EV1 provides Saturn with charge of pride

By Published on .

Advertiser: General Motors Corp.
Agency: Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco
Ad Review rating: 3 1/2 stars

When Hal Riney & Partners unveiled the Saturn back in 1990, with what would turn out to be among the finest campaigns in automotive history, certain parties groused about how understated it was. The advertising was too quiet, they said. Too self-effacing for a product so obviously a watershed in U.S. industrial history.

Well, they were clearly quite mistaken. Or, more to the point, we were mistaken. Even the ordinarily infallible Ad Review staff acknowledges Saturn has ridden its self-effacement to a brand image that's the envy of the industry.

Nonetheless, six years later, our impatience has been rewarded. With the unveiling of EV1, the Saturn-distributed electric car from General Motors Corp., Riney has at long last given us the bombast we asked for way back when.

Goodbye, understatement. Hello, cinematic hyperbole. A 90-second TV and cinema spot crafted by Industrial Light & Magic, along with 60- and 30-second versions, uses eye-popping digital effects to communicate the revolutionary significance, the drama and the exciting implications of this introduction.

Never mind that the most excited one in the ad is a toaster. The waffle iron is pretty charged up, too. Also the vacuum cleaner, juicer, table saw, fan and every other electrical appliance in the neighborhood, as computer magic enables them to scramble from their perches in the home and make for the sidewalk, where they watch the first EV1 to come humming down the street.

The march of the electronivores! It's a wonderful conceit, wonderfully realized. Even the unplugged among us will not be able not to stare at the futuristic vehicle Californians and Arizonans can buy right now.

"The electric car is here," says the voice of Linda Hunt, with no embarrassed shoe-scuffing about it. This is clearly being positioned as a new beginning, and no bashful, low-wattage approach will do. Maybe the original Saturn dispatches from the rural oasis of Spring Hill, Tenn., resembled little feature stories from The Nashville Network, but EV1 is going for total impact.

A current affair, you might say. It remains for subsequent TV spots and print to detail the benefits (and gloss over the drawbacks) of non-fossil- fuel transportation. But for now, Riney and GM have made an electrifying debut. And more power to them.


The central joke of the charming and hilarious HBO ad called "Chimps" is that primatologist Jane Goodall has been an HBO subscriber on the Gombe wildlife preserve for so long, the local chimpanzees can recite the dialogue to classic movies. Hence the punchline, "Dr. Jane Goodall, HBO viewer since 1978." Unfortunately, it's just a charming lie. While Goodall may indeed--as a BBDO Worldwide, New York, spokesperson strains to point out--have occasionally viewed the pay-cable network since 1978, "The fact of the matter is HBO is not available in Africa." The campaign's other ad, about cable service to orbiting astronauts, is so ridiculous as to be fair game for blatant exaggeration. Call it the Joe Isuzu Effect. By the same token, nobody could take talking chimps for a serious claim. But the notion of HBO in Africa is not patently implausible. It is therefore patently a deception, a false testimonial, and--clever as it is--should be pulled immediately. Advertising can afford big, bald, cartoonish lies. It cannot afford little white ones.

Copyright November 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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