Infiniti Prague-nosis: A vote for venality

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ADVERTISER: Nissan Motor Corp. USA's Infiniti
AGENCY: TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif.
RATING: 1 star

Bring back the rocks and trees.

Sure, there was something insufferable about the first Infiniti campaign, which displayed geese and floating leaves and other big, damp wads of nature while contemplating the spiritual essence of the fully independent rear suspension.

But as pretentious as they were, the ads were also a substantial success. Not only did they create a national sensation, they introduced a novel, high-toned definition of luxury, one that turned more on inner satisfaction than on ostentatious display of expense.

Yeah, well, so much for that.

The latest Infiniti restaging from TBWA Chiat/Day is at least as pretentious as its Zen Nissan predecessor, but in service of no such lofty principle. The 1996 reason for buying a $30,000-$50,000 car has nothing to do with inner satisfaction and everything to do with mindless acquisitiveness, venality and bribery of the soul.

Oh, and also with detached sophistication, as suggested by the Dave Brubeck standard in the background, the moody Prague setting and the new use of spokesman Jonathan Pryce. Instead of stalking around the Infiniti in a bright studio explicating on significant product features, the graceful, elegant actor now haunts the periphery, seeing but unseen, observing the world around him like a refugee from "Wings of Desire."

"Why do you work so hard?" Pryce asks, in voice-over, as the silent, cinematographic Pryce watches two businessmen walking the cool, shadowy streets. He is speaking not to these men in particular, but to their class of affluent achievers.

"Why do you rise so early? Why do you stay so late? Why do you sacrifice so much? Why do you play the game? Is it worth it?"

The men pile into an Infiniti, and there we are to presume is the answer. They work, they sacrifice, they neglect their families to own an impressive car--a motivation implicit in all luxury car ownership, but far too vulgar to actually speak aloud.

A second spot, asks, tellingly, "What brings you joy?" and a third, which seems to concern safety and the welfare of your children, is simply not to be believed: "How do you look out for someone you love? . . . How do you cherish their innocence? How do you guide them through life? . . . How do you show them you care?"

Um, leather seats and real walnut trim?

The tagline is "Thinking of you," but not very much of you. Beyond the stylish textures, the settings, the Paul Desmond solo in Brubeck's "Take 5," it turns out, this ad campaign evinces not elegance and sophistication at all but rather a resounding moral emptiness.

Ironically, the context for all this--following years of deep discounting--is Infiniti's desire to establish the solid, enduring value of its vehicles.

Would that Chiat had therefore tapped some solid, enduring human values, instead of merely production ones. Maybe the result wouldn't seem so affected and overwrought.

There is also the issue of the spokesman himself. For the past two years, he has irritated the daylights out of most of America merely talking about product features. How the luxury-car-buying public will react to him standing on a stone wall, meditating on innocence, has to be a concern.

But Infiniti has enough to worry about establishing a coherent brand image. Why quibble over Pryce?

Copyright June 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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