As the World begins to face up to a growing climate emergency, the motor industry illustrates just how tone-deaf it has become.
The question of social responsibility is one with which carmakers have been (vainly) grappling for some considerable time now. Indeed, what little has been shown up to now appears to have been jettisoned by many in a heedless dash for market dominance.
This decadent spiral has (as we have previously discussed) taken corporeal form in the wholesale embrace of needlessly aggressive visual tropes and ‘to-hell-with-it’ consumption, and nowhere has this state been more vividly illustrated than amongst the three foremost rival German prestige marques; excesses not simply embodied in the vehicles these carmakers serve up, but also in the manner in which they are promoted.
That the subject of today’s examination stems from the fair hand of the Bayerische Motoren Werke might appear to some observers as having a vague whiff of the hobby-horse about it, but is I can assure you, coincidental – although while this could as easily be written about any of the German ‘big three’, one struggles to recall as striking an example. But market domination comes with its own set of responsibilities and thereby, a level of scrutiny perhaps avoided by other, less bloated entities.
The car in question is the 8-Series, a vehicle which has received a level of coverage on the pages of DTW which perhaps exceeds its merit; being in this author’s view, a rather undistinguished lump of a thing, lacking much of the grace one might have in the past associated with large, indulgent grand tursimos. But, (and please forgive the pun), that ship has sailed.)
The TV spot from which these images are culled, (available to view on the usual sites) tells the story of a young car-mad boy growing up in a city of no cars – water-locked Venice. He dreams of driving through the streets of his home, but of course this is impossible. But in a moving mise-en-scène, and through the magic of advertising, dreams become reality and riding upon a pontoon roadway, his adult self achieves the seemingly impossible. Tissues at the ready folks.
Given the nature of the execution, horsefeathers is the adjective that springs most immediately to mind. That, and the blithe assumption that it’s clearly the result of some clever piece of computer animation – after all, in the wake of transforming Citroën’s and break-dancing Gene Kelly’s, we have become inured to car manufacturers’ increasingly elaborate attempts at capturing our attention while we searched for the hero inside ourselves. So the realisation that a carmaker has gone to the trouble of actually building a pontoon road through the centre of Venice, was truly unsettling.
Venice: A UNESCO World heritage site, this ancient city sits below sea level, prey to the tides and increasingly threatened by our rising oceans. This once hugely powerful city-state is renowned for its Renaissance architecture, antiquities and art. Venice sinks a little further each year and despite efforts to create a series of flood defences, continues to be at risk.
In advertising and marketing, context is all. So many factors can conspire to blunt your message, especially for a carmaker circa 2019. It is therefore germane for the marketer to keep abreast of the direction of wind travel. Now of course, the creative execution for The 8 would have been established sufficiently prior to announcement to ensure that all material – print, TV or online were in the can before it dipped a manicured toe into the public gaze.
With this in mind, it’s clear that this spot was dreamt up, storyboarded and filmed well before a certain Ms G. Thunberg emerged onto the front pages of the World’s media to spearhead perhaps the most serious existential threat to the current automotive hegemony yet.
But that’s no excuse. Because wherever one sits amid the current climate debate, it’s been known for some considerable time that serious, increasingly rapid and intense change is occurring to the world’s already volatile and fragile ecosystem. And lest we forget, Venice is sinking into the sea.
But secure in their closed-loop bubble, a group of senior car executives took the decision to commission, at costs that can only be guessed at, a road through the historic Venetian centre, past magnificent Renaissance pallazzi and under the Rialto bridge; a feat, which according to its makers, has never been achieved before. In Venice, which I surely don’t need to reiterate is sinking.
Certainly, teams of skilled technicians, artisans and filmmakers obtained gainful (and well remunerated) employment, along with the inevitable support crews such a lengthy shoot would have entailed. But for what? A short, entirely forgettable spot which could easily have been knocked up on CGI for a fraction of the cost in a fraction of the time, but more to the point, one which looks for all the world as though it has been.
Did the executives who signed off on this not realise how the symbolism of this venture might look? Because when one reads the press release for the campaign, while it mentions the subject of sustainable growth, it is purely in the context of sales – at no point do they make mention of the environment, to say nothing of the corporate social responsibility they so clearly require urgent lessons in.
Two of them incidentally no longer work at the Petuelring – former CEO, Harald Kruger having been ousted several months ago and former Brand SVP, Hildegard Wortmann, who late last year sashayed away to Ingolstadt, where her talents will undoubtedly flourish.
The irony of course is that in ceding the argument for the driver-piloted car, all cities could end up being somewhat akin to Venice – car-free zones – maybe not such a bad outcome really?
One further point – if your product is good enough, you don’t need the proverbial troupe of dancing girls to promote it, nor for that matter a pontoon road through the waterways of Venice.
The author is grateful to CB for the initial idea and the images thus appended. All photos © Bayerische Motoren Werke.