Jessica Helfand | Critique

Fantasy: Do Not Attempt

Screen grab from the Innovation that Excites campaign, Nissan, Inc.

The new advertisements for the Nissan Rogue, which play with alarming frequency on iTunes Radio, are likely to be muted by listeners eager to get back to their preferred playlists. And for what can only be imagined to be legal reasons, the footage of a red Rogue flying across a traffic jam is accompanied by a written warning.

Fantasy, do not attempt. Cars can’t jump on trains.

You have to wonder about the tone here. What must it have been like, in that original pitch meeting, to witness the visual team present their Hollywood-worthy car stunts, only to have some somber voice of reason chime in? “Of course, we’ll need some lower-third, um, verbiage, you know, so people don’t actually try this at home.” 

The whole thing makes you want to dig a hole and climb into a world without car commercials. 

Screen grab from the Innovation that Excites campaign, Nissan, Inc.

In truth, we’ve all become inured to visual warnings. Look around the next time you board an airplane and see just how few people watch the safety film. Does this explain the appallingly over-the-top musical version, now playing on all Virgin America flights, that references the likelihood of disaster as syncopated dubstep? Or the gargantuan display type on tobacco packaging that literally says “Smoking Kills”? So, too, with the innovative car spot: apparently, innovation can only excite with movie-quality special effects, delivered as a didactic, if modestly infantilizing, warning (which is as good a definition for verbiage as we may ever have). To the extent that design, on a certain level, is all about fantasy, and to the degree that words in concert with pictures are the graphic designer’s lingua franca, what does it mean when captions are invoked as full-frontal reminders of the slippage between recreation and reason?

Comments [1]

Disruption by Caption Jessica I love your post and this commercial by TBWA\Chiat\Day of Omnicom Group, but let’s not forget to “Think different” and remember who is designing the fantasy. “DISRUPTION® is the art of asking better questions, challenging conventional wisdom and overturning assumptions and prejudices that get in the way of imagining new possibilities and visionary ideas.”
Carl W. Smith

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