Recently though, it seems like the strong silent world of automotive advertising, where just like when Saturday comes on the terraces, it was permissible to show your emotions, but never to talk about your feelings. And just like that first breakthrough in therapy, once those emotions start flowing, it is increasingly difficult to hold them back. It should have been clear that this was in the pipeline when BMW told us a few years back that they were all about JOY. After that everyone followed.
One of the most interesting emergent trends in automotive communications at the moment is the notion of ‘aliveness’. Of course the car is just another machine, another tool, really little different from a magimix or a crowbar. Cars are also one of the most expensive purchases any consumer will make. Coupled with the amount of time many people spend in one, the ideas that you might place all your loved people and possessions in one and hurtle it across the country along a strip of tarmacadam at multiple times the maximum physical speed that man was designed to top out at ( Bolt’s 27.79mph between the 60th and 80th meters of his record breaking run in Berlin) and for some orders of magnitude greater a distance and it begins to take on a much more significant role. Modern cars, with the addition of driver aids, airbags, limiters and cruise controls are safer than they ever were before- all these machine controls mitigate the risk from the most unreliable part, the driver themselves. Of course, man’s hubristic nature means that as increasingly more sophisticated, and for most, unintelligible, layers of help are introduced, we feel more helpless, more detached. As driving is made better and better, it feels less like driving, and our own paranoiac complexes feel threatened, debilitated by this. So as the engineering drives (!) us ever closer to constructing the ultimate driving machine, we see a counterfactual narrative emerge in the way in which they are sold to us.
This is where the idea of Alive comes in. As cars get ever more clinical, we are now seeing OEMs tell us how ‘alive they are, how intuitive they are, how they feel. Not how they feel to drive, but how they feel. As cars, through engineering, through regulation, through restriction become hyper-rational, we are told that they are intuitive, that they are different from our magimixes and crowbars and televisions. They are or almost are, living breathing machines. It makes sense factually as well as counterfactually. As regulation means that all modern cars offer the same levels of engineering, and increasingly due to fuel and CO2 regulation and the way that dictates aerodynamics, the way they look, we can forget about the actuality of them, and buy into a myth that is purely emotional, instinctual and personal. Peugeot have made a play on the sensation of driving with their new 208 comms- ‘Let your body drive’. Nissan go even further with the Juke- constructing the car around their driver as he falls to earth, onto a stunt ramps, into a destruction derby arena while it is sprayed, before having the finishing kit added underwater, after which we are told it is built to thrill. To thrill idling outside the school gates? Stuck in heavy traffic on the M40? Any good lie, and car advertising, when it works are some of the best, needs a grit of truth. Peugeot uses a touch of humour to encourage suspension of disbelief, but we look at the Juke advert and can;t help thinking ‘yeah, right…’
The best two plays though on Aliveness, offering a fantasy of real sensation as our lives comes to resemble more and more a kind of over-legislated simulacrum come from two very different car makers. In fairness to Jaguar, they have a head start with the permissions afforded them with the name, but how alive are you acknowledges the increasing mechanical complexity that we are surrounded with, encouraging you to contemplate its dystopian possibilities, before encouraging you to prove that you are different from all that by buying car that has more processing power than the machine this is being written on. It is, however a neatly crafted push-pull, highlighting the problem you never knew you had with the machines around you then offering you the solution. The other comes from Toyota, who set you up as being in this ‘real’ virtual world, a Grand Theft Auto, computer-game existence, the escape from which can only come from their new GT86, a car that will wrench you, or rather allow you to wrench yourself into the ‘real’ real world. Modern cars as antidote to the increasingly numbing and standardised real world? Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.