America’s Most Toxic Car Ads: Hummer EV vs. Dodge Demon
8:38 AM PDT on October 8, 2021
This is the first bout in the quarterfinals of our America's Most Toxic Car Ad contest; don't forget to scroll to the bottom to vote! Polls for our final Not-So-Sweet Sixteen match-up, Cadillac ELR vs. Ford Mustang, are still open until Friday, Oct. 8 at 11:59 p.m. ET, too.
We're launching the semifinals with two ads that are so toxic, they bend the definition of the word "commercial" itself — and stretch way past the time limit of the typical 30-second TV spot.
But to understand why, exactly, this round's contenders are so corrosive to our transportation culture, we're bringing in an expert: Tom Flood, advertising and marketing pro, sustainable transportation advocate extraordinaire, and one of our very favorite Twitter follows. In fact, he'll be providing commentary on all four semifinal bouts.
"This is a true clash of the titans," Flood said when we showed him the first two contenders. "Honestly, it's hard to even call these 'ads,' because they're more like cinematic tributes to road violence. They're essentially two-minute propaganda reels about how the vehicle will save us all and fulfill our most predatory speed fantasies, which, of course, is a total contradiction. But welcome to the world of auto marketing!"
Voters, start your engines. Let's take a look at the first match-up.
The Hummer EV
To some viewers, this Electric Hummer ad might seem like a miniature action movie epic — which is part of why it narrowly beat out the lizard-fuel-powered Hummer OG in round one. But to seasoned admen like Tom, it's a pile of tired visual tropes...albeit with a pretty killer soundtrack.
"Birds flying, reckless city driving, ad copy about 'freedom' and cars going from 'zero to 60' are all staples of toxic car ads," said Flood. "But the real icing on the cake is that familiar and amazing voiceover (LeBron James) backed by a really great soundtrack (Karen O and Trent Reznor covering Led Zeppelin's 'The Immigrant Song'… why, Trent and Karen!? Why?!) These are much=needed audible keys to bring some legitimacy to such a ridiculous and laughable bunch of over-the-top sequences that resemble a child’s take on Terminator more than anything else."
That comparison's definitely appropriate, considering that Arnold Schwarzenegger himself famously lobbied AM General to build him a street-legal, civilian version of the Humvee after he saw one on the set of Kindergarten Cop (no, really); that car eventually became the Hummer we all know and loathe today. (And in case you're wondering, Arnold was one of the earliest proponents of the electric edition, too.)
But after nearly 30 years of the Hummer, even the Governator himself is probably a little sick of these mind-numbing ads — and hopefully, smart Americans will be at least a little skeptical of its ability to deliver us from the climate crisis.
"It's like the Hummer EV is literally coming from the electric heavens to save us all from the mess it created in the first place," adds Flood.
Yeah, good luck with that cutting-edge climate strategy, GMC.
The Dodge Demon
If the ad team selling the Hummer EV is serving a miniature action flick, Flood says the creatives behind this Dodge Demon ad are definitely getting into the Halloween spirit with this micro-horror film – and it's not their first foray into the genre.
"The masterminds at Dodge and Pennzoil have at long last combined their violent efforts to bring you this homage to horror films and reckless driving — a marriage made in hell," said Flood."Framed within a haunting story of 'exorcising the demon,' this is 2 minutes and 30 seconds of what Dodge does best: promote road violence."
Flood would know; following the death of a 20-year-old woman in Brooklyn who was struck by a Dodge driver while she waited for the bus, he wrote a memorable take-down of the company's overall marketing strategy. Indeed, almost every single Dodge ad he looked at was dripping in aggressive, macho, and often downright ruthless imagery, complete with slogans like "Stone Cold Strength" that make it crystal clear that these cars are built for merciless violence.
But while horror directors often contrast their bloody kills with a little comic relief, Flood says there's nothing to laugh about in this particular spot.
"This would all be just funny if it didn't have such serious real-world consequences," adds Flood. "In horror films, the protagonist usually gets away despite the odds. But sadly, on our roads, life does imitate art — and our children and loved ones are the secondary characters left dead in the wake of real-life monsters, who often face no consequences...To be honest, I’m left slightly speechless after this one. It's premeditated road violence at its most grotesque."
The Demon handily defeated a dual ad for Dodge's Hellcat and Viper models in round one. But whether this satanic spot is worse than Hummer's ode to the god-like heft of its monster truck is up to you.
Polls will be open until Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Here's the full bracket if you're playing along at home:
More from Streetsblog San Francisco
Breaking News: Oakland Promises Protected Bike Lanes on Lakeshore
City has committed to building protected bike lanes on the east side of Lake Merritt