Meet Rosie, scourge of the new advertising

Rosie_in_volvo_ad_1 Volvo and Nissan both have ads on TV at the moment.  One recalls the greatness that was advertising, the other gives us advertising’s dismal present. 

The Nissan ad is called "Seven Days in a Sentra" and it features a young man spending a week in his car. At the end of the first spot, Marc Horowitz looks into the camera and says, "this could get interesting." 

But it never does. There was a time, 10 years ago, when this idea was fresh and funny.  Now it is an exercise in the obvious, right down to Marc’s garden gnome, that object of the college prank transplanted to the mainstream by the movie Amelie and then forced into over exposure by those tremendously bad Travelocity ads.

Now the odd thing is that the campaign is adored by Barbara Lippert, Adweek’s brilliant judge of advertising.  So maybe I’m wrong.  But I can’t help feeling that the creative team sat down and decided to "get a little crazy" in pursuit of a younger consumer.  One of the new rules of advertising: don’t ever patronize your market, especially when they enjoy acute sensitivity to contemporary culture in general and marketing in particular. 

(It is perhaps too easy to blame the agency [TBWA\CHIAT\DAY, Playa Del Rey].  Ever since Carlos Ghosn moved the Nissan marketing team to Nashville, we have had to wonder what the costs might be.  Maybe this sort of ad plays in Nashville.  More probably, when you live in Nashville, it’s hard to see that it doesn’t play on the coasts.)

Lippert likes the Sentra campaign she says because there is "genius…in the casting." 

Horowitz’s good-natured, quirky, inventive and flexible approach to life is delightful to watch.

But in an era of really gifted comics and satirists, people capable of interrogating contemporary life until the seams burst and the lining tears away (think Jon Heder [Napoleon Dynamite] or Sasha Baron Cohen [Borat], ) this ends up looking "indie lite," or agit prop with the "agit" excised, or performance art turned into dinner theatre.  (When your average frat boy would have been wittier, you know you have a problem.) 

Now to the good news: a Volvo ad called "Rosie" that features a little girl chattering away as her Dad buckles her into the back seat of the family car. 

This is advertising as we used to make it.  Someone sat down and thought about the value proposition of any car from a father’s point of view (something like "safe passage"), the standard feature of the Volvo value proposition ("really safe passage"), and then looked for a way to propose this proposition in a manner that is interesting and powerful.

Sweet Jerusalem, they hit this one so far out of the park, it’s still traveling.  Rosie, a little girl of about 5, is talking, talking, and talking (as above, complete with visual aid).  We can’t tell what she is saying.  She could be reporting a story, she could be making one up.  (Actually, it’s hard to tell: is Rosie telling the story, or is the story, with its calls for dramatic gesture and exclamation, telling her?)  Dad hesitates to close the door for fear of interrupting, but it’s clear to us (and to him) that there is no interrupting this great spill of detail, enthusiasm and fluting talk.

One of the things I love about the ad is that "Dad" is played with restraint.  It would have been easy to have him "mug" his reaction or signal how achingly sweet this moment is.  But, no, that would have been patronizing.   Rosie is plenty because Rosie is everything.  We know exactly what is going on here.  No additional indexing, no additional "viewing instructions" are necessary.  What we get from Dad, at the end of the spot, is the littlest smile as he drives away.  Rosie, of course, is still talking.

Rosie’s talking jag is the sort of thing that one parent might report back to another.  It’s possible that the grandparent’s might hear about it. But it is also the sort of thing that is so deeply implicated in family life that, chances are, it will not stay in memory.  After the fact, Dad might say, "yeah, that Rosie has always been a chatter box" but the treasure of this moment will not make it into the family’s "oral tradition," into the scrap book or into the attic.  It is evanescent.  It is gone.

Someone at the agency went and recovered it.  (Did they get it from research?  Did it come from a brainstorm?)  And they seized on it as a way for us to think about "really safe passage" and the value that Volvo creates.  Left to their own devices, the automotive engineers will wow us with side impact tests and braking stats.  And we can communicate these to the consumer with promises of "safety."  And, bless them, even in a focus group, the consumer pretends to be interested, because, hey, who isn’t interested in safety?

But when the pitch is about safety, the particular gets lost in the general.  Yes, we all believe in safety, in the way we all believe in motherhood or iPods.  But for God’s sake, safety does not work as a brand proposition, and it isn’t something Volvo can claim for itself, unless it is made vivid, actual, human, and urgent.

Rosie is safety made vivid, actual, human and urgent.  It is when we see a little girl telling a story from her Dad’s point of view that see how much safety matters.  Now it’s clear.  Now it’s clear that Volvo is worth every penny of the price premium, and the styling shortfall, that Volvo obliges us to pay for it. 

