Field of Garage Dreams

Nissan's Mystical Approach Is a Bit Claustrophobic
By Barbara Lippert
Adweek magazine - August 5, 1996 issue

We didn't get much of Nissan's viral "wild postings" up here in noir-ish New York City. But I still loved everything about the TBWA/Chait Day teaser campaign, from the weirdly elliptical Zen taglines like "Smile" and "Drive happy" to the happenin' Japanese guy in shades and the unexpectedly open and floating, mercurial Nissan logo.

That kind of high aesthetic mystery and throbbing blankness worked perfectly for this Olympics, which, when not clogged by busy, hyper-emotional background pieces and John Tesh moments, was marred by an actual bombing. It's hard to compartmentalize disaster and then break for sponsors.

With the Nissan teasers, however, the supersaturated blue sky and mystical twinkly music suggested endless possibility. At the very least, it was Claritin without the sinus problems.

And the idea of saving the much-awaited two-minute commercial for the closing ceremonies is also inspired. We're soaked to the skins by then with the same messages - that's when Olympic viewers give 10s for newness.

Unlike the roadside settings of the teasers, "Dream Garage" opens in a farm field, where kids are playing ball. (All the cinematography and styling is gorgeous; the spots were directed by Kinka Usher of Smillie Films; Danny Elfman, of Edward Scissorhands and Batman fame, did the great score.) But by now we've been primed for the blinding, pumped-up color of the teasers, so the spot looks kind of dingy by comparison.

There are some signals that we're in the right place: We get the dog, that ad-perfect Jack Russell, and the windmill. From futuristic Zen, we go Disneyfied Pepsi, with a little of Kevin Costner's Robin Hood thrown in. When the batter connects, we follow the ball's forward trajectory into a distant barn. So does the outfielder and his dog.

In the barn the wide-eyed one falls straight down through a shaft and, like a male Alice, emerges in a subterranean wonderland. Huge, with Romanesque-vaulted ceiling, it's a fantasy garage that's half French metro, half Penguin's lair. "Welcome," the Japanese guy says to the Pepsi kid in a phlegmy voice. "Look around."

I know this is supposed to be a guy thing, and a father-son journey archetypal thing, but no matter how elaborately constructed and chock-full of historical kool kars the space is, the underground bunker idea here is wrong. It's too anxiety producing to be locked underground, to say nothing of the actual psychopaths in the news who did exactly this to kids.

What's more, it's disappointing to see the guy in that great Datsun cap now become a plain old salesman. (He's an actor playing Mr. Yutuka Katayama, the 87-year-old former president of Nissan, "one of the most revered men ever to work in the automobile business" who, according to the press release, "was the driving force behind the 240Z.")

Now the actual garden of Mr. K, with cars placed in it like sculpture, would have been fascinating (as would any interaction herewith the real Mr. K).

But here, back in the belly of the dream, the Mr. K shows the kid some museum pieces, including a blue jeep that was "owned by Roy Rogers." Can stuffing jokes be far behind? As the kid says, those cars "haul." But I can't wait till Nissan gets out of this man-boy-love-car situation and back on the road, so we can enjoy the ride.

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