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Car Ads and the Spirit of Road Safety

In September 2009, Advertising Standards Canada, the national not-for-profit advertising self-regulatory body that maintains the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, the principal instrument of advertising self-regulation in Canada, published guidelines for ensuring that motor vehicle advertisements comply with the spirit of Canadian road safety laws.

The guidelines, which are embedded in eight questions, ask whether depictions of, for example, ‘performance, power or acceleration’ or ‘handling ability’ convey the impression that illegal driving behaviours are being condoned or encouraged. But they also ask whether the depictions appear “realistic or [whether they appear] to be unreal, as in a fantasy-like scenario … unlikely to be copied or emulated in real life”— a question that begs an ‘unsafe-but-fake’ loophole that has inspired a number of highly creative car advertisements.
 
Nissan’s Juke is a compact sport crossover designed for young urbanites.  TBWA/Toronto has recently created a series of three online ads in which the Juke becomes a super-hero who destroys a mechanized monster, dumps the infected core of a sci-fi weather machine into a lava pit, and chases a pair of motorcyclists by leaping between buildings.
 
Obviously ‘fake’, these ads contain many sequences in which, some might say, the driving behaviours are off the charts non-compliant with road safety laws. By limiting the ads to online distribution the hope is that the campaign won’t breach the new guidelines. Of course, the target market is more likely to be online than watching television.
 
Subaru’s Impreza WRX STI is a rally-car-inspired “pure performance car… engineered to get your blood pumping and deliver incontestable levels of power, handling and control.” To deliver this ‘message’ in a TV ad, DDB Canada came up with the idea of producing a commercial “powered by the car itself.” On a fence built parallel to a drag racing strip, they mounted 760 frames animating the wily, fast moving WRX destroying a giant robot crab. A WRX equipped with a side-mounted camera drove alongside the fence at the velocity required to capture 24 frames per second. The ad shows the set-up and then zeros into the animation, which shows driving behaviours that, again, may break all the rules.
 
Although such complexity delivers layers of ‘messaging’ whether applying the loophole so creatively effectively undercuts the illegality of the driving behaviours remains open to question.
 
The popular ‘Light the Night’ TV ad for Nissan’s Juke, however, unquestionably complies with the spirit of road safety laws while also applying the loophole. A Juke drives through Berlin at night energizing the city as it goes. A young man on a city bench awakes; battery-powered toys in a toy store become animated; washing machines in an empty laundromat overfill and spill out; a jewelry store thief is suddenly illuminated in the act; a rat climbs aboard an empty sky train for a spin through the city; and office towers and billboards light up as the Juke pulls into a parking spot. People come together as they come out to watch. The car and the city interact with each other and all is well.

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