There are several ways to express the value augmentation, the meaning manufacture, taking place here.  Here’s one: Rosie’s story > (augments)  Rosie’s charm > Rosie’s vulnerability > Dad’s responsibility and solicitude > Volvo’s safety. Actually, we could parse it a couple of ways.  And this too is the measure of a great ad.  It has a kind of semiotic redundancy built into it.  We can see it several ways but we always up back in the same place. 

But enough about the anthropology.  What about the advertising?  It turns out we can choose.  We can choose between agencies that chase after new segments with palid recitations of the kind of thing the consumer can do better while sleepwalking.  Or we can tell human and branding stories with such power that the world comes to us.  If advertising (and marketing and anthropology) learned anything in the 1990s, it was this: don’t play your consumer, don’t patronize.  Do what you do as well as you can do.  Find the value propositions and tell its story with all the creative power and cultural knowledge the agency has at its disposal.  Or, as we might now put it, find the Rosie within. 

References

Anonymous.  2006.  Nissan’s Long Haul To Nashville.  BusinessWeek.  July 3, 2006.  here.

Lippert, Barbara.  2006.  Living la Vida Nissan: TBWA’s inventive campaign stars a man, a car and a life.  Adweek. October 23, 2006, p. 26. here.

For a YouTube version of the Volvo ad, here.

Hats off to the authors of this ad:
(details courtesy of Euro RSCG Worldwide)

Title of campaign – Volvo “Who Would You Give a Volvo To?”

Network – Euro RSCG Worldwide

Office – Euro RSCG Worldwide

New York

Advertiser – Ford Motor Company

Brand – Volvo Cars

North America

Product Category – Automotive

Launch Month/Year – September 2006

Geographical Area –

North America

AGENCY credits-

Global Chief Executive Officer: David Jones

Chief Executive Officer, NY and San Francisco: Ron Berger

Executive Creative Director: Jeff Kling

Creative Director: Nick Cohen

Art Director: Julie Lamb

Copywriter: Risa Mickenberg

Contributor: Sharoz Marakechi

Director of Broadcast Production: Joe Guyt

Director of Broadcast Production, Business Affairs: Cathy Pitegoff

Associate Producer: Becky Burkhard

Group Account Director: Ian Marlowe

Account Mgmt: Edward Yu, Caroline Jackson and Amy Richardson

Business Manager: Deborah Steeg

Talent: Dawn Kerr

PRODUCTION credits

Production Company AND City: Furlined,

Los Angeles

Director: Pekka Hara

Director of Photography: Joaquin Baca-Asay

Executive Producer: David Thorne

Producer: Rob Stark

35 thoughts on “Meet Rosie, scourge of the new advertising”

  1. grant, one question:
    i agree with you on the brilliance of the volvo ad and on the fact that it reminds us of the hay-days of advertising.
    i think we once had opposing positions here on this website when you said ‘creating meaning’ is what advertising should concentrate on – and i said something like ‘forget it – the only thing advertising can contribute today is creating attention’.
    now this volvo ad is ‘creating meaning’ in – i agree – the best of ways possible – because it also seems to be accessible from a multitude of different perspectives as you say. 360degrees access – like a nice work of art.
    question: can you see this ‘back to meaning’ as a possible road for the contribution of advertising in general and where are the dangers of possibly being too patronizing towards the recipient?

  2. Grant–this post is absolute genius. One of your best ever. YOU knocked this one so far at of the ballpark it is still traveling.

  3. Wow. You nailed it.

    Interestingly, though the Volvo ad is subtle, I remembered that it was an ad for Volvo. The Nissan ads are more in your face – so I am more likely to hear them come on when I’m in the kitchen, making myself a sandwich while the TV is on in the next room – but I had not paid attention to the fact that they were ads for Nissan. That’s bad.

    Volvo: 1
    Nissan: 0

  4. Grant-

    I did not recognize that the ad was for Volvo. The kid annoyed me too much and I thought the “dad” was curiously feminine looking. My wife had a similar reaction to the kid when I mentioned the ad. I think I recognized that the other ad was for Nissan, but was stupid. I am 55 and my kids are in their 20’s and I am not currently shopping for a car.

