2010.10.20 If your car overheats, don’t call an ad agency

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

I can’t help but laugh out loud when I see the new television commercial for Viagra. A guy in a late 1960s Chevy Camaro SS is driving along in some rural area when his classic car starts to overheat. Luckily for him, there happens to be a little country store just ahead.

He pulls in, and with the Camaro still steaming, saunters inside and purchases what appears to be about a one liter bottle of water. As he walks back outside, he opens the bottle and takes a sip, then pours the rest into the radiator of the Camaro. Then, he drives off into the sunset as the announcer finishes his spiel, leaving me with several questions.

First, what does any of this little scenario have to do with the merchandise being advertised? The only two products you see in the ad are the classic Chevy and the bottled water. Chevy is currently selling an updated version of the Camaro so the ad obviously wasn’t for them. If you weren’t listening to the announcer, you might think it was meant to sell Aquafina or some other brand of bottled water. I don’t see how watching the commercial would make me think of Viagra.

Secondly, and more importantly, at least for the longevity of the car, does this guy know the least thing about automobiles? Opening the radiator of a steaming, overheating automobile is a bad idea in the first place, unless you’re into third-degree burns on your hands or face. If you manage to dodge that bullet, dumping a large bottle of 35-degree water into a radiator heated past the boiling point will probably end up damaging either the radiator or the Camaro’s engine block. Even those “Car Talk” guys know that.

In their book, Tom and Ray Magliozzi of NPR’s “Car Talk” radio show recommend letting a steaming car sit for at least 30 minutes before you even open the hood. And heed their advice: “If you pour cold water in a hot engine, you might crack something.” If the Viagra ad was anything like real life, a follow-up might show the guy broke down for good somewhere near Donner Pass. And the only thing he might have to worry will last longer than four hours will be the wait for a tow truck.

Obviously, the folks handing out MBAs in advertising haven’t taught their graduates anything more about auto mechanics over the past decade. I still remember the old cell phone commercial from ten years ago starring Jamie Lee Curtis in which her late-1950s Cadillac strands her with an overheating problem. What’s the first thing she does? She takes off the radiator cap and looks inside!

Ten years later, after dozens of reconstructive and plastic surgeries restore her severely burned face to an appearance suitable for advertising campaigns, she finally gets a job promoting yogurt stuffed full of fiber, the only food she’s been able to eat since her horrible disfigurement. OK, OK, I made up the whole paragraph, but I hope you see my point. People can get hurt following the examples shown in these ads. You’d think the ad agencies would know better.

At least in Ms. Curtis’s old commercial, she used the cell phone manufactured by the sponsor to call a mechanic, who came to her rescue. At the end of the ad, she calls him back to invite him to a party. So the product in question was shown twice, solving a problem each time. That’s what you could call a good ad. The Viagra spot, not so much.

Granted, the Viagra folks can’t exactly show the product being used in their commercials, but they should be able to come up with something better than a guy abusing his classic car in the middle of nowhere. A slight tweaking of the ad might be in order.

Maybe before he follows through with his plan of dumping freezing water in his car’s hot radiator, he falls in love with the country store cashier, played (surprise!) by Jamie Lee Curtis. She invites him back to her place to wait while the Camaro cools down. He brings along his hidden stash of medication provided by his sponsor. She offers him a fiber-spiked yogurt furnished by hers. Sparks fly. Ain’t America great?

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