If I hadn’t spoiled the surprise in the headline, would you ever have guessed who directed this Super Bowl ad for the Mercedes-Benz AMG? Go ahead, watch it.
Be honest. There is absolutely no way. Cliched biker humor? Yep. A blatant pitch to the last dying embers of rebellion that may still lay amid the ash of the rich baby boomer soul? Sure. The antithesis of Easy Rider, the very film it aims to pay tribute? Bingo. But all that isn’t anything new in advertising.
What’s really surprising is just how . . . indistinguishable this commercial is from any other pretty-good-for-half-a-chuckle ad out there. This is the Coen brothers we’re talking about. Fargo; The Big Lebowski; Miller’s Crossing; Raising Arizona; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; and on and on. Legends of creativity and storytelling. Is there even a trace of that here? How can all that style just disappear, even if it’s just 30 seconds?
Which brings us to a broader issue. I’ve talked to many film directors who dip back into the commercial world, not just for a hefty (and quick) paycheck, but also the opportunity to test and play with cameras, lenses, and techniques in anticipation of their next feature. But even if it is just for the money, if you’re an established director with a signature style, why not flex it in commercial form? David Fincher did it for Nike. Spike Jonze has done a few times, most recently for Kenzo. Even Harmony Korine did it for Budweiser.
The same thing happened with Michel Gondry last year. Watch this Gondry-directed Motorola ad from 2007. Now watch this Bacardi ad from 2016. The former features the whimsical creativity we know and love, while the latter is just another booze ad.
Why bother? Maybe we’re unrealistically projecting our own artistic expectations on these dudes. It’s probably a killer payday for minimal sweat, relative to a Hollywood feature. Perhaps then the question is better posed to the brands themselves. If you’re paying top dollar so you can yell from the PR rooftops that your precious Super Bowl ad is directed by THE COEN BROTHERS, why make an ad that looks anything but?