James and the Blue Cat is rightly praising the 'Dancing Transformer' ad for a Citroen car, but says it makes him not want to buy that particular car. This is a reaction all too familiar to me, and I suspect others, where car ads are concerned. Not long ago there was an ad suggesting the rear seats provided a self-contained environment for your children. They did this by showing the car splitting in two on the motorway and travelling in two separate fractured halves, as though you'd bought two old bangers welded together by a dodgy dealer. The subliminal message was that this car will kill your kids and probably you as well.
The 'creatives' (ghastly new adjectival noun) in the advertising industry get it wrong more often with cars than anything else. That's when they're not just being plain silly: how often do you have to swerve round small armies of crabs marching across the road?
The prize for most misconceived ads must surely go to Renault. In the eighties, they did a series featuring a truly dreadful Yuppie couple who were running their own business and putting their children through private school. Apparently, in some cinemas where it was shown, people pelted the screen with popcorn. Then in the nineties they did the long running 'Papa and Nicole' series with a French theme and a slight narrative thread. These were considered a great success on the basis of the recognition factor. But it seemed to me that if you're trying to sell a French car to the British, the one thing you don't do is emphasise its Frenchness. Not if it's a mass market car like the Renault 5, rather than one targeted at Francophile advertising executives with a holiday home in the Dordogne.
But advertising people, like our Prime Minister, are never wrong and never have to say sorry. This is because they have perfected several cast iron defences against criticism. The first is that if you hate an ad, it simply means that you are not in the target audience. The second is that whilst you hate the ad, you've remembered it so therefore it has succeeded. (Ads are measured by a weekly 'recall' chart and not by any other criterion). Thirdly, the product is selling well so the ads must have worked. Only a handful of ads in the past 40 years have ever been admitted to be failures (including Strand cigarettes and the John Cleese ads for Sainsbury). If true, this would mean advertisers make fewer mistakes than people in any other industry. And if you believe that you'll believe anything, including every piece of crap that the advertising industry throws at you.