Monday, September 26, 2011

Attack of the 40-Foot Priusmonster

Yesterday afternoon as I was about to go out for my near-daily ride, I caught a commercial that didn't seem to be doing a very good job of telling we the audience what we're being sold. I quipped to Rob that "it's another hybrid car commercial" since earlier we had seen a puzzling hybrid car ad that involved a guy buying ice cream and getting dissed by a little kid. However, that's exactly what it turned out to be.

I don't need to explain why this is a terrible ad, although I will. First of all, holy nightmare fuel, Batman! Toyota's managed to come up with a monster even more terrifying than the Burger King, one which will subsume our own bodies into its lump of undifferentiated mass, only briefly allowing us to decouple so as to perform small tasks like squeezing toothpaste. You don't even know what product it's selling until most of the way through, by which point you're already so grossed out by this lurching golem that you probably don't even care. Yeah, car that plugs in, whatever. What happens when that thing goes to the bathroom?!

Also, this is the car they're selling:

They're on a family vacation in the formless void.
I mean, I'm sort of a car racist (they all look the same to me), but even I can see that this isn't exactly a "hot" car for "cool cats." It's practical, but that's about all it has going for it, and in a world where people depend on their consumer products to sell them not just a better product, but a better life, Prius just doesn't cut it.

Also, think for a second about the NAMES of hybrid cars. Prius. Volt. Yaris (car or birth control?). Fucking Leaf. With the possible exception of Volt, these don't sound like vehicles meant to tear up the pavement. They sound like some kid's science project. Maybe Europeans would buy a car called "Leaf," but 99% of Americans, Canadians, and Australians (i.e. the world's biggest per capita fuel hogs) will scoff at it and keep on looking for something that's cool. Like it or not, looks and names matter, and the majority of people from the individualist nations aren't going to buy something named after the photosynthesizing organ of a plant.


So, who are these ads meant to target? Certainly not the average American driver, who doesn't give a shit about fuel efficiency and is far more concerned about horsepower and carrying capacity. And not the true environmentalist or sustainable transportation buff, since they're already either riding bikes or taking public transportation as long as the location of their job allows it. (Newsflash: it's greener to buy a used car than a hybrid.*) And it's not meant for the cheap and/or poor, since hybrids are exponentially more expensive than standard cars, even used hybrids.

I can only think that they're targeting a very specific audience: upper-middle-class "environmentalists" who want the whole world to know how sustainable they are, but wouldn't be caught dead riding the bus because, well, ew. Essentially, the greenwashed. And that's a piss poor marketing strategy because outside of maybe Northern California, there just aren't that many people with the combination of tons of disposable income and the smug desire to do something to "help the planet" without doing something actually radical such as not driving.

I'm torn between wishing hybrid cars had a better marketing department and saying "well, at least if everyone keeps buying SUVs that will get rid of all that oil that much faster." I very much believe that the disconnectedness created by car culture is extremely damaging to society and that even if they could be made carbon-neutral (and that will never happen), cars are bad. It's not just about the carbon emissions or the smog they create or the fuel they waste, although that's a large part of it. So yeah, car companies, continue to mis-market your own product. It will just bring my car-free/lite utopia that much quicker.

But if I were writing ad copy for an electric hybrid car, it might go a little something like this:

Voiceover: "Hello, I'm Antonio Banderas."

He's got a little bit of a Tommy Wiseau thing going on here.

ANTONIO BANDERAS leaps into the driver's seat of a cherry-red electric hybrid convertible. On the seat next to him is a Zorro mask, a copy of Atlas Shrugged, and a taxidermied deer's head. He guns the engine, and with a mighty squeal the car--complete with fins and lighted rims--speeds down a canyon inexplicably studded with sexy nightclubs.

Antonio Banderas: "When I get out of the movie studio, I don't want to take time out of my busy schedule of ab crunches and photo ops to get gas every week, instead of every week and a half. That's why I drive the Chrysler Lightning. It'll really give you a charge." (Suggestive grin.)

ANTONIO BANDERAS pulls up to a red light. Next to him, in his own retro-styled hybrid car, is DON DRAPER.

Don Draper: "Remember, when you drive an electric car, you're really keeping a lot of emissions out of the air. That means you can smoke as much as you want." (Takes a puff.) "Ah, that's smooth."

Antonio Banderas: "My wife, MELANIE GRIFFITH, really likes the car too."

Don Draper: "Women can drive?"

They ride off into the sunset.

*When you consider the implications of the Jevons paradox, and that the mpg of a 2012 Prius is only around 42 highway/36 city (Rob's Hyundai gets 35 highway/25 city)... I'm not even convinced that a new fuel-efficient standard car is worse than a hybrid. I have personally experienced the truth of the Jevons paradox, as owning my bike (which certainly counts as an energy efficient vehicle compared to walking) makes me much more likely to leave the house and travel long distances for little or no reason at all ("hey, you need one thing from the store, well I guess I can go get it for you") that I never would have if I were on foot. Of course, the extra "emissions" generated by someone on a bike are tiny compared to the "emissions" I'd generate simply by sitting around at home expelling CO2 at a more leisurely rate. But if people are driving hybrids more just because they think they're greener--and there's no "if" about it--then hybrids may turn out to be more damaging to the environment than Hummers ever were. At least people know that Hummers are bad.


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