The AdCritic

Hummer, VW and Whiskas

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This week, our editors rate new spots for Hummer, Volkswagen and Whiskas. Let us know what you think by sending us your comments.

H2 "Big Race"
Hummer: Big Race

This new Hummer spot from Modernista! -- if nothing else -- qualifies for the Best Spot Depicting a Wooden Interpretation of the Product Award. Happily there are other things to recommend it. One of them is the sheer joy of the coming-of-age narrative. The opening frames set up the quest of the story -- and perhaps life: "Race. First One Down Wins." From there, we're taken on a gentle, Wes Anderson-influenced adventure about a young man who thinks outside of the soapbox and builds the biggest baddest racer in the shape of the H2. The spot includes exciting offroad driving shots of the homemade Hummer and, engagingly, the track "Happy Jack" from The Who. The whole thing leaves the viewer feeling good about life, sport utility vehicles and the Hummer. Wisely, the ad positions Hummer drivers as resourceful indivudualists rather than status conscious lemmings -- which, of course, many car ads strive to do -- but this one might actually have a shot at appealing to resourceful individualists. It remains to be seen, however, how the status conscious lemmings that form the majority of the Hummer's audience will warm to this message. (TI)

VW "Windy Zen"
Volkswagen: Touareg Launch

Between the teaser spots and the actual launch, this introductory effort for the VW Touareg feels like two completely different campaigns. That can't be good, but first things first. The teaser campaign -- in which we see people being coached through the ridiculous cliches of SUV advertising -- is brilliant. These tropes have been mocked before -- most notably by Toyota -- but never as thoroughly as VW can and does. We are reminded that without the effects and cinematography, the claims SUVs make about our imaginary outdoor/urban/soccer mom/cowboy lifestyles ring almost entirely false. The clever -- and, in it's own way, clutter-busting -- concept even pays off nicely in the line: "Ready for something new?" And, yes, we are.

But when the actual campaign comes, there isn't much new about it, at least by the standards we've come to expect from Arnold and Volkswagen. The only wrinkle here is that the Touareg gets compared, not to other SUVs, but to other VWs with the line: "The Volkswagen that does what other Volkwagens don't." It's a tribute to VW's brand equity that it feels comfortable admitting that there's anything its cars can't do, but still -- after the stunning launch effort for the Beetle convertible and the bold teaser campaign, this feels like a letdown. Perhaps the conventions of SUV advertising are just too strong, even for Volkswagen. (JH)

Whiskas "Zebra"
Whiskas: Zebra and Buffalo

In the dog-eat-dog cat food category, where Meow Mix has upped the ante with an actual TV show for the self-absorbed critters, this new campaign for Whiskas hits just the right note. The spots, from TBWA/Chiat/Day/L.A., appeal to the conceit that Mr. Mittens, king of your apartment and ruler of your life, is only a few evolutionary steps away from his king-of-the-jungle brethren. Such a premise has to be pure catnip for the peculiar breed we call cat fanciers. While we're used to seeing cats demonstrating their preference for foie gras (or fish guts and cow hoofs pureed and packaged as foie gras); cats lolling around oozing disdain for everyone and everything around them (often characterized as bitchy queens for some reason); and cats in machiavellian power struggles with other household pets, this campaign takes a refreshingly different tack. Here we see your everyday Felis catus stalking the African plain, hunting zebras and giant water buffalo, like a lion on the Discovery Channel. The effect is delivered with precision by director Noam Murro. The housecats assume the fearsome poses of the big cats, but with audio and visual cues to remind us that they are still just masters and mistresses of the house whose quotidian quarry are bugs and sick birds. The meow outbursts as the cats spring into action are a tiny yet potent touch sure to delight the target audience.

The spots end with the line "meant to satisfy your cat's natural instincts" -- which is meaningless in the rational universe but oh so meaningful to obsessed cat owners who fancy their pets mighty regents in miniature. The campaign fits nicely with the lean mean ethic of our times. Cats are no longer puffy overindulged dandies, but close kin to the majestic predators of the savannah. The creative manages to squeeze in some health benefits and please cat fanatics, all without making the casual cat owner (they do exist -- I've met them) want to vomit. (TI)

(THE REVIEWERS: Jim Hanas is the editor of Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine.)

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