Slate's Ad Report Card: Drop Dead, Jaguar

Slate columnist Seth Stevenson reviews the new television ad campaign for the luxury car company Jaguar. The TV spots feature well-dressed, "gorgeous" people in exotic locations — and just a hint of elitism that targets middle-aged men looking to attract younger women.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Now the business of advertising. Sometimes one ad strikes such a distinct chord, you just have to tell your friends about it. Seth Stevenson, ad critic for the online magazine Slate, has found one of those TV spots. But in the case of this car commercial, the chord it strikes is painfully dissonant.

SETH STEVENSON reporting:

Several readers have asked me to write about this new Jaguar ad. They've all summarized their feelings as basically `Yuck,' and I agree. I was tempted to write a one-word review, `Yuuuck,' but I'll elaborate. In the ad, an announcer repeats the word `gorgeous' over and over while we gaze at a series of grade-A hot women.

(Soundbite of Jaguar advertisement)

Mr. WILLEM DAFOE: Gorgeous makes effort look effortless.

STEVENSON: The women frolic around in skimpy cocktail dresses. Sometimes we catch a brief glimpse of a Jaguar automobile. Always lurking in the background is a well-dressed, older man, precisely the sort of gray-haired lecher this ad campaign is targeting.

(Soundbite of Jaguar advertisement)

Mr. DAFOE: Gorgeous loves fast.

STEVENSON: First, let's be clear on the message. The message is `Buying a Jaguar equals buying a flawless sexy, 24-year-old woman.' With lines like `Gorgeous pays for itself in the first five seconds' and `Gorgeous is worth it,' the ad leaves no doubt that both these items are for sale. Sometimes it gets a tad blurry. Is `gorgeous' the car, or is `gorgeous' the girl? Or does buying the car assign you title to the girl like she's a factory option? Either way, `Have no fear, old man, the moment you're handed the keys, you'll be grooving with hot chicks.'

In some ways, I admire the chutzpa here. This is not just a retrograde cliche; this is a defiant reclamation of a retrograde cliche. No subtlety, no apology, no bones about it. It's the idiotic `gorgeous' monologue, read by an off-camera Willem Dafoe, that really seems to get people's goats. Here, I offer a selective refutation of the choicest lines.

(Soundbite of Jaguar advertisement)

Mr. DAFOE: Gorgeous has no love for logic.

STEVENSON: Indeed, there is no logical reason to buy a Jaguar. Perhaps this is why Jaguar sales are down 44 percent this year, while most other luxury auto brands have held steady or improved their numbers.

(Soundbite of Jaguar advertisement)

Mr. DAFOE: Everyone cares what gorgeous says. Gorgeous gets in everywhere.

STEVENSON: It is true that people pay attention to sexy, 24-year-old women, and that these women get admitted to velvet-roped nightclubs. However, contrary to the ad's suggestion, owning this car in no way guarantees that you will date a sexy, 24-year-old woman, or even a mildly attractive, 36-year-old woman because she's out of your league, too. So know this, paunchy old man who is all by his lonesome: You will not get into clubs if you buy a Jaguar. And no one cares what you say; you are too old.

(Soundbite of Jaguar advertisement)

Mr. DAFOE: Gorgeous doesn't care at all what others are doing.

STEVENSON: Others are buying Audis and BMWs. I know you don't care at all, Gorgeous, but that's how it is. Look at the figures.

(Soundbite of Jaguar advertisement)

Mr. DAFOE: Gorgeous stays up late and still looks gorgeous.

STEVENSON: This clearly refers to women and not to cars. There is no way it could relate to cars at all. So much for the nuanced double entendre.

(Soundbite of Jaguar advertisement)

Mr. DAFOE: Gorgeous pays for itself in the first five seconds.

STEVENSON: It had better. Be it a car or a playmate, five seconds is about how long an emptily gorgeous object can hold your attention. After that, it's just boring conversations and transmission linkage failures.

(Soundbite of Jaguar advertisement)

Mr. DAFOE: Gorgeous is worth it.

STEVENSON: Even when Jaguar introduced that $29,000 S-type model, it was still totally not worth it. I know that's a Ford Mondeo platform underneath, you chumps. You can't fool me. I give this ad a D for dinosaur.

CHADWICK: Opinion from Seth Stevenson. He writes the Ad Report Card column for the online magazine Slate.

DAY TO DAY's a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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