Is the Viral Non-Ad Ad the Future of Advertising?
Jonah Weiner on Frederic Planchon's 'The French Exchange' for Renault.
I recently resolved to kick one of my least-favorite habits: crying during movie trailers. I can weep without shame watching movies themselves. But trailer tears are different — not the effect of an emotionally destabilizing encounter with art but, rather, the tacky end result of bluntly Pavlovian marketing machinery, the component parts of which remain clear to me even as my gaze grows watery. Professionally expressive faces projected across field-of-vision-encompassing screens, uttering heart-rending phonemes rid of all meaningful context, accompanied by huge swells of music? I am this easily played, I tell myself, somehow rolling my eyes while simultaneously dabbing at them with the back of my hand, in case anyone nearby might think I’m that moved by the prospect of seeing, I don’t know, “Dolittle.” The problem, at bottom, is one of category confusion. With a tear-jerker trailer, we’re tricked into mistaking a piece of advertising for a piece of art — a distinction it’s possible to complicate but never, if the word “art” is to mean anything, undo.
In November, I saw the same kind of category confusion unfold not in a theater but on Twitter. An editor at BuzzFeed posted a two-minute video with a tantalizing pitch: “when i tell you i finally realised what i was watching that i SCREAMED.”
More than 33,000 people shared his tweet. Intrigued, I clicked and found myself following a redheaded preadolescent as she steps tentatively into her driveway, where her father is packing up an ’80s-era hatchback for a big trip. Signifiers of unslick auteurism are on immediate display — natural light, hand-held camera, a dreamy laxity when it comes to the use of focus. All these lend a Malickian heft to the ensuing montage of images: The young hero, traveling, befriends another girl, and soon they’re trading a mix tape, sharing ice cream cones, playing on a tree swing, dozing beatifically in the back seat of a car. There is virtually no dialogue, but there is a solemn piano cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” When the girls kiss, at the minute mark, they’re teenagers, and they do so in heavy rain. It’s pouring again 15 seconds later when the hero’s intolerant father, having discovered the romance, berates her and leaves her to sob in the garage. When the girls kiss a second time, having overcome various other impediments to their happiness, including an abortive heterosexual marriage, they’re adults, and soon they are raising a preadolescent girl of their own. At the end, the once-bigoted dad has grown gray-haired and warm, beaming in the magic hour as he greets this unconventional family in the driveway where it all started. With five seconds left, text reveals what we’ve just watched: a commercial for “the all-new Renault Clio.”
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