Laws can be such hassles sometimes. Take the restrictions handed down late last year by Advertising Standards Canada, which ban depictions of unsafe driving in TV commercials.
When the new rules were issued, some advertising agency executives predicted creative teams might struggle over how to properly show off high-performance vehicles. Without shots of burning rubber, drift turns and cool skids, how could they get viewers' blood pumping, and send car lovers racing to showrooms?
But there's a nifty little loophole written into the ASC rules that advertisers now seem to be capitalizing on: It's fine to show unsafe driving as long as it's clearly fake. Which is why there are two new campaigns breaking in Canada that both deploy animation to sell cars. But if they target a similar audience (and, nodding at the high quotient of video game fans in their target market, each pit their respective cars against robotic monsters), the campaigns are starkly different in tone and approach.
"The ASC rules, they were quite a challenge for us creatively because, of course, you're not allowed to do anything, basically," said Allen Oke, a creative director with TBWA\Toronto, the agency behind the launch of Nissan's new Juke, a sport crossover vehicle that hopes to attract male buyers in their 20s. (The ASC is a voluntary organization, but its new policy was formed in response to Quebec legislation, and most car marketers signed on.) "Especially for this target market, if you just had this car driving at the preprescribed 40 kilometres an hour down a street, it would really stink."
So the TBWA team dreamed up a series of three online spots, each running about 90 seconds, that together paint an origin story for the car that is reminiscent of a superhero's creation myth. (Mr. Oke and his co-creative directors Mark Mason and James Ansley cited influences like Frank Miller's Sin City, and The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.) They show the driverless Juke darting nimbly through dangerous landscapes, as much like a jackrabbit as a car, doing heroic battle against various forces of evil. All three spots feature a Big Brother-esque narrator describing the Juke as "the stuff of legend - urban legend" whose distinguishing characteristics - an impressive amount of low-end torque, a so-called "torque-vectoring all-wheel drive," and a centre console that looks like a motorcycle fuel tank - were forged and tested in a mythological time of turmoil.
To make doubly sure the campaign doesn't run afoul of the new guidelines, the Nissan spots were limited to online distribution, which falls outside the purview of the ASC. If they ran on TV or in cinemas, said Mr. Oke, "there are a lot of things in all three of these that would get us into a lot of trouble."
In the first spot, which went live at the end of September, the Juke is a gutsy David against a massive mechanized Goliath creature known as The Dread who mercilessly tears apart cars. After weaving in and out of the monster's chunky limbs, Juke pulls a whip-fast 180-degree spin that sends chunks of sharp metal flying, felling its adversary.
The second spot, rolled out three weeks ago, shows the Juke once again saving the day by carrying the infected core of a sci-fi weather machine through fire, wind, lightning and rain to the summit of a high mountain, and then dropping the device into a vast pit of lava. The third spot, which will go online Monday, sees the Juke chasing a pair of motorcyclists through an urban environment, and includes a slow-motion leap from the roof of one building to another. (Canadian laws aren't the only ones that can be ignored within an animated environment; the bothersome laws of physics can be bent, too.) Why pitch a car like it's a superhero? "Everybody likes a good story," Mr. Oke said. "Storytelling's become important again. It seemed to disappear for a while, when technology seemed to be the story itself."
Or maybe not.
These days TV viewers can see a cool new spot by DDB Canada that deploys an awful lot of technology in aid of a commercial that would seem to contain a very simple story: a giant robot crab is outwitted and ultimately destroyed by a wily, fast-moving car. "When you talk about the target growing up playing video games where you can drive the heck out of these cars, or watch rally races so you can see these cars perform to their nth level - it's so hard to kind of go and just simply follow the regulations and show it driving safely down the street," said creative director Todd Mackie of DDB. "It doesn't satisfy the consumer we're going after."
So, to promote the Subaru WRX STI, a rally car with a base price of about $40,000 in Canada, the agency decided it would be cool to produce a commercial "powered," as they said, "by the car itself."
Which means? They devised a hand-drawn, comic-book-style animated short, and shot it in an old-fashioned manner - one cell per frame of film - with a wrinkle: They placed all 760 frames in sequence along the side of a racetrack and then sent a WRX, equipped with a side-mounted camera pointing through the windows at the flip-book-style animation, speeding alongside at precisely the velocity required to capture 24 frames per second. The spot was shot at a drag racing strip in Cayuga, Ont., one of the few stretches of roadway flat enough to not cause any wobble in the animation.
It's an extraordinary achievement, even if there's something comical in the expenditure of such resources that calls to mind Jerry Seinfeld's standup routine about NASA missions. (He quipped that going all the way to the moon just to drive around was "the essence of male thinking.") But the spot is designed for a niche audience that can appreciate such an undertaking. (The WRX, too: last year's sales of the car in Canada were just over 1,400.) The goal is to create a deep connection with a small and passionate group, rather than aim at a broad but less engaged audience.
"Everything we've done we think guys would be interested in - because they are the target for this," Mr. Mackie said. That includes a five-minute making-of video on YouTube that lays out exactly how the spot was shot, for the gear-heads who might be interested. "Geeky's become a good word these days," he said. "It is a cool, guy, sort of geeky thing to kind of get into and go, 'Wow, that's awesome.' "