The Van Infuriates

Posted on by Keath and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One thing about Honda’s “The Van Beckons” ad has driven me crazy for about a year now:

Why did I see it?

Clearly because it’s meant for me, but I can’t discern an obvious reason why. On the face it’s stupid and insulting (I saw it while watching hockey games, thinking “Is this what Honda thinks hockey fans are like?”).

A little more digging: Honda Odyssey minivans can run up to $50K, so it’s aimed at upper-middle class income households. Those households are likely educated enough to realize the commercial is stupid. So the ad is deliberately stupid to make the customer feel smarter than the ad. “Let’s distract you from how you feel you’re not smart enough to afford BMW’s SUV and instead talk about how you are smart enough to avoid that Adam Sandler movie …”

Also of note: it’s aimed at men, so no comparative info (men will do the research on their own). The minivan is the only car in the parking lot, framed like prey (overlap the shot of the jaguar just to emphasize that point). And, of course, no price shown because the targeted customer shops at J. Crew and Banana Republic (show that Jaguar again just to parallel it with another luxury brand).

The schlubby guy coming out of the grocery store, sent there by his wife to get cereal and milk for his kids, isn’t the target customer, but he’s establishing the plebian’s desire that drives the conspicious consumption the target customer chases.

There’s been a lot of chatter about what’s going on with this ad, but all of it has focused on the surface elements (Judas Priest! Explosions! They’re trying to make it sexy for men!) but I can’t help but think they’re missing the true message. Or I’m digging too deep and it’s just inept. Interpretations very much welcome and appreciated. 

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8 Responses to The Van Infuriates

  1. Good post. Here’s what’s making interpreting this ad difficult: you’re applying the old standards of “the ad is targeting a demographic.”

    In fact, ads today (“post-modern ads”) are always about aspirational images, not about the product. The product is incidental (in the beginning.) That guy, the shlub, is an aspirational image, to the kind of person in the market for a minivan. If you buy a minivan, you’re dead, agreed? You have no life, no passion, no interests, you’ve given it all up for kids and safety.

    Not this guy. He has a secret world, yes it’s all inside his head but it is as real as any other fiction of life. He still has passion, still likes music, still likes to rock. Yes he had to buy a minivan, but that’s not who he is.

    The point of advertising today isn’t to directly sell an object, but to sell an aspiration that the target is incidentally, but intentionally, linked to. You can’t sell a minivan, any more than you can sell herpes cream. But if you have to buy one, would you buy the one owned by the khakis and blue shirt salaryman, or Jack Black?

    • Keath says:

      Ah yes, that makes perfect sense. And the aspirational image in this ad does not correspond with my internal set of aspirations, hence my irritation every time the ad comes on.

      Much appreciated!

    • max says:

      Thank you! This ad has bugged me every time I watched it.

      Watching it again, I’m struck by the usage of the cliche “’70s shag-van” though. That shlub didn’t get his drivers license until 1995, so what he’s really aspiring to is his father’s notion of virility, not his own. Thus the shlub feels doubly inadequate: he’s never really had his own male identity, and he’s even less of a man now for needing a minivan. Maybe he can kill two birds with one stone and channel what he imagines his father must have known but never taught him about being a man.

      • andthatsnotall says:

        Notice the tag at the end of the commercial: it’s not just dad’s van, it’s dad’s van 2.0, *technology packed* – passed down from the father but meant for him and his generation.

        It’s the superego saying, hey, i know i’m in control, here’s how to enjoy. Since you won’t listen to your own desires, we’ll sell you what you think you’re supposed to want.

    • cheezmiss says:

      did you study psychiatry to be able to think like this, did/would psychiatry help at all? what do you recommend to help someone think like this?

    • BHE says:

      This also explains why you’re seeing it during a hockey game. They know that suburban dads with money are who is buying their product. And the ones who feel most at conflict with their identities are probably also likely to be watching hockey or MMA or some other hyper-masculine sport, so they can tap into their ‘true’ identities as macho pipe-layers. Of course the ad agency knows there will be some folks like you who aren’t even close to being mini-van owners.


      • Keath says:

        Good thoughts! I think there’s a great series of posts in what kind of viewers each sport gets and why.

        I watch hockey for the community aspect you see in teams – players willing to (literally) fight opposing players (who are sometimes also friends) in defense of their teammates. It’s not about the brutality but about the willingness to engage in brutality in defense of the tribe. This is perhaps why MMA and Boxing have never interested me since those are individual sports.

        Football and Baseball also don’t interest me much despite occasionally having fights in defense of the team, perhaps because those sports have a stronger media image of selfishness amongst players (think: Terrell Owens). Hockey players tend to be consistently presented in the media as having a lack of ego and bravado.

        It’s easy to unravel this all as merely willful misperception – hockey players fight for their team, but they also fight to stay employed, to impress scouts for other teams, and for trade value. If they go to another team they fight equally hard for the new tribe. It’s a business and selfish interests are often at play. So it becomes a cycle of buying into the image of community and the not wholy unexpected betrayal when reality intrudes.

    • MarcusB says:

      “You have no life, no passion, no interests, you’ve given it all up for kids and safety.”

      That’s really, really depressing.