  5. Grant, one of the reasons – among many – that your post is great, is that you remembered to give full credit to the ad’s creative geniuses (plural). I do not know much about production roles, so I’ll speculate about a few of those individuals: Kling, the Exec Creative Dir., must be a dad himself. The Director, Pekka Hara, has heard the child’s story , in other versions on countless trips to drop off her child at daycare. And the copywriter, Risa Mickenberg, taped a kid and transcribed the story word for word. I know because my granddaughter’s First Grader stories were exactly the same,one perfectly normal flight-of-fantasy-plot with no periods and few commas. By the way the little girl is telling her dad a story to entertain him on the trip.

  6. Mr McCracken-
    Sorry to use your blog for goofy personal business, but I couldn’t find another address. In an August 2005 entry you mentioned Martin Weigel. We went to University together in London and I’ve been trying to track him down. If you could let him know I’m looking for him it would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks.

  7. Your dead on about this ad.

    What really annoys me with certain adverts is the lack of empathy I feel on any scale with the product/service. This is only compounded when the ad in question seems to be trying to mimic (often painfully obviously/poorly) a piece of “cool” zeitgeist. I have no kid’s and can’t drive – yet I still feel empathy with the ad, because it is rooted in a common reality – not some transitory fad I myself have read in that mornings paper/blog described as the ‘latest thing’.

  8. My partner, we of the late 20s, early 30s urban gay male east coast demographic — actually like the Nissan ad. And frankly I’ve never seen the Volvo ad, but although I’d probably get it, I don’t think it would resonate. I like the Nissan ads, I like the guy. It’s a little played out, but it’s not been done in that way for a car. And it actually makes me consider the Sentra as something cool. (Which it really, really isn’t.) But the question that we’ve had is: who is that guy? It seems like they should have picked an actual filmmaker that had a little bit of buzz. It’s like with the Gap ads with Common — he’s never introduced, but those that know him. Know him. And their is a feeling of insider knowledge that comes from that commercial — in fact that’s always been the brilliance of the Gap celebrity ads — they never identify the celebrities, you either know or you don’t know. Apple does the same thing (in a way) with the PC vs Mac ads. Nissan has to introduce the guy, and I STILL don’t know who it is. That’s not good. But based on the shows that run through MTV2, I’d say that the style of the Nissan ads still resonate with “the kids.”

  9. I hate this ad with a passion. The little girl is not only annoying, but her attire is horribly mismatched. The dad (to me) looks like he can’t wait to get her home and out of the car. Probably so he can have some peace and quiet.

    Watched it twice, now I switch the channel whenever I see the beginning of this commercial.

    I am looking for a car and would be interested in a Volvo, but this won’t be the commercial that convinces me to buy one.

  10. Hey Kath….or whatever your fake name is….only a moron would hate such a sweet commerical and read into it such stupidity as you have, but then you probably live in a room with no windows and talk to yourself.
    I personally love it and hope that the producers make it a continuing story.

  11. Hey Larry,

    It’s my real name. Not a moron last time I checked altho I’m sure some would disagree.

    I am glad you love the commercial. I don’t.

    To each their own, no need to get hostile over a difference of opinion.

  12. As a dad with a similar SUV, beautiful 5 year old daughter, constant daddy-daughter outings, AND a Nissan Sentra, I have to say this commericial (and post) resonates deeply. I first have to commend the blog author for his excellent analysis, and everyone’s thoughts on the matter. FYI about the Rosie’s mismatched clothing – dad obviously dressed her and to us, our daughters look like angels in whatever they wear. Nagging about fashion won’t help. The Nissan commercial is just silly – hect, if you’re gonna live in your car wouldn’t and SUV be more cozy? Anywho, my only concern is the final tagline of Volvo – “Who would you give a Volvo to?” Are dads who adore their kids so rare they deserve a prize? Kudos again for the blog topic.

  13. In the Volvo ad with the little chatty girl? I just want to know what shes yammerin’ about.What is she saying??? thanx.

  14. I’m an ad director for a large company and I really enjoy and can easliy relate to this commercial. I have two daughters, now grown, and know how they couldn’t wait to tell you about the exciting story they were being told when you picked them up from school or daycare, no matter how disjointed that story may sound to an adult listener. The father is intent on being attentive and a little dismayed with her enthusiasm so late in the day. As for her clothes mismatch? … how about this was a day when her parents let her dress herself. My daughters loved that day and you wouldn’t believe the outfits. A totally charming, hard-working spot from Volvo.

  15. My parents (in their 70’s) are desperately trying to understand exactly what Rosie is trying to convey, for they are having flashbacks to my own ADHD childhood and lovingly refer to her ramblings as “Maggie Talk,” a reference to how I drove them to exhaustion some 49 years ago. Where might I locate the script so they can stop trying to scribble on a legal pad with each viewing??

