Agency: Y&R Advertising and Impiric, Chicago
Ad Review rating: Three and a half stars
Before we start talking Nascar, we should discuss the biggest problem in this country's advertising: the absence of Early American furniture.
You can search all the reception areas of all the agencies in all the cities and you will never, ever see a big sofa with maple-trimmed arms and brown, tweed fabric beneath some sort of pewter wall hanging of an eagle clenching arrows in its talons. Why is this? Well, first, as anyone dressed all in black will tell you, these things are ugly -- objectively ugly, according to science and nature and the immutable laws of the cosmos. Highly educated, urban, coastal and generally well-to-do ad people simply are not an Early American crowd. They are so not an Early American crowd, in fact, so confident in their rarified tastes and smug in their aesthetic superiority, that they are scarcely aware of an Early American crowd.
Watching Stallone, swilling Bud
But there's the problem: Most of the country is an Early American crowd. There is a whole big population out there, and it isn't reading Architectural Digest, watching foreign films and sipping chai. It is reading Parade, watching Stallone and swilling Bud. You don't have to go to Iowa to find Middle America. It is in Pasadena and Miami and Queens, New York. It eats macaroni and cheese, it reads romance novels, and it smokes.
It doesn't know who Robert Mapplethorpe was, it doesn't understand that Early American sofas (or, worse yet, chrome-trimmed "contemporary" sectionals) are mockeries of God's plan, but it sure has most of the money for buying the products that advertising people stupidly persist in advertising hiply to their own elitist selves.
To cite one tiny example, think of that Philips spot for the flat TV, filled with funky, edgy, lower-Manhattan young dot-commers. Very cool -- except the people who buy $2,000 TVs are mainly sitting in Barcaloungers watching Cops or Touched by an Angel or Nascar.
Middle America loves it
Which, with 63 million extremely ardent fans, is the No. 2 TV sport, after football. Put aside for the moment that watching auto racing on TV is like watching the Traffic Channel. And ignore the propensity for Nascar's marquee personalities to die in horrific crashes (which is, after all, both a liability and a morbid come-on). The fact is that Middle America loves it. Not just trailer-park America. Not just snuff-dipping America. Not just wallet-chained-to-the-belt America. More of America than, for instance, golf.
So it is extremely fascinating to see what Nascar is up to now. Unlike so many advertisers who foolishly craft messages as if they were targeting a more sophisticated audience, Nascar -- which already owns a solid chunk of Middle America -- is intentionally aiming somewhat above its core demographic to cultivate a wider audience still. Because so thoroughly has it become an institution in D, C, & B counties, it has nowhere to go but up.
A charming and funny campaign from Y&R Advertising and Impiric, Chicago, uses TV and print to portray Nascar enthusiasm as a magnificent obsession. The tagline: "How bad have you got it?"
One spot shows a young wife telling her pointedly non-redneck husband she is pregnant. He immediately conjures a fantasy about screeching through the streets on the way to the hospital, zooming in and out of traffic at high speed. Only after that reverie does he embrace her. "Oh, honey, I love you."
In another spot, the whole family pulls into a donut joint and climbs out of the car ... through the windows, Nascar-style. In another, junior videotapes an ordinary drive with Dad. At home, they slap it in the VCR in fast-forward and just imagine. And the best spot of all shows a couple in bed trying to sleep while through the partially open window they listen to someone gunning an engine outside. The wife gets up -- and opens the window all the way. Fabulous.
Nobody in these spots is dressed all in black. The families depicted here are quite ordinary. The sophistication lies in the approach: quiet, understated, knowing. The ads assiduously avoid the cliches of the sport -- and even the famous drivers -- to find the essence: the thrill that (allegedly) never goes away.
Nothing here to disenfranchise the world of tweed sofas. But Ikea, at least, is being asked to come along for the ride.
Copyright March 2001, Crain Communications Inc.