MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And now to the business of advertising, Seth Stevenson, ad critic for the online magazine Slate, joins us from time to time to grade new commercials in his Ad Report Card. Today he takes on a new TV spot from Ford.
SETH STEVENSON reporting:
Here's a review I found of Ford's new family car, the Ford Fusion, quote, "For the first time in nearly two decades Ford has a high quality mid-size sedan that can go toe-to-toe with the imports while maintaining a distinctly American style." Okay. So this car has the goods. At last Ford gets some props for craftsmanship. But how did the company choose to market its family sedan? Did it emphasize reliability, value, or a comfortable interior? No, the new Fusion commercial emphasizes something that is entirely absent from the car, an iPod.
(Soundbite of music)
We see a man riding on the subway. He takes out his iPod, selects a song, and hits play. This somehow causes a trail of small bubbles to emanate from the iPod. They float up through the subway tunnel to a dance floor above where they orbit a woman's face. Later the bubbles parade before a flat-screen television. Finally the bubbles coalesce at the middle of a four-way intersection and transmogrify themselves into a car.
Unidentified Announcer: Because a car shouldn't just use energy, it should create it. Introducing the all new Ford Fusion; more innovation from Ford.
STEVENSON: There are so many weird things about this ad. For one, it's a car spot that shows people happily rollerblading and riding the subway. It also suggests the idea of fuel conservation, but the car's not a hybrid and its fuel efficiency is just so-so. The oddest part by far though is that the spot begins by masquerading as an iPod ad. There's the iPod clear as day, center of the frame for several seconds; but this isn't an iPod ad at all. In fact, unlike some new cars, the Fusion doesn't even have an easy way to plug in an MP3 player.
Why the misdirection? Simple. As a company spokeswoman explained to me, they're going after 25 to 35-year-olds. They ad quote, "Pleasing to that generation's love of technology and their love of music. Also the iPod is so iconic that people stop to watch the spot." Yes, I'm sure they do because they think it's a new iPod ad, and iPod ads are often fresh and entertaining. When this turns out to be an ad for a mid-size sedan I imagine most people lose interest. Of course, it's easy to see why Ford wants to link itself to the iPod. The iPod is wildly successful and it's got a halo of cool; who wouldn't try to glum onto that. The risk for Ford though is that this move reeks of desperation. It seems to say, that's right, we're totally down with Apple, yo. We're like best friends. We're on the soccer team together, and we talk on the phone sometimes, and Apple even came to our birthday party last week.
I give this Ford Fusion spot a C minus. What's wholly unclear is why Apple would want the iPod linked with Ford. Ford says it asked for permission to show an iPod in the ad and got it, but no money changed hands which is slightly astonishing to me. If I were Apple, I'd have been far more reluctant to slum it with a slowly crumbling manifestly uncool auto maker. It could dilute the iPod's hip factor, no?
BRAND: Opinion from Seth Stevenson who writes The Ad Report Card column for the online magazine Slate. And you'll find video of the Ford Fusion ad at Slate.com.
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