What’s Actually Going On Here?

There are a number of television commercials out there these days that ostensibly address nothing in particular within the confines of the air space they occupy.

They might be referred to as “soft sell”, the old epithet describing the opposite of “hard sell”, which means to push the product or service in an obvious way. Advertising in general is almost always soft these days. It’s become practically politically incorrect to hard sell anything, an equivalent of using all caps in an email.

Geico is quite good at using the soft sell, especially of late, using absurd visuals to illustrate the needless worrisome conflicts of consumers looking to buy insurance. But other advertisers are not good at all at what they’re trying to do.

The above are visuals from a Lincoln Navigator commercial, this from the series featuring the actor Matthew McConaughey. In all the TV spots of this series, none of them do anything other than feature the actor’s facial expressions, his smiles, his confidence, his self-assuredness. We see nothing—no attribute whatsoever—of the vehicle.

I mean no features, no details, no closeups, no sounds of this vehicle. He could be driving anything from a Kia Soul to a Tesla, and we’d still be looking at his face.

I’ve seen all of the ads in this series, and I have to say this is without doubt the softest series of ads I’ve ever seen. They’re so soft, they might be considered an inverse of the category, like it’s gone too far, a virtual implosion of soft sell.

Here’s an actual description of the ad, which I quote from iSpot TV, an analytic source for TV ads:

After driving a Lincoln Navigator along a scenic road, Matthew McConaughey brings the vehicle to a stop. It’s as if he senses the rattling train tracks ahead as he taps his fingers on the steering wheel to the beat. He drums in anticipation, and when he points at the crossing gate, it lowers. The intensity of the beat grows and he is fully immersed in the rhythm of the passing train. When the gate rises, he presses a button to put the vehicle in drive and is on his way once more.

Wow. That’s it? That’s how far this is from soft sell. It’s literally passive. So is this about the Lincoln Navigator or is it about McConaughey? Another ad in the series shows McConaughey and his Navigator being ferried across a waterway, again with similar drama.

Lincoln must love this guy. Mr. McConaughey has been a prominent actor for well over twenty years, starring in such movies as Contact, A Time to Kill, Dallas Buyers Club, and Interstellar. I won’t comment on his acting ability, but his apparent attitude in these Lincoln ads gives the series a smarmy implication.

Is that what Lincoln is trying to put across? That owning and driving this vehicle imparts a slick confidence right through the steering wheel? A wheel that we can only guess what it looks like…

Also from the same descriptive passage from iSpot TV:

Lincoln reveals that its 2018 Navigator is J.D. Power’s most appealing vehicle with the highest score of any vehicle in the last six years. (I thought Chevrolet claimed that among its J.D. Power awards.)

If Lincoln can claim that, I suppose it doesn’t really need to show the Navigator’s features. Just the fact that Matthew McConaughey likes it.

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