This weekend I was watching NFL pre-season, which of course means car commercials. I saw three commercials, two for VW and one for Chevy, that were variations on the same theme. Both play off the cliche of male customers engaged in intense, hard-nose bargaining with the dealership salesman. In both its the husband/father figure who is leading the confrontation with the salesman and both are ironic because (so the commercial tells us) the dealer’s prices are so good you don’t have to be an ultra-competitive alpha-male to get the best price
I especially like that in the first commercial the men are arguing about sports, while in the second commercial the customer insults the salesman’s masculinity to his wife only to reassure him under his breath “You’re a grown man.”
In both the VW commercials the women are spatially separated from the men and the haggling process. In one the wife and daughter can see the bargaining taking place but cannot hear it while in the other the woman is on the other end of the phone and not present at the dealership.
The result is dramatic irony because we, the audience, know something the women do not. Their men are deceiving them into believing that through their knowledge of cars (a traditionally male-dominated realm) and uncompromising toughness in high-stakes situations they have mastered the art of buying new vehicles.
But VW is saying that, in reality, buying a new car is not a stressful high-stakes situation requiring uncompromising toughness, i.e. it is not a macho place where only the strong survive. Nevertheless you can protect your masculinity by taking credit for the good deals which will come easily, not unlike a commercial for frozen food where the mother passes it off as her own cooking with a wink. “No one needs to know how easy it was.”
The Chevy commercial is very similar only the woman is not spatially separated from her man. In the version of the Chevy commercial I saw on TV this past weekend the wife strokes her husband’s arm at the end and says, admiringly, “Good job, baby” but I wasn’t able to find that one on YouTube.
Here the element of deception is removed, or rather it is displaced onto the salesman. The salesman and the audience are in the same position, we share with him the knowledge that the customer thinks they are bargaining when actually they are not. Unlike the VW commercial the wife character is present at the negotiation, but she is still deferring to her husband when it comes to knowledge about cars. Judging from her satisfied coos (not shown here, but I saw it on TV) the man might get a little loving later on having earned such a good deal.
I’m not buying it. I drive Hondas. Like a boss.