I am one of those rare graduate students who still makes a bit of time to watch some television. I know… I know… Honestly though, I learn from a good show, story, or plot. Battlestar Galactica, the early Gray’s Anatomy, and the initial seasons of Prison Break, Lost, and 24, are some of the contemporary visual narratives that go beyond the mere entertainment they are meant to provide… and there’s plenty to gain from watching them if you are conscious of this. There are other not so good narratives out there, but it’s harder to admit and share what I see in them in a public manner… ;)

Recently, while watching some of these shows, I noted a change in the commercial advertising landscape: the automotive industry is trying to harness the power of typography and verbal communications to make its pitch to us.



Take this particular advertisement for Ford’s new F-150. The advertisement, clearly influenced by recent kinetic typography explorations found in almost every video portal site, uses scale, contrast, motion, rhythm, and verbal language to communicate its message to the screen-engaged viewers.

My issue? While I am very happy to see typography take a lead-actor role in contemporary motion-based advertising, I don’t want to see it become just another plastic jewel of a bedazzled composition. Seeing typography play a superficial role illustrates a weak command of the medium. In this previous example, I question the effectiveness of the strategy when the subject matter of the commercial is rendered almost invisible. What was this commercial about again?

The kinetic typography technique, in my opinion, works best when the visual cues offered by the images allow viewers to immerse in the story being told. Examples of it cover the whole spectrum of genres, from comedy…


Content cited is from the movie Wedding Crashers.

…to serious dramatic compositions… (sorry for the Spanish)


For Random House Mondadori.

…but no matter the thematic purpose of these two previous examples, the visual cues assert the typographic narrativs being told.

In the case of some of these recent vehicle commercials, there is a split between the visual and typographic stories, rendering the ads, in my opinion, ineffective. I don’t mean to insinuate that this is happening because of the technique being used. In 2006, The Brand New School produced The Car That Reads the Road campaign for Toyota in Australia.

These ads, while beautiful and rendered to the highest of technological standards, also fall into this fuzzy realm where I think typography and content are not quite peacefully having a conversation, and I think this happens again because no substantial story is being told. This lack of narrative provokes a superficial role for the typography and to its possibilities.

The sad thing is that the automotive industry has experienced the success of real storytelling (By