  16. The link to youtube says the video’s been removed. I’d like to view it, as I’ve been told the girl resembles my own daughter. Where can I view it (besides TV, I mean)?

  17. Volvo advertising team – excellent, brilliant simply wonderful commercial – I love watching it over and over. Rosie reminds me of my niece. I am a Grandma of 3 and love what Volvo has created in this refreshing ad. Rosie is simply telling a story – probably from school, her clothes mismatched – another wonderful idea, typical of children, and one of those classic memories for a family to share. I’d definitely buy a Volvo for my grandkids – I too hope Volvo continues with Rosie and her Dad! By the way – who is Rosie?

  18. I LOVE Rosie. I didn’t even know that was her name until I found this site, but at 66 years old I have known many little girls like that. The ad should win an award; only a hard-heart or someone who doesn’t remember being a kid or having a kid would express hatred for that ad. It’s real. It’s charming. It’s exactly like a certain little girl I know. And when Volvo stops using it, my husband and I will both miss it.

  19. I just LOVE this commercial! Rosie is so sweet and what a patient father to have.Who would not fall in love with this charming little girl. This has got to be one if not the best commercial on TV. We need a lot more like this and not all the other garbage we are force to sit thru.Keep up your fantastic work.You really out did yourself on this one. I do have two questions. Is the the good-looking father her real father? And where was this film at? The scenery is absolutely beautiful!

  20. Okay, if I ever have a kid and it’s a girl, I want her to look exactly like Rosie ’cause she’s absolutely freakin’ adorable. I like this commercial; she’s not doing the whole “very young child is pretentious and/or precocious to adults” schtick that is so common in commercials nowadays. I wish I knew what the heck she is babbling on about, though. Bugs? I dunno. I love it when she says “And I don’t know what it IS…”

  21. A few days ago I posted a request for Rosie’s actual rambling, and have since learned that the script is no longer accessable via Youtube. HELP! My mother won’t rest until she can know her exact ramblings. I’ve told her it won’t matter, but she’s insistant. Please help an old mother of an old “rosie” rest!! Thanks!!! Maggie

  22. I am the mother of 2 and grandmother of 3. I love this Volvo commercialand I’m happy that many others have discovered it. I think that the little girl and the father look so much alike and wanted to find out if they were related so I googled and came to this site. I’ve seen the commercial many times and never realized (until reading the comments today) that the little girl is wearing mis-matched clothing. Maybe it was dad’s turn to help that morning…In any case, its an adorable commercial and reminds me of one of my grandchildren – who also is an excitable talker!

  23. where can I down load a copy of the Rosie ad? It’s precious and i’d like to play it end on end.

  24. I LOVE YOUR “ROSIE” COMMERCIAL,IT EVOKES THE EXACT FEELINGS WE HAD WHEN DECIDING ON OUR VOLVO….SAFETY,FAMILY,RELIABILITY.PLEAS LET US SEE THIS DARLING GIRL AGAIN.

  25. She is unbelievable. Where can I go to ADOPT her????? I just love her.( yes, it would be great to know what she is babbling about. Did they tell her what to say???

  26. America’s most prominent men’s activist, Glenn Sacks, has just initiated a major campaign supporting Euro RSCG’s work for Volvo and aimed at deterring Volvo from awarding their $150 million advertising account to Arnold Worldwide. Arnold has consistently generated some of the most negative images of fathers, husbands and men in advertising. This is reflected in their recent Fidelity campaign, which is based almost entirely on disdain for incompetent and foolish men.

    Euro RSCG is defending the Volvo account and has generated some of the most positive images of husbands and fathers that we have seen in recent advertising.

    Information on the Glenn Sacks campaign can be viewed at http://www.glennsacks.com/volvo.php . In the first day of the campaign over 1000 people contacted Volvo and asked them to choose against Arnold Worldwide.

  27. Here’s what I got from listening to the commercial…

    And um… they were really good and um they… and they lived in the house that he likes the most… but one day he wanted to change the color of him… just a pretend stick but it’s really thin… And it has legs and I don’t know what it is… um and… and this worms and some bugs — mom talked about it — but his head is so tiny… that…

    [distant voice of the father as the VOLVO drives off] Wow…

    I’m with those who LOVE this commercial and the little girl. She reminds me of countless little (and not so little) girls I’ve known over the years.

    But I’m happy with my Ford Expedition.

  28. hi..I love the volvo commercial, rosie was really cute! but WHO WAS THE FATHER? i mean who was the actor? please tell me! thanks

  29. What I want to know is where the Volvo ad – “Mountain Road” – was filmed. Hanged if I can find it anywhere. Ideas?

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