Bob Garfield

HUMMER PLAYS THE MONSTER LOVE CARD

An Impressive Giant Lizard and Robot Spot

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Three stars

Three reasons GM will have trouble selling Hummer H2s for the foreseeable future: The idiotic, short-sighted, self-destructive “employee discount” promotion -- which cleared a lot of 2005 inventory at giveaways prices -- has already depressed the new-car market.

The thing gets about 9 miles to the gallon. By the time this column is set in type, gasoline will cost about $5.00 a gallon.

Do the math.

Chimp genome
Never mind Darwin and the chimp genome. These vehicles and their owners constitute Exhibits A and B in the case against Intelligent Design. People who looked like ostentatious, arrogant, vulgar, penile-challenged pigs before the current energy difficulties will actually experience an image downgrade -- to approximately Satan’s spawn -- and be treated accordingly by their neighbors. They will experience the sort of open hostility previously reserved for child-molesters and liberals.

All well deserved, the way we see it. But what of the new 2006 H3, a more fully evolved third generation that looks like a Hummer, and offroads like a Hummer, but does not necessarily offend God and man like a Hummer? At 19 mpg it was meant to be a sane alternative--the Hummer pedigree minus the Hummer bulk. But at the moment, as we’ve seen, a Hummer pedigree is not likely to confer a brand-image advantage. Circumstances dictate, therefore, that Hummer ads shy away from the particulars--even the (relative) fuel efficiency--lest they remind the consumer of who the kid’s parents are. That means: skip the reason, skip the reality, skip even the tried-and-true tugs at conspicuous consumption and machismo. No, to sell the mini loutmobile in this environment, Hummer is playing…

…the love card.

Good gimmick
Good move. And a good gimmick, too–taking the Beauty and the Beast myth and doing it one better. We’ve all been touched by the inexplicable attraction to something monstrous: Esmeralda and Quasimodo. Fay Wray and King Kong. Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett. But Modernista!, Boston, has imagined the same dynamic between two beasts. Double the horror! Double the fun!

The spot is called “Monsters,” an intentionally cheesy production spoofing the unintentionally cheesy ‘50s-era Japanese monster flicks of the “Godzilla” variety. In this one, a skyscraper-sized reptile is stomping and chomping his way through a city only to encounter another towering menace: a gigantic robot with blinking red eyes. Naturally, they are soul mates at first sight.

“Love,” croons a gentle balladeer, “love is strange. Many people take it for a change.”

Freaks of nature
Sure enough, romance blooms between these freaks of nature and mechanization. Then, one day, their love is rewarded. While the robot is busy foraging for rooftop water towers, the lizard bears offspring: a cute little Hummer H3 which bounces happily through the rubble of the shattered city.

Most likely this spot was conceived long before the gas prices began to spike. So maybe the agency merely wished to dramatize the marriage of technology and raw animal power producing an adorably normal-sized chip off the old engine block. If that’s all they intended, they achieved their goal superbly.

But, intentionally or not, they also fashioned the perfect emotional appeal for a rationally unappealing brand. This spot gives you license not only to coo over the mid-size H3, it permits you to accept its brutish parents.

We can’t say we’re delighted--it reminds us of how deftly Stalin positioned himself as kindly Uncle Joe -- but, damn, we surely are impressed.

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