Ad Report Card

Humvee’s Obnoxious New Ad

And why it’s so great.

Humvees are much in the news these days, as the U.S. military uses them in the massive fleet of vehicles moving through Iraq. The civilian version of the Hummer is on the air a lot, too, in the latest wave of commercials for the mother of all sport utility vehicles. (See them on the Hummer site.)

Wouldn’t participants in civilian Hummer culture want to sort of keep a low profile right now? There’s a certain squeamishness among some advertisers about pushing their wares during the current conflict, in which Humvees of course figure rather prominently. Moreover, there’s the SUV backlash. Even the military has expressed concern with the vehicle’s poor gas mileage. Plus there’s something kind of unseemly about driving something that costs $50,000 and up.

But to think that either Hummer dealers or potential buyers would be somehow embarrassed is to misunderstand the brand. People who drive enormous, angry, military-style vehicles around city streets are never embarrassed. The whole point of the Hummer is a total—and aggressive—disregard for what anyone else thinks. As Gregg Easterbrook put it recently in the NewRepublic, the Hummer broadcasts such a blatant “fuck you” to the rest of the world that it ought to be considered a new vehicle class, the FUV. But don’t take my word for it; just watch the ads. In their skillful articulation of the brand’s core identity (that is, indifference to the mores of a civil society), they must be considered master works.

In the current crop, the spot that best captures the meaning of the Hummer shows one of the vehicles zipping along a rocky terrain. The music is a nasty guitar line. Words appear on the screen. “Reenactment … For Outdoor Use Only.” This is followed by “Restricted,” and “Do Not Do This,” and then, “Do Not Do That.” The titles start to come quicker: “Stop Mumbling … Eat Your Vegetables … Cool Your Jets … Play It Safe,” and so on. Finally, as the Hummer cruises faster and faster, comes the punch line: “Whatever.”

Yeah, man … whatever.

An earlier ad showed an unbearably smug couple barreling along the beach in their Hummer. Most of the terrain doesn’t look very challenging, but it does appear to be a fairly pristine setting. Except of course for the 6,400-pound vehicle. Anyway, they drive along the edge of the water, gazing at the waves. A word appears on the screen: “Need.” Then we get the rest: “Is a Very Subjective Word.” Exactly. These people need a Hummer, and if you can make yourself understand why, well, you probably need a Hummer, too.

But my very favorite Hummer spot, and one that I still see fairly regularly, ignores the great outdoors altogether and unleashes the beast on paved streets. The whole thing is clips of a woman tooling around the city in her Humvee. The music—a very catchy track called “Nothing Is Wrong” by FC/Kahuna—is upbeat and electronic. The woman, a slim blonde, glances out her window at the skyscrapers. There is never any traffic around her, which is probably how it feels to be in a Hummer—I mean, who cares if there’s anyone else around anyway? Words appear on the screen: “Slip Into Something … A Little More Metal.” Then we get a quick closeup of the woman, who wears a look of thorough self-satisfaction and superiority that practically begs for a slap.

OK, I take that back. The Hummer people want me to lose my cool, they want me to want to lash out—partly because I will have sunk to their level and partly because, let’s face it, I can’t get at them in their big armored vehicles anyway, so they’ll always get the last laugh. That, finally, is what the ads are really about: not just shrugging off scorn, ridicule, and distaste, but laughing at it and driving away. Probably to the gas station.