Columns 9.6.2018 08:00 am

Orchids and Onions – Benz ‘crash’ rerun is excellent, hands-on advertising

Merc and Net#work BBDO’s documentary – all 5 minutes of it – captures all the elements perfectly and is wonderful entertainment.

It was one of the most talked-about pieces of marketing in quite a few months: the Mercedes-Benz recreation of its famous 1990 TV commercial, about how one of its brilliantly engineered cars saved the life of its driver when he crashed 100m down the side of Chapman’s Peak outside Cape Town.

That the man, businessman Christopher White, survived the horror crash was, as the original ad said, due to two things: that he was wearing a seat belt and that he was driving a Mercedes-Benz.

In a similarly astute bit of applied marketing déjà vu, Merc and its ad agency, Net#work BBDO, got White to do another ad – repeating the same route, this time in the latest S-Class Mercedes. What they didn’t tell the nervous White, initially at least, was that the car was going to drive him along Chapman’s Peak Drive – and not the other way around.

This is because the S-Class is equipped with Merc’s latest “autonomous driving” technology, which effectively meant that most of the drive – and particularly the really hairy part, coming up to the corner where he went off, originally – would be a “hands-off” experience for White.

Merc and Net#work BBDO’s documentary – all 5 minutes of it – captures all the elements perfectly and is wonderful entertainment, but all the while emphasising the point that Mercedes-Benz vehicles are “still engineered” to be the best in the world.

I am not sure whether this is going to be distilled into a TV ad – it should be because it is great viewing … and I hope those involved do more than put it out on the internet and social media.

So, Orchids all round for first-class, hands-on advertising.

It is an interesting irony that one of the founders of Net#work BBDO is Mike Schalit, one of the all-time great creative South African ad people. It was he who was in charge of the creative team at the then Hunt Lascaris, who produced another classic local ad in response to the Merc Chapman’s Peak one.

Using a BMW Five Series sedan, Schalit and co filmed it travelling around all the bends on Chapman’s at speed – and not going off over the cliff. The point: if you were in a Five, you wouldn’t have gone off in the first place. They called it “Beats the Bends” – and the ad only flighted for three nights over a weekend, because Hunts correctly predicted Mercedes would object and the ad would be pulled by the Advertising Standards Authority … as it was.

The other interesting point about the latest ad is that, in this country particularly, autonomous driving is a long way from becoming a reality. Much of the technology relies – as it did in taking White around Chapman’s Peak – on clear road markings and signs. These you will find on Chapman’s Peak because it is now a toll road. You won’t find this everywhere else in this country, where the opposite is often the norm.

So, in reality, to try to sell a car in South Africa based on its autonomous driving capabilities is actually reckless. At least Mercedes-Benz are not doing that …

As I write this, we do not know what will happen in the Test between the Boks and England, but it is an appropriate moment to reflect on how far we have come, in a sporting sense, as a nation. (Probably not far enough, in the eyes of people like Ashwin Willemse, but that is another issue).

FNB, as a sponsor of Springbok rugby, has put a lot of money (and a lot into airing costs, too) for an ad that reminds us about grassroots rugby, and how talent is lying there, waiting to be unearthed, if only given the opportunity. Talent like Ashwin Willemse…

The ad is a bit cheesy, but its heart is in the right place, so it gets a second Orchid, for FNB and Grid Worldwide, as well as director Greg Grey.

Perhaps, one day, sport will unite us …

Brendan Seery

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