Putting 30something spin on midlife angst

By Published on .

Advertiser: Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America
Agency: Deutsch, Santa Monica, Calif.
Ad Review rating: Three and a half stars

We are all going to die, perhaps of something very serious, and even before that there is a lot of unsightly sagging.

That means there remains for us all a finite number of career advancements, sporting triumphs, precious family moments and highly charged explicit or implicit sexual encounters with intriguing strangers arrayed ahead.

That's why midlife crisis isn't merely a phenomenon or a pop-psychology cliche; it's an industry. Cosmetic surgery. The Mazda Miata. Fitness centers. Rogaine. Viagra. Mortality may be bad for your health but, by God, it's a hell of a business opportunity.

Screen 1 from the spot

Screen 2 from the spot

Screen 3 from the spot

Screen 4 from the spot

So, if you're a marketer, why wait?

Why wait for consumers to turn into pathetic, grasping, self-absorbed, panicked 45-year-olds if you can cash in on their insecurity 15 or 20 years earlier? This seems to be the strategy of Deutsch, Santa Monica, Calif., in its marvelous dealer campaign for Mitsubishi cars. The theme: Midlife Crisis, the Accelerated Program.

"Life, cars and adulthood," says the onscreen type to begin one of three clever spots, showing a guy, about 29 years old, driving a late-model Buick.

"You never know when it's going to happen," the voice-over intones, "but when it does, you'll never forget it."

Alongside the Buick pulls a 1963 Ford Falcon with two nice looking young women in it. The passenger babe waves to the guy, who smiles and waves back. Then she rolls down her window.

"Excuse me, sir. Do you know how to get to the freeway from here?"

Mercy. Not only doesn't she want to pick him up, she hits him with the withering "Sir."

"At a moment like this," the voice-over continues, "head to your Mitsubishi retailer and get a sporty new '98 Eclipse." Then, after the price and financing come-ons, the question: "Is your life built for Mitsubishi?"

Of course, the real question is, is your life so pitiful that you need to be spending it in a Buick? Have you thrown in the towel at 29? Forget death. There is also pre-death, hitherto defined as that period when you cease to be a sexual being and start listening to Paul Harvey, but now vividly rendered as the state of not caring what sort of automotive image you project.

A second spot, set in a gym, is just as good. As guys are working out, over the gym P.A., we hear: "There's a tan minivan in the parking lot with its lights on." Everyone looks around for the dork driving the wussymobile.

"Whoever owns the tan minivan, your lights are on."

The camera wanders around the room, finally finding a thirtysomething guy doing dumbbell curls in a green T-shirt and a sheepish expression. The solution: a rugged Montero sport-ute.

"Hurry," the voice-over says, "you don't have much time."

He means not only time to get the great financing, but time before you are going to the 4 p.m. early-bird dinner specials. Brilliant.

For one thing, it's nice to see an SUV spot that acknowledges the vehicle's appeal has nothing to do with any wilderness beyond the vast frontier of vanity, affectation and desire to be cool. Maybe that proves the perversity of the consumer culture and the poverty of the human soul. But the marketer's job is not to fix humanity; it's to give humanity what it wants.

And all humanity wants is to live forever, with an unenlarged prostate and a cool set of wheels.

Copyright May 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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