Chevy Tahoe’s online ad-generator used to parody … the Chevy Tahoe

So, the brainiacs at Chevy decided to have a little contest. In partnership with The Apprentice, they set up an online tool that lets people create their own TV ads for the Chevy Tahoe SUV — by taking stock video and putting their own text on it. I can just imagine the pitch meeting for this one. Hey, why not? Let’s tap into the mob intelligence of the internets! Maybe some kewl kid will create an ad that will go all viral! Like that dancing hamster thing! Or, ah, MySpace. You know. Like that.

Heh. Or maybe a bunch of disaffected hipsters will use your online tool to make ads savagely parodying the very product you’re trying to shill. As Autoblog reports, there are oodles of ads online now exoriating the Tahoe for its role in furthering global warming, to say nothing of furthering boomer I’ve-still-got-it self-delusion. My personal favorite:

Larger than any normal mortal needs

with 4 wheel drive for conditions you’ll

probably never encounter …

and sized to intimidate other drivers

& damage others’ cars more than yours,

give you false confidence, so you can

continue to drive like a heedless jerk

… because you’re the only one

on the whole damn planet.

What I love about these parodies is how easily they take the bathetic imagery of car-selling and transform it into comedy. All the stock scenes that Chevy offers on its ad-generator — Tahoes cruising confidently around hairpin turns, Tahoes astride the edge of waterfalls, Tahoes stacked improbably on the peak of a snowy mountain — are already parked so close to the precipice of self-parody that it requires only the slightest nudge to send them tumbling over. To witness yet another shot of an SUV sluicing through watery vale, or gunning it across a Saharan desert, or roaring down a cobblestoned city street, is to confront American power-fantasy insecurities so gibberingly moist and obvious that they’re not even subtext any more — they’re just … text.

Honestly: Who in god’s name takes this stuff seriously? Who pins their actual, real, serious, adult identity on this crap? I’m asking that rhetorically, of course — I know these sorts of ads really do sell SUVs. But I’m also sort of genuinely wondering. Every time I drive an SUV, which is usually when I’m on assignment in some part of the country where Hertz automatically upgrades you to an SUV just sorta because, I’m struck anew by how wretchedly they handle; it’s like driving a city bus. I swear to god I have no idea why anyone thinks they’re safer inside one.

Anyway, the point is: If you’re an advertiser who wants to get all Web 2.0 and involve the public in your creative endeavour, you ought first to make sure that a significant chunk of the public doesn’t actively despise your product. Didn’t these guys learn anything from the Sloganator?

(Thanks to George Murray for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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