It's stupid (and cliched), but we can look past that

Published on .

This one is easy to hate.

The new campaign for National car rental consists of seven comedy blackouts, each one more cliched than the next. One of them actually involves a clumsy interviewee smashing the Big Man's prized model clipper ship. Another spoofs on defibrillation paddles. Another shows a doctor snapping on a latex glove for a rectal exam. Um, haven't we been here before? Southwest Airlines or something?

Or everything.

The campaign also features a lot of crudeness, including one body-hair gag, one honeymoon-bed gag, one S&M gag and, of course, the latex glove. Gag.

Then there's the recidivist quality of the work, from Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis, which also brought you a transgender joke to advertise Holiday Inns' makeover and a cross-dressing dad to sell Subway sandwiches. You wonder what this agency's creative influences are. We think it's Howie, the kid in seventh grade who could make farting sounds with his armpit.

Furthermore, one of the jokes is just plain mean: picking on some guy with lots of body hair. Since when is hairiness a character flaw?

So, no, it's no surprise that dismissed this work as nasty.

But we like it.

Oh, not the particulars so much-for all the above-stated reasons. But strategically and structurally, this is a fine campaign that is certain to boost the visibility of the client, hitherto the Lamont Cranston of rental car companies. (You have a computer. Google it.)

The brief was to communicate "brief." Car rental can be a tedious process, standing in one line at the airport counter and then, after a bus ride, a second queue at the remote rental office. Hertz and Budget have long communicated their various express services, but National was scarcely a part of the conversation. Now it is, because Fallon came up with two ways of communicating "brief."

One way was the aforementioned jokes, which dramatize the world's quickest charades game, the world's quickest honeymoon, the world's quickest internship, the world's quickest job interview, the world's quickest physical, the world's quickest promotion and the world's quickest residency. The honeymoon one is actually pretty funny, because as the couple gets comfy in their nuptial bed, the groom produces a ventriloquist dummy named Mr. Jenkins.

We also grudgingly concede the latex glove spot did have a twist to it-literally. The doc was so ham-fisted, he couldn't fit the thing on his hand properly, sending the patient running out of the room lest this oaf... well, never mind. You get it. Hence, "the world's quickest physical."

The main point, though, is that the spots are themselves brief: 15-second bursts including the joke and a series of quick-changing slides:

"The quickest way to rent from National."

"Bypass the counter."

"Choose your own car."

"Get an e-receipt."

"National, Green is for Go."

Nice tagline, too. Pity that the supporting premises are so threadbare.

It's all so reminiscent of the Subway fiasco, in which Fallon used some over-the-top means to get across the idea of "permission." That was a brilliant strategy, compromised by the lazy and childish transgressiveness of the ads. The National campaign is less brilliant, but also less compromised, because every element of the campaign evokes speed-even the cliches, which, hackneyed and obvious as they are, certainly take no time to absorb.

We also have to take note that a similar comedy mentality informs Fallon's Holiday Inn Express campaign, the one that conflates the meaning of "smart," as in "pragmatic," with "smart," as in "knowledgeable." We long ago dismissed that concept as tortured and stupid, but it's been on the air for five years because the "smart" ploy came across.

Okay, so we were wrong. But we're quick to admit it.


3 stars

Ad: National

Agency: Fallon Worldwide

Location: Minneapolis
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