One of the first big budget TV commercials to air during this year’s Super Bowl programming was the “Nearly Double” advertisement for the Ford Fusion Hybrid, starring Rob Riggle & James Franco, which claims to “make history” by airing two commercials back-to-back, or following up the first commercial with a second one that is “double the length, double the awesomeness”:
It’s a pretty good ad, employing familiar comedic actors and over-the-top theatrics to celebrate a new vehicle that is both economically sound (with “nearly double” the fuel economy) and environmentally friendly (as a hybrid fuel system). It also is very self-congratulatory, in the way that it highlights Ford’s double-investment in what everyone knows is very expensive advertising space, claiming to “make history.”
But there’s nothing historical here, really. Over the history of advertising, many commercials have aired twice, whether back to back, or episodically throughout a time block. It’s not uncommon for ads to run consecutively to fill a time block (e.g., two 15-second ads after each other to fill a 30-second slot) or a monthly quota; sometimes infomercials will repeat over and over again after midnight till the sun rises, filling time with cheap ad space. The ad purports to be two commercials, but it’s really a “piggyback” ad, and relies on its integration of content for the “second” commercial to really make sense.
The ad may be trying to sneak in a claim that the car is the first to “nearly double” the fuel economy, but it doesn’t actually say that. No, what is (or may be) historical here is that this is a commercial that REMAKES ITSELF IMMEDIATELY. It is an example of what I call “doublement” — an exhibition of media’s “uncanny” capacity to mechanically “double” itself with spectacular results.
The commercial is rife with claims and references to the fantastic. We’re told it is “no ordinary commercial” with “double the…awesomeness” of other ads, and it takes great pains to call attention by framing itself as an “event” more than a product announcement (i.e., a pseudo-event, which all superbowl commercials seem to be anymore). This ad, Riggle assures us, “has never been done before…in the history of commercials.” It has all the hoopla of a magic act — which it seems to become when Riggle returns in the commercial’s final salvo, soaring in the pilot’s seat of a jet airplane.
There is a lot of “double-talk” in this ad, actually. The assertion that this “has never been done before…in the history of commercials” is kind of the ad’s overarching dumb joke, because the ad is all about repetition: of “doing again” what has been “done before.” It relies on the “fantastic” power of doubling — doublement — to replace the overtly “domestic” Riggle in Ad #1 with the more famous actor, James Franco, dressed to the nines, surrounded by opulence and introduced with a dramatic (cinematic) score. Riggle’s chirping pet is replaced in ad #2 with a tiger that towers over Franco on the sofa. In fact, the whole ad relies relies on the back-referencing cues (eg a sprinkler in Riggle’s neighborhood is substituted by tall fountains in Franco’s version; kids playing with sparklers in Riggle’s yard are replaced with fabulous dancers and sky high fireworks; Riggle sits on his roof and blows a dandelion, while Franco “planks” impossibly horizontal from a skyscraper window above a city skyline, blows a dandelion, and its florets “snow down” upon the Ford Fusion as it slaloms in the shining city streets. At the end of Riggle’s section, doves fly from around the car; in Franco’s, jet airplanes swoop down in the sky. But both sections end with the same logo: Ford “Go Further”.
Does going back to repeat one’s self really “go further” or does it spin in circles?
It’s all repetition, really — held together with a virtually identical script of dialogue. The text repeats; but the stylistics on the surface are changed, with the second version emphasizing the “magical” power of itself as a double.
Thus, the advertisement is meaningless except as a textual doppelganger: a clone of itself, with the second version merely highlighting the power of CINEMA TECHNOLOGY to magically construct fantasy, rather than really showing us anything fantastic about the car itself. The technology of film replaces the technology of hybrid automotives; the “magic” is the system of advertising, not the science of car fuel systems. At most, all Franco can really do is shout from above a gigantic sign that reads “NEARLY DOUBLE”. This is an television ad reduced to a billboard. An ad is an ad, and it can be nothing more than that.
Perhaps this is why a jet engine — an airplane — gets to have the last word in this ad, not a car.
Of course, the very model name of the Ford “Hybrid Fusion” lurks behind all of this: the ad is a hybrid ad — an original and its remake, fused into one. It is redundant to say “hybrid” and “fusion” back-to-back, just as the ad is a comedic act of redundancy.