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False Advertising and Generational Differences

April 4, 2012

I am a little late coming to the party for this article in The Atlantic but I have been crazy busy.   I thought this article jived really well with a couple of conversations I have had; one with my wife on the terrible advertising campaigns for cars, the other with a co-worker of mine that is a generation prior to me and the different ways we view home and automobile ownership.  The long and short of it is that a good portion of us under 35 don’t really care about cars.  Maybe it was the financial meltdown that made us all rethink how we spend our money, and find it more desirable to allocate our funds to experiences and objects that provide more entertainment than a white picket fence in Tuscany Hills subdivision or an automobile that further resembles our dwellings.  Or maybe we were all just tired of watching people get diabetes, live bored suburban childhoods, or waste precious hours staring at someone’s stupid vanity plate while stuck in traffic.  Hence, the car companies are desperately trying to lure us in with ads like this one, this one, or this one.  All three have quickly rocketed to the top of my “I hate this damn commercial” list.  Maybe it’s the song in the first two (attempting to evoke emotions that I don’t think anyone has ever gotten from a low-end Chevy) or maybe it’s just the unrealistic portrayal of the adventures you can have in a car.  Regardless, they tend to leave out the little bits of information that can begin to chip away at the luster of car ownership. 

The new Chevy commercials show the youth of America kick flipping and bungee jumping their way to an extreme and adventure filled lifestyle with their cars.  Commercials that are probably more in tune to a Nissan X-Terra sport edition, Mountain Dew, and Red Bull all rolled into one.   Partaking in a cultural parade (that they seem to have ignorantly driven into, whose participants are all walking), or driving in a muddy field in the country.  Experiences that you can only get from driving a red Chevy starter car, whose actual price will skyrocket the moment you tell them you want something besides an AM radio in it.  And that is the part that irks me the most about those ads.  It provides this fall sense of ideals that somehow you will experience the world in a whole new way the moment you get behind the wheel, or that like the song implies you will somehow change the world or even set fire to it.  But it doesn’t happen, and what I am about to say is not a means for me to brag about experiences, but more a personal statement that the moment I detached myself from a car, my life drastically improved as did the experiences that help shape it.

It is no secret that upon moving to Atlanta I had dumped driving.  It was an easy break up and she was more of a gold digger than anything.  Always reaching into my pocket wanting money to run smoother, more gas, needing a bath, having to pay recurring fees to stay legal.  When my Honda and I broke up I found that my financial situation improved greatly, and I quickly found better ways to allocate that money.  First my wife thought it would be nice and grown up of us if we got matching furniture, which was nice, but probably won’t lure anyone between the ages of say 22-35 from behind the wheel of their car.  It’s a nice bedroom set don’t get me wrong.  But soon after we found ourselves spending our anniversary and my birthday in New York City, attending Game 7 of the World Series, having a once in a lifetime opportunity to see one of the greatest musicians of our time, and a whole host of other things.  And only 1 required the assistance of a car (once we arrived it stayed parked for the few days we were there) and all were made possible because I didn’t have an automobile draining my funds.  When visiting family and friends they like to talk about what they want to fix up on their home, what kind of new car they are considering, or complaining about their current car.  When we visit them, we all saddle up into their SUV and “head into town”  as if we had to make a run to the general store, for entertainment.  The battle that ensues over who will DD usually sucks the life right out of the evening by the end of it.  When they come here  we step outside our door and let MARTA whisk us away to dinner, Music Midtown, or any other event.  Maybe I have just become a snob, or maybe I just don’t care.  But I find it much more enjoyable to be able to talk with friends about trips we have all taken, or incredible moments made from amazing experiences.  Moments, actions, and events that we will never forget.  I barely remember the color of the inside of my first car, unlike these dumb ads, but I will never forget the pandemonium that broke out after watching the final game of one of the greatest baseball playoff runs in sports history.  I may not have gotten to drive a car through fields of mud (which I highly doubt that car could actually do) but I sure as hell will remember seeing the excitement my wife had when she got to see Stevie Wonder jam out to some of her most favorite songs in the world.   And all of these things were possible (and yes I have even gone back and done the math) solely on the fact that I didn’t dump whatever average amount of money per month into a car that spends 99% of its life in a parking space.

And that is the dividing line between our generation (if you fall in that group) and their generation, as discussed with the co-worker of mine.  I wouldn’t go as far as saying we are less materialistic, I think we just value other things in life over cars.  And it doesn’t even boil down to smartphones and video games versus an automobile, as the Toyota ad executive insisted.  It’s simply based on a better quality of life.  A life that is not defined by what I drive, or how many extra rooms my house has that I don’t want to furnish nor clean.  I do not want my life to be dictated by yard work, for an outdoor space that most don’t use and only see when they pull into their garage (since most living rooms are now located on the backsides of suburban homes).  And I don’t want my free time to be consumed by sitting in Jiffy Lube or the Honda maintenance facility on the weekends.  I want to look at photos and recall memories of events that allow me to say that that was the greatest (fill in the blank) I have ever done/gone to/experienced/seen.  For most logical people of our generation, success is not measured by leather seats, built-in navigation systems, or whatever new clever name that they want to give to a sun roof. 

I haven’t been able to go completely car free.  As ATL Urbanist described on his website at one point, I am more car light.  We still have my wife’s car, and we still have to use it for some basic necessities.  But that is more of a consequence of the city we live in, and the changes it still needs to go through so that we can completely divorce ourselves of an automobile.  Regardless, the ability to drop from two cars to one has been almost life altering.    So keep on trying Chevy, Toyota, and Subaru.  But in my opinion, I could make a far more entertaining, convincing, and realistic commercial off of the life experiences I can have without one of their automobiles than their false picture of life with one. 

If you have a “my first transit experience” (instead of Subaru’s my first car commercial) share it.  Or if you had better life experiences post car ownership or just without using one, please share that as well.  Maybe we can put together our own commercial (with a much better song) that is successful in targeting this generation of people.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2012 3:04 pm

    OMG that was so awesome. I totally feel what you are saying. That’s why I love to travel to other cities like Chicago, because…who needs a car? Transit is more than adequate, and besides, I don’t enjoying paying $10 or $20+ just to park my mechanical horse.

    Add to that the fact that we now have zipcar, and we are almost there… (zipcar just needs more places to pickup a car right now)

    The only thing a car would be great for is getting groceries, taking long getaway trips, and the occasional emergency after say, 7PM on any given night. Other than that, transit all the way. It’s great to brag about the newest mechanical horse you just bought, but sooner or later the bling and hype will die down, and all you have left is a relic of the past that you must upgrade to stay “hip,” or become a slave to in the form of regular maintenance.

  2. atlurbanist permalink
    April 9, 2012 12:16 pm

    I can’t remember where I read it, but there was a recent article on this subject that pointed out that the younger generation feels its more important to simply have ‘access’ to a car for certain trips rather that to have ownership of a car. I like that concept of access versus ownership.

    There’s a lot of folks who read things by proponents of smart growth and public transit and assume that there’s a hatred of cars implied in the message. As of me, I don’t hate cars. I hate that there’s a necessity to own them for so many people because of the car-centric nature of so much of our built environment.

    I’d much prefer to just need access to one (Zipcar or otherwise) for certain trips rather than having to store one all the time for the few trips when it’s absolutely necessary.

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