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Ad Report Card: Hummer H3 -- and Tofu?
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Ad Report Card: Hummer H3 -- and Tofu?

Ad Report Card: Hummer H3 — and Tofu?

Ad Report Card: Hummer H3 -- and Tofu?
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5657428/5657429" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Read the Slate Article

Hummer is taking on a new marketing approach with the release of its smaller and more affordable H-3 model in hopes of broadening its appeal. Slate ad critic Seth Stevenson offers a review of the ad campaign.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

On to the business of advertising now. In these days of global warming awareness, what's a car company that's built its reputation as a shameless gas-guzzler to do? That's the challenge for Hummer as it tries to sell its new, smaller SUV. Here's Seth Stevenson, ad critic for the online magazine Slate, on how Hummer is trying to change its image.

Mr. SETH STEVENSON (Ad Critic, Slate Magazine): Each new generation of Hummer has been smaller and cheaper than the last. Remember the original civilian Hummer? Launched in 1992 at the height of Gulf-War patriotism, the H-1 cost $140,000 and weighed five tons, and was discontinued this past June because of poor sales.

In 2002, Hummer launched the slightly less massive H-2. And now we have the H-3, a $30,000, relatively seemly sized SUV, and a new ad campaign to go along with it.

(Soundbite of Hummer H-3 advertisement)

(Soundbite of beeping)

Mr. STEVENSON: In one spot we see a man waiting in the supermarket checkout line. He's buying organic tofu and leafy vegetables. Meanwhile, the guy in line behind him is stacking up huge racks of meat and barbecue fixings.

(Soundbite of Hummer H-3 advertisement)

(Soundbite of cash register)

Mr. STEVENSON: Tofu-guy, looking a tad insecure, suddenly notices an ad for the Hummer H-3 SUV. Eureka!

(Soundbite of Hummer H-3 advertisement)

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of car engine)

Mr. STEVENSON: In a series of quick cuts, he exits the supermarket, goes to the Hummer dealership, buys a new H-3, and drives off, now happily munching on a large carrot. The tag line reads: Restore the balance.

These H-3 ads are designed to make the brand feel a bit less intimidating. A Hummer spokeswoman told me the aim is to portray the H-3 as an approachable vehicle that will appeal to introverts, extroverts, vegans and carnivores.

She's right that we wouldn't expect a tofu-eater to buy a Hummer, but at the same time the spot reinforces the central classic stereotype about Hummer drivers: they buy big cars because they have small egos.

It's stunning how enthusiastically the ad embraces this idea. The entire plot is based on it. A guy feels wimpy because another guy saw him buying tofu, so he dashes out and buys a Hummer to feel better about himself.

(Soundbite of Hummer H-3 advertisement)

(Soundbite of squealing tires)

Mr. STEVENSON: In fact, the ad's original tag line was restore the balance, but rather, restore your manhood. Some people complained. So after two weeks on the air, Hummer opted for balance instead. Either way, I can't believe this is an effective strategy to sell Hummers. I imagine current Hummer owners are already tired of fending off accusations that their vehicle is meant to make up for other shortcomings. Do they really want this notion propagated by Hummer itself?

This ad gets things backwards, eschewing all the SUV performance hype and instead suggesting that the Hummer is best employed as an image enhancer for wussy tofu hippies.

There's a second similar spot with a woman in the lead role, which is no better. This time the scene's a playground, and the woman is standing alongside her son when another boy and his mother cut in front of them in the line for the slide.

(Soundbite of Hummer H-3 advertisement)

Unidentified Woman #1: I'm sorry, Jake(ph) was next.

Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah? Well, we're next now.

Mr. STEVENSON: Once again our wounded protagonist races straight to a Hummer dealer and drives off with a truck seconds later. The tagline this time: get your girl on.

(Soundbite of Hummer advertisement)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Well I washed all the dishes and I did a lot more. I even bought the dinner at the grocery store...

Mr. STEVENSON: Interestingly, no one seems to have complained about this take on femininity. I give these ads a C-. And by the way, it's not unusual for companies to re-cut ads in response to viewer complaints. So if you see an ad that suddenly looks or sounds different than you remembered it, you might not be imagining things.

If you think you remember a good example of a re-cut ad, write to me at adreportcard@slate.com.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Seth Stevenson writes the ad report card column for the online magazine Slate.

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