Friday, June 11, 2010

The things we make, make us. What do you make of that?

Back before you were born, this was a different country. For a lot of reasons, but most relevant to this particular blog because people were defined by what they created. A butcher was a butcher. A mechanic was a mechanic.

Thanks to advertising, over the past 50 or 60 years that began to change. And today, people are no longer defined by what they make, but rather by what they consume. A butcher can be an Apple person. A mechanic can be a Nike person.

The marketing of four-wheel-drive vehicles is really emblematic of this phenomenon. Most advertise their ruggedness and durability, yet in spite of the skid plates, brush guards, and other accoutrements, by some estimates fewer than 5% ever actually leave the pavement at all. Except for the occasional shower they might have to endure as they cruise along the freeway, most spend their entire lives either coddled in the garage or shuttling along well-maintained roads from the covered parking at the grocery store to the parking structure at the office.

And yet, Range Rover drivers sneer at Ford Explorer drivers as somehow unworthy, who in turn sneer at people driving sedans.

So it's interesting that Jeep's new campaign is based on the line, "The things we make, make us."

You could argue that the "we" is ambiguous enough to refer to Jeep and not consumers, but the first spot in the campaign refutes that. The spot talks about Americans as craftsmen. All of us.

The spot is meant to be an anthem. To instill a renewed pride in American craftsmanship, with Jeep leading the charge. I can't tell you whether the advertising is going to work, but if it does it will mark an interesting development in the deepening of American consumerism. Because implicit in the advertising is a question: What do you actually make?

Middle managers, soccer moms, and salespeople are being told that they should buy a Jeep because, like them, the people who make it make things well. Upon even the most cursory self-reflection, those very consumers should realize that even if they believe that the people who make Jeeps can identify themselves as such (a specious claim if there ever was one), the vast majority of people who buy Jeeps cannot.

"Nice conference report, Bob. I can see you crafted it with pride," says one Jeep owner to another?

So for most people, buying a Jeep now means aligning yourself with what you are not. It's crossing the line from aspiration to appreciation, affiliation to fandom.

It's an interesting flag for Jeep to plant. My own hope is that it will fail. My fear is that it will succeed.