Ad Report Card: Reader Picks and Pans

It’s been months and months since the last time I gave over Ad Report Card’s prime real estate to the picks and pans of readers. This is not because readers are shy about offering their opinions of various ads, good and bad; it’s because I’m selfish. That’s not going to change, of course, but the time has come to open the floor to a few of the interesting reader critiques I’ve received recently. I get a lot of ad-related correspondence, and it falls into three categories. The ad you hate. The ad you love. And the ad you find so incomprehensible that are you left desperate for an explanation. Let’s proceed.

An SUV for SUV haters? There’s sort of no getting around the fact that sport utility vehicles’ most outstanding characteristic is their size. They’re big. SUV enthusiasts are happy about this; SUV opponents complain about it. In a recent campaign, Suzuki has been touting its XL-7, which is an SUV that is supposed to be big without being too big. The ads make this point, curiously enough, by making fun of SUVs. In one spot—which you can see here, via—an absurdly large SUV in the act of parallel parking destroys the cars on either side of it, scraping up the hood of one, smashing the taillights of the other. “You don’t have to go to excess to get size and power,” chides the narrator. Sean R., a devoted Moneybox e-mailer, is “nauseated” by the hood-scraping and puzzled by the ad: “In the real world, are there people out there who think big SUVs are bad but want a mini-SUV? My guess is that mini-SUV owners are jumbo-SUV owner wannabes. They own a Suzuki because it sells for tons less. If that weren’t the case, why would most mini-SUVs, and this one in particular, have the muscular look of a bigger truck?” Good point!

Auto-Erotics and the GTI: At the other end of the vehicular-size spectrum is the Volkswagen GTI. Volkswagen runs lots of interesting ads for its various models, some good, some bad. One spot I had not seen (viewable here) shows a male, whose head is cropped out of the picture, picking up a bottle of tonic water. He shakes it. He shakes it more. He shakes it in a frenzy, up and down, at roughly waist level. Just as the shaking and pumping reaches a … climax … we are shown a Volkswagen GTI. Moneybox enthusiast Rachel S. alerted me to this ad, and while there is clearly a bit of lowbrow chuckling to be done at the idea of virtual onanism in the service of car sales, it’s the commercial’s subtlety that earned reader praise here—yes it’s crude humor, but done cleverly enough that you actually have to pay attention to get it, and “that’s why I love it, I think.” Fair enough!

Zoom Boy: So that brings us to puzzlement, and the subject this time is a mini ad trend that I’ll get at through yet another driving commercial, for the Mazda Tribute. (See it here.) Not much really happens in  the spot, which consists of a Mazda Tribute driving along, surrounded by sleeker sedans as a narrator asks what would happen “if an SUV were raised by a family of sports cars.” At this point, inexplicably, a little boy in a coat and tie appears, leans toward the camera, and whispers, “Zoom zoom.” David Letterman made fun of this ad for several days running on The Late Show, and around that time I got an e-mail  from reader Laurie Z. asking, “Why are children suddenly wise spokespeople” for products like cars (specifically this Mazda spot with “that ultra-aggravating ‘zoom zoom’ kid”), financial services (Bank of America has built a series of ads around a wide-eyed kid), and so on? After all, it’s one thing for kids to speak up on behalf of this or that macaroni and cheese brand. What do they know about Mazdas? According to the “What is your zoom-zoom?” section of the Mazda Web site, “In grown-up language, it means the exhilaration and liberation that come from experiencing sheer motion. But as usual, children put it much better. And they simply call it Zoom-Zoom.” Whatever! You see, friendly readers, there are times when the answer is more puzzling than the question. This is one of those times.

And finally: Last time this column focused on reader picks and pans, the most-hated campaign was probably the Domino’s “Bad Andy” series, a judgment I agreed with. Finally, the company has come around to our way of thinking, and late last week it was reported that Andy has been retired. So that’s one small victory for the opinionated readers of Ad Report Card. Zoom zoom! Or something like that.