U.S. Business: Irreverence at American

"Hey, hey. I just saw that secret new sports car American Motors built." With that, a sharply pointed pole sails out of nowhere, embedding itself in the speaker's chest. Sinking to the ground, he gasps: "It's called the Javelin."

Using 20-second television teasers to pique interest in its brand-new Javelin specialty car, American Motors Corp. last week launched a nationwide advertising campaign designed to put the company on the road to recovery. To plug its 1968 models, the automaker is relying on 18-month-old Wells, Rich, Greene, Inc., which was already Madison Avenue's hottest new ad agency (other clients: Braniff airlines, Benson & Hedges 100s) when it picked up A.M.C.'s $12 million account last June. The full measure of the agency's upstart audacity will become evident by the time its client's '68s go on sale next week. Abandoning the teasers, Wells, Rich, Greene will start hurling its barbs directly at Detroit's Big Three.

Gum-Chewing Floozy. Instead of sponsored shows, the campaign will rely heavily on prime-time TV spot commercials with an irreverence that the auto industry has seldom seen. To tout American Motors' 1968 Ambassador, which boasts air conditioning as standard equipment, one commercial features a gum-chewing floozy strolling along a desert road; she refuses to be picked up by drivers of non-A.M.C. cars, but happily hops into a cool, comfortable Ambassador. Another commercial spoofs Detroit's penchant for depicting its cars in country-club surroundings. It shows elegantly coifed beauties swooping from swank settings into modest A.M.C. Rebels just as contentedly as if the cars were Continentals. Meanwhile, an off-camera voice proclaims: "Either we're charging too little for our cars or everyone else is charging too much."

The economy theme is just as pronounced in the Javelin ads. Aimed at the burgeoning youth market, they tackle Ford's successful Mustang head-on with the pitch that the Javelin, while similarly priced (about $2,500), offers such values as contour bumpers, bigger engines and more leg room. To dramatize the car's jumbo gas tank (19 gallons v. the Mustang's 16), one television commercial shows a gang of toughs—"Hey hood, look at the hood!" their leader shouts—siphoning petrol from a parked Javelin. A magazine ad goes even further in highlighting the Javelin's supposed advantages by picturing it side by side with a Mustang—even though the latter is a '67 model, while the Javelin is a '68. Wells, Rich, Greene reports that it tried without success to borrow a not-yet-released '68 Mustang from Ford.

Ford Division's advertising chief, John Morrissey, professes to welcome the Javelin campaign, insists that "I'll take all the Mustang exposure I can get." Nonetheless, other Ford executives have made no secret of their unhappiness with Wells, Rich, Greene, particularly over a statement by the agency's blonde president, Mary Wells, that the American Motors campaign was directed at people who "think that Detroit is fleecing the public."

Time.com on Digg


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