, smooth? Is this for Mazda or Black Velvet? Or Norelco?

Meantime, intercut with the voice-over is a throaty Annie Lennox sound-alike belting, not to say bleating, "Pash shin for the ro-o-o-ad!" The jingle and the copy run right up against one another, creating either a sense of excitement, or of--in the manner of the toy commercials this spot in many ways resembles--exaggerated play value.

The latter is achieved partly with elaborate matte-ing effects, superimposing the moving car against an outsize instrument panel, and partly with the action sequence.

Oh, yes, there's an action sequence: James Bond pyrotechnics in a daring causeway escape past roadside explosive charges, bursting like napalm bombs not to destroy the car but to show off its sleek silhouette. This is not to mention the Tesla coil arcs of electricity, which apparently jump from the gear shifter when you jam it into fourth.

But that's not meant to be taken literally, for in addition to the copy points and the high-rev pacing and the rock music and the fireworks, there is also the surrealistic and suggestive imagery, a la Ridley Scott for Chanel No. 5.

Call it "Steal the fantasy" as we see Egyptian pyramids, rupturing chain links and a square-chinned man dressed for cocktails in the middle of the Bonneville Salt Flats, reflected in the window of a streaking 626. Such elusive meaning. So, if you're keeping score, now you may check off "mystique."

But wait, there's more!

What would a full-service car commercial be, after all, without some sex appeal? Fortunately, the Santa Ana, Calif., agency folks have brought all of their resources to bear, including major babe-osity. The 626 ad, it turns out, comes equipped with dual airheads (one a Marilyn clone with lips parted seductively and the other a darkhaired, feral vamp with yellow cat's eyes) who look like they have passion for something besides the road.

According to our tabulation, Mazda has left absolutely nothing out--except the brand image they were prepared to fire the agency in search of. Oh, for sure, this commercial has all the elements of car advertising.

It just doesn't feel right.

You can e-mail Bob Garfield at EFPB35A@prodigy.com.

Copyright October 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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