Jerry Seinfeld on His Deliberately Bad Ads for Acura

'Rope Off Death Valley' One of His Suggestions for Fixing Auto Commercials

By Published on .

Still from one of Seinfeld's Acura ads.
Still from one of Seinfeld's Acura ads.

Jerry Seinfeld's prescription for bad car advertising? No more shots of speeding cars raising dust clouds in the desert.

"We've just got to rope off Death Valley and say, 'No More,'" says Mr. Seinfeld. "No more."

The star of the Web series, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," is entitled to weigh in on the modern state of advertising. In addition to starring in several Super Bowl commercials over the years, the co-creator and star of Seinfeld is now a copywriter himself.

Working with ad agency Mullen, Mr. Seinfeld wrote eight new Web videos for Acura, the luxury car division of American Honda Motor Co. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men in Black"), Mr. Seinfeld's commercials will bookend new webisodes of "Comedians in Cars" when season three debuts Jan. 2, 2014.

Mr. Seinfeld's deliberately bad Acura spoof the often-hokey car commercials of the 1960s. There are even a few characters straight out of Mad Men -- which is no coincidence since Mr. Seinfeld said he recently starting watching the drama.

His new videos have drawn a mixed reaction online. Many say they're so bad they're good -- and a perfect complement to a niche Web show aimed at comedy enthusiasts. Others think they're just plain bad.

Acura serves as exclusive sponsor of Mr. Seinfeld's Web series. The key client, Honda Senior VP Mike Accavitti, said he's happy. Mr. Seinfeld's comedic videos "perfectly align to our independent thinking, car enthusiast, target customers," he said in a statement.

Mr. Seinfeld has one of the largest collection of vintage Porsches in the world. He's always on the lookout for the hottest new sports cars.

Advertising Age interviewed Mr. Seinfeld about the Acura videos, his all-time favorite ad campaign and the need for marketers not to take themselves too seriously. Excerpts:

What's with comedians and car ads? You for Acura? Will Ferrell for Dodge Durango?

If the comedians are funny, they can be very good in advertising. If Will Ferrell came out as Will Ferrell, as opposed to in-character, or I was standing there trying to do the Acura ads next to the car, all of a sudden everyone is feeling very uncomfortable. You know what I mean? ... But I think people tuning in to watch "Comedians in Cars" are comedy geeks anyway. So the flow into the advertising, which is purely comedic, is very smooth. If you put regular advertising next to "Comedians in Cars" it stands out as even more flat-footed and unappealing. ... If you want a different type of content, then that's what we're doing here. ["Comedians in Cars"] is not a real show. There's no narrative story like "Two and Half Men." It's not "The Tonight Show." It's a weird show. So if you have a show that's already a weird show, you want to have commercials that are weird. That's a good fit.

Why is there so much bad car advertising?

We've got to just rope off Death Valley and say no more. No more…We all want more creativity in everything. But it's easier said than done. Humor happens to be my field. So for me, it's always easy for me to say, 'Why don't you make that funnier?' It's not so easy to do it. It's like music. You want great music. But there's a handful of people who can do it. You can't get great music from the second- and third-tier musicians. That's the way everything works.

Is copywriting similar to writing standup material?

Absolutely identical. You're telling a story in 30 seconds. It's the same as a joke. How do I introduce the subject, show you why it's funny, then get a big laugh at the end. That confinement makes advertising a very easy thing for me. I'm used to working in that, 'You've got to make this work in the first five seconds.' When that commercial starts out with, 'Hot, Handsome and a Honey to Handle,' we're five seconds in and you've already got a laugh. That's how it's very similar to writing standup.

Will you be starring in another Super Bowl ad on Feb. 2?

No, not this year. I was working on these instead. This is my advertising for this year.

What's your favorite all-time ad campaign?

My gold standard are the Volkswagen ads from the 1960s. To me, that was the perfect image projection. I cannot stand seeing all this leasing information, and all the cluttered-up screens. I like a little graphic cleanliness to the advertising. But having a little sense of humor about yourself, to me, is the most potent type of image presentation. I think a lot of companies can use a little dose of that. Don't take yourself so seriously.

You're a big car lover. What are you driving today in the snowstorm?

Today, I'm driving an 1985 Mercedes-Benz Diesel Station Wagon. It's a tank. It's impervious to weather. It's snowing today in New York. And that's what you want to be in in the snow. You can just crash into something and keep going.

Are you kicking the tires on some hot new sports cars coming out, such as the Jaguar F-Type or Corvette Stingray

I look at every new sports car that comes on the market. I have seen, in person, a prototype of the Acura NSX in the flesh. The car we used in the Super Bowl spot two years ago was a clay model. But I've seen the actual car in person. I thought that was a supercool car. Not to be tooting my own horn. But I really did like it.

What TV shows are you watching now?

I'm just starting to watch 'Mad Men.' I like that a lot. I just discovered it.

Most Popular