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Are fad ads bad?

By Shane Starr
LaGrange resident

Another of my genetic deficiencies is the automobile advertising gene. I don’t get TV commercials. I mean, I do – I get that they are trying to convince us to buy a motor anchored to four wheels.

But I don’t get that somehow a car should be part of my identity any more than a can opener or a toilet plunger. Matthew McConaughey is one of my favorite actors, but when I see him mumbling philosophic nonsense while driving through a smoke-scape on a car commercial, it creeps me out.

Automobile marketing is filled with euphemisms. “Sporty” should refer to a Spice Girl, not to a car. In cars, sporty is code for “small and uncomfortable.”

And whoever coined the oxymoron Sports Utility Vehicle, and then had the foresight to confuse it further by shortening it to the SUV acronym was a genius. Not only does this vehicle magically provide both sports and utility, it does so in sub-compact, compact, sedan, midsize, large, extra-large, and third-row sizes.

Does this sound like transportation, or the Men’s Wear clearance rack at a thrift store? And of course, you can always go with a Crossover, which is halfway between a passenger car and an SUV. The concept of a Crossover makes as much sense to me as being a bird that is halfway between a penguin and an ostrich.

Of course, the king of euphemisms is the “luxury vehicle.” I would ask you to quickly think of three or four things that you might consider a representation of true luxury.

I would expect items on your list like a Lear jet, or an eighteen-bedroom mansion, or a yacht. What I don’t expect on your list is a car. Maybe somewhere down your list was a chauffeur to drive you around in a car — that’s luxury. But the car itself does not qualify as a “luxury” just because we name it that, any more that I am thin if I changed my name to “Svelte.” Leather seats are apparently a luxury feature.

I say “apparently” because my wife grew up on a dairy farm and never saw leather as aspirational, at least when it was on the hoof. Speaking of my wife, “driving assist” seems to be a commonly marketed luxury feature, but I’ve had assistance with my driving pretty much since the day I got married.

I don’t think society benefits much from the barrage of automotive commercials promising a particular car choice can result in life becoming a permanent road trip vacation.

Frankly, I’m looking forward to the large-scale roll-out of self-driving cars. It will be a slow and painful transition, until people believe that machines can do mundane things like steer a car and obey traffic rules more consistently than humans.

Until then, I’ll have to continue to struggle to understand why a woman floating under a red balloon somehow relates to the automobile I should own.