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America’s Most Toxic Car Ads: Dodge Truancy v. Mercedes Benz E-Class

Left: Dodge. Right: Cadillac.

Editor's note: This is the third quarterfinal bout in our competition to find America's Most Toxic Car Ad. Don't forget to scroll to the bottom to vote, and click back to our second matchup, Chevy Colorado vs. Audi A3, before polls close at 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday, Oct. 18. 

Toxic car ads are truly timeless...and that's not a good thing.

Today, we're looking at two spots that might initially seem like opposites: a nostalgic ode to the 1980s NASCAR aesthetic, and a starry-eyed love-letter to an autonomous driving future that America is nowhere near achieving.

But they've got one thing in common: they're both shameless celebrations of car dominance.

Or as our celebrity guest commentator and auto advertising veteran Tom Flood eloquently put it: "It's a tale of two atro(cities), it seems."

Let's pay them a visit.

The Dodge Truancy

This Talladega Nights-themed Dodge ad raced away with the semi-finals win, beating a Cadillac XT5 ad by a punishing 86 to 14 percent margin — despite the fact that it doesn't even feature the name of the car it's trying to sell (which is why we're calling it the Dodge Truancy.)  Both spots featured some pretty questionable images of adults speeding with their kids in the car, but that was only the beginning of this horrific pile-up of toxic car culture stereotypes.

"This ad has everything: fireworks, Fourth of July-levels of national pride, burnouts, drag racing and being too awesome for 'love' because 'hot, nasty, badass speed' is all that drives a good American," said Flood. "You have all the ingredients you need to move that weaponized metal off those lots and into our neighborhoods." 

Flood acknowledges that much of the commercial is meant to be a joke, but that's not really an excuse for making light of road behavior that kills, like literally speeding through school zones. 

"When you're laughing at the very stereotypes you continually perpetuate, you have to ask yourself: who’s the joke really on?" Flood said.

The Mercedes Benz E-Class

Could a commercial that celebrates "hot, nasty, bad ass speed" possibly be beat by an ad for a car that promises to end car crashes forever?

That depends on whether you believe those promises or not — and whether that magic car is even real. (Spoiler: it's not.)

In round one, this Mercedes Benz commercial comfortably beat out another "concept" ad for the (non-existent) autonomous BMW iNEXT. But this spot stood out to voters for a crucial reason: it deliberately conflated the capabilities of its (theoretical) F015 AV, which is not available for sale, with the handful of (imperfect) advanced driver safety features on its E-Class, which is what the ad is actually trying to sell us.

Unfortunately, Flood says, that may be the only thing which sets the commercial apart in this contest — at least when it comes to the toxic car tropes it leans on.

"The ad itself is extremely typical," said Flood. "Like all good car ads that are intended to put more cars on the road, there’s no other cars in this spot — because the devastating traffic reality of our future is a dystopia far too dark to highlight.

"But then there's a bait and switch. Spend ten full glamour seconds on a fully autonomous futuristic vehicle that is not even available, then bring in the 'hero': the E-Class, which you can buy! Just don't look too closely at the tiny legal text on the screen, which clarifies that the 'vehicle cannot drive itself.'" 

 Of course, that little detail didn't stop the directors of this spot from featuring an actor literally removing his hands from the wheel while the car was in motion. 

"Mercedes’ corporate tag is 'the best or nothing," Flood adds. "Quite honestly, 'nothing' sounds much better if this is their best." 

But it's up to you to choose which ad is the worst of the worst.

Polls will remain open until Friday, Oct. 22 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

[poll id="198"]

Here's the full bracket if you're playing along at home.


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