Ad Report Card: Mitsubishi Veers Off-Key

Mere weeks ago I devoted this space to a fairly upbeat review  of the Mitsubishi “Commotion” ad. But having achieved arguably the most successful instance of the music-ad combo trend, Mitsubishi now seems intent on running that trend into the ground. I refer to a commercial that seems to be airing continuously on whatever channel I turn to lately, on behalf of the Mitsubishi Lancer. To see the spot, go here, click on either high or low bandwidth, and then choose the first ad from the resulting pop-up box.

The ad: As with most car ads, the action consists of good-looking people driving around in a good-looking car. As with many recent car ads, the real star is the soundtrack. In this case it’s the song “One Week,” by Barenaked Ladies. And the new twist? The good-looking folks riding around in their Lancer sing along with the tune. And they smile and they laugh and they smile.

Crash. Most of the celebrated music-driven ad campaigns of the past year or so have assumed a sort of position of connoisseurship, introducing viewers to songs by Nick Drake or T. Rex or some obscure indie band. But if you are among the millions and millions of people who listen to any of the scores of “alternative” rock stations across America, all of them identically programmed by one giant corporation or another, then you’ve heard the Barenaked Ladies before. Perhaps you enjoy their “goofy charm,” or perhaps, like me, you immediately change the station. That’s a matter of taste and open for debate.

What I think is not open for debate is how grating it is to listen to the Barenaked Ladies as sung by a bunch of smiley models. We’ve all been stuck in the car with someone who just loves thus-and-so song so much that he or she just can’t help but join in—and with real gusto, too. (I once had an endless experience along these lines with a very, very dedicated Grateful Dead fan in San Francisco; it took tremendous will to keep myself from leaping out of the moving car and into oncoming traffic.) Maybe we’ve all even been that person at one point or another, perhaps only correcting ourselves after noticing the horrified expressions of our passengers.

But why would Mitsubishi want to recreate this awful feeling in an ad? The gap between the car karaoke-ists’ experience and that of their unwilling audience is always vast, and that’s particularly true when the music of choice is packed as it is with densely “clever” lyrics sung rapid-fire. (Needless to say, the models “slip up” from time to time, and ha-ha, it sure is a gas when that happens!) Televised, this scenario has as much appeal as sorting through a big pile of someone else’s vacation pictures. Or maybe even their prom pictures.

Anyway, it’s astonishing how drastically Mitsubishi has swerved off course here. The “Commotion” spot and others worked in part because they made you want to sing along and have a good time. This Lancer ad, forcing you to watch someone else sing along, merely tells you that someone is out there having a good time—but it’s not you. Or as my friend Shawn put it (in slightly more colorful language), “Now that’s a song for driving—driving right off a cliff.”