Tunnel Vision In Detroit

ars are boring—car advertising is worse.

Is it my imagination, or did someone decree that all cars in commercials and print ads must be painted metallic silver?

Okay, Mercedes-Benz kind of owns silver, but what are the other manufacturers thinking? First of all, silver is a difficult color to photograph. You can’t see reflections in silver the way you can in, say, black or British racing green. In black and white, silver cars take on the look of a clay mock-up.

But the lemming effect doesn’t end with print. All silver sedans and coupes are shot from a helicopter on winding roads in low light, either along the Pacific coast or in the desert.

I’ll bet some clever film editor could switch a Volvo with an Acura and no one would notice.

One could argue that Kia is bootstrapping by showing a silver car. “Look dear, that looks just like the BMW you wanted to buy.”

But what about the Toyota Prius? Here we have an automobile that promises to be the wave of the future, and what do they show? A silver car, Larry David and all.

Maybe I’m missing something here. Have all the car brand managers gotten together at a secret location and decided to put the “fix” in?

Are we seeing an oversupply of silver paint?

My very first car was a Lancia Appia. It was silver. When I had it repainted, I was cautioned that if I ever needed a fender repaired, they couldn’t guarantee matching the color. Don’t ding your silver car. From then on, it was black for me.

The researchers no doubt have come up with the astounding fact that silver is the No. 1 color choice. Duhhh! Maybe that’s because silver is all you see in the ads. So it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Silver begets silver. Why doesn’t some brave soul show us a nice blue car? Or Ferrari red?

The BMW account has just changed hands. The all-silver-all-the-time carmaker accused the Fallon people of not being original enough. A bum rap if there ever was one. What BMW should do is fire Chris Bangle, the designer who went completely bonkers on the 7 Series trunk lid.

As far as automotive advertising in general is concerned, it has been in sleep mode for several years. If art directors are guilty of creating a boring visual sameness, think about the writing. You see headlines like, “No adjective required,” or, “Status without the quo,” or, “Come out, come out wherever you are.” C’mon.

After all the millions spent on positioning the Honda brand and specifically the Civic, the pundits have decided that it’s time to recapture the youth market and specifically the “tuner” crowd. The ads are generic-looking; one even features, you guessed it, a silver 4-door sedan.

Porsche, a company that has every right to brag about its engineering and performance achievements, settles for ads that look like they came out of a graphic standards manual.

I read that some agency guy in California has convinced his client that it’s the visceral effect that makes consumers want cars, not boring facts about gas mileage and performance.

In a recent pool of commercials for Mercury, a female spokesperson talks about car features. Is she hot or what? Problem is, no one is looking at the sheet metal—or the brand.

Then there’s this commercial for an SUV: The voiceover announcer says, “Connect to the modern world, or escape from it.” That’s it. He doesn’t even bother to mention the brand.

In the words of Bruce McCall, “People who buy cars read for pleasure. Let’s give them something to enjoy, shall we?”

With the exception of the Mini, every other manufacturer is in lock step.

We read that GM and Ford are on the brink of who knows what. Toyota may soon become the largest car company in the world. Although it was stung by the collapse of the SUV and truck businesses, I doubt the fault is with product alone.

Bill Bernbach once said, “Bad advertising won’t kill a great product.” It sure doesn’t help it either.

Bob Cox is founder and creative director of The Cox Group. He can be reached at coxgrp1@aol.com.