Hey, the ad, if you’d shut up…

It’s not easy to sell new cars in early 2021. The confinements, the obligation of telecommuting, the discovery by many of the joys of cycling… all of this has largely reduced automobile traffic. Cars wear out less, so they don’t have to be replaced so quickly… So car advertising has to be more energetic and cunning to encourage people to buy. 

This is one of the few positive consequences of the pandemic, road traffic decreased in 2020, for example by 20% in Belgium(1). This has had positive consequences: the reduction of air pollution, which is so harmful to health, the reduction of traffic jams (in Brussels, the share of traffic jams has dropped from 38% to 29%), and the reduction of the number of people who are unable to get to work.(2)) and the decrease in the number of accidents (-20%) and deaths (-22%) on Belgian roads.(3) In addition to all this good news, there is another one for growth objectors: the drop in new car sales: ‑24.3% in Europe.(4)

The automobile system being at the center of the productivist logic, it is therefore necessary to « relaunch » the economic activity in this sector and to charge advertising with bringing up the « buying fever » of motorists without appetite. Frustrated by the lack of annual « car shows », the brands fell back on an avalanche of advertisements that made us drunk during the first months of the year. 

It is becoming increasingly difficult to surf on the sporty performance of cars (a Toyota advertisement was even censored in Australia for inciting dangerous driving(5)) or on the sublime exotic landscapes that would serve as a backdrop for the scrap heap promo. So Mercedes-Benz came up with a perverse trick: since confinements have revealed our need for social connections and talking to each other has never been more important, the ad suggests talking… with the car’s on-board computer… and also with the dealers who will do everything they can to push you to buy their latest product. 

That’s how the radio ad campaign centered on the slogan,  » Hey Mercedes, let’s talk  » came about. Let’s read how advertisers sell the concept: « … uA radio campaign with a human face, produced in collaboration with Publicis. Through emotional spots of 60″, 40″ and 20″, we are immersed in real slices of life. In a Mercedes-Benz, we hear conversations that aren’t always easy, but that make us feel good. Because talking to each other changes everything. « . A telephone exchange between humans (after all) ends with the on-board computer, which is called Mercedes, making the driver’s wishes come true:  » Hey Mercedes, can you turn down the heat a little? « , « Hey Mercedes, take me to such and such an address … »« Hey Mercedes, call my brother … ». Thus, the advertising campaign turns a real need, that of contact and exchange of words, into the proposal of acquiring a computer on wheels, equipped with a nice maid named Mercedes who will carry out your wishes without reluctance. Paradoxical, but assumed. 

Other car ads also surf on the mobility/on-board computer link to praise the car’s ability, thanks to its radars, to stop running over children, dogs or cyclists… (I admit I’m a little more seduced by this). We can see that little by little, we are getting drivers used to the autonomous car, the improved oxcart, the dream of lazy kings. 

In the same line of advertising that appeals to emotions, we see the use of the term « experience ». You are no longer buying this or that object, but  » experiencing  » the use of this object. Such pleas can be found not only in advertisements but in other forms. Thus, in a pseudo « white card » published by Trends/Tendances, a Principal Solution Engineer (sic) of a Digital Foundation For Business (re-sic), uses the same language:  » We live in a time where « lived experiences » are very important. Users have been fed a digital baby bottle, with the latter allowing them to place an order at the click of a button, stream movies via a given connection, use their cell phones as virtual reality headsets, real-time fitness monitors, wireless music speakers and much more. Never before have we been so dependent on these types of apps, generating digital experiences « . The barely concealed objective of this kind of talk quickly follows:  » So we need to find a solution that guarantees the user experience. Thanks to 5G, companies… etc., etc. ».

If the popular wisdom says that  » one does not make a horse drink that is not thirsty « , advertisers want to convince people that they still have consumer desires, even if, to do so, they have to divert the basic needs of human relationships to technical artifacts. 

Alain Adriaens

Notes et références
  1. https://www.rtbf.be/info/societe/detail_diminution-du-trafic-en-belgique-depres-de-20-en-2020?
  2. https://www.tomtom.com/en_gb/traffic-index/ranking/
  3. https://www.vias.be/fr/newsroom/134-tues-et-10–000-blesses-en-moins-surles-routes-en-2020/
  4. https://pro.largus.fr/actualites/les-ventes-de-voitures-neuves-chutent-de-243en-europe-en-2020–10520395.html.
  5. https://www.autoplus.fr/actualite/toyota-gr-yaris-2021-une-publicite-censuree-en-australie-246269
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