What does Walmart and Dodge Ram Truck advertising have in common – Mercury Sable - The story about music video TV commercials

Posted by Allan Steinmetz on 10 May 2017

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Over the years, many companies have applied the idea of incorporating popular songs sung by recognizable artists to help promote their products and services. It has created an often used genre of advertising. Walmart and Dodge Ram Trucks have adopted this approach recently in their new TV advertising campaigns.

Last night I saw the current Walmart “music” TV commercial that featured Joe Cocker – “With a Little Help From My Friends”. It brought back memories. The spot reminded me of my days at Y&R when we created the groundbreaking music campaign for Mercury Sable in 1986.

You see, back then, MTV was new, created only in 1981 as an access channel with a VDJ hosted talk show; there were very few music videos back in those days, as we know them today. Heck, there was no cable TV, no internet. Apple was a fruit and a tweet was a sound a bird made!

I was a VP of Research and Strategic Planning on Ford’s Lincoln-Mercury advertising business in Detroit. Our team was tasked with launching the newly design Mercury Sable which had a futuristic jellybean-shaped look. Until that time cars were boxy, clunky and oversized.

To find a creative angle for introducing the automobile, the Y&R brand team conducted research on nostalgia, film and pop culture. Our research led to insights derived from the movies American Graffiti and The Big Chill. American Graffiti utilized rock ‘n roll music from the 50s and The Big Chill played Motown soundtracks with movie footage in unison. These two films had a big impact on baby boomers at that time.

We staged a closed symposium with scholars in music academics who focused on causes/triggers of nostalgia and baby boomer generation experts. We brought this panel of experts together at our office and had a facilitated day-long conversation with our clients present. Our creative/brand marketing group documented what we heard in detail. The key insight was that Mercury could tap into a mnemonic device of music and nostalgia, and trigger a positive experience that could be associated with their youth. It transported them back to some of the best times of their lives. All we needed to do was shoot beautiful footage of cars, put it to music and play it on the air. No copy was needed - just a compelling tagline that wrapped the themes, images and nostalgia feelings altogether. We came up with the tagline, “The Shape You Want to Be In”.

To many, music triggered positive responses and feelings of nostalgia to better times even if they didn’t experience the music firsthand. For instance, my children did not grow up with the Beatles, but because I played Beatles music in our home as they were growing up, hearing a Beatles song today triggers nostalgia about their youth and growing up.

We concept-tested and pre-tested the idea and it worked. The campaign ran for nearly 6 years. The response to the advertising campaign was tremendous and Mercury took off like never before. Music is powerful. Nostalgia instills a timeless connection to good times with family and friends in very meaningful ways. Children and puppies make them even more powerful!

Yes, for my nostalgic sake, here are some of the Mercury spots that I pulled from YouTube. I should admit that I was quite nostalgic when I reviewed them. I haven’t looked at these commercials in over 25 years and they represent some of the best work of my career. This work demonstrated a team effort of outstanding creative people, production values, project management, film producers and directors and of course, great clients who gave us the latitude to create a new genre of advertising that, until this time, didn’t even exist.  I need to acknowledge the great people who were at the forefront of this campaign. They were Marc Williams, Joe Puhy, Cary Lemkowitz, Chuck Riley, Tim Hart, Tim Cooney, John Sanders, Bill Power and course our client, John Vanderzee (please forgive me if I left any one out). Not knowing it then, we made advertising history.

Here they are, albeit a little grainy. Enjoy!

Rod Stuart https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfFTVPdzYZA

Beautiful  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyAT8-K1XWg

Get Ready https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXacm2YmNGQ

Reach Out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-AnUsIZW2E

Fee Fhy Fum https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj7-sG0cOuE

Good Day Sunshine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VcYw2-byHc

Sadly, the Mercury brand was discontinued in June 2010 during the automotive slump along with GM's Saturn, Oldsmobile and Pontiac.

Congratulations, Walmart, for this current campaign. I am proud that we have had the privilege to work together on associate brand marketing. Knowing it or not, you have tapped into an insight that is as meaningful and powerful today with customers, as it was, over 30 years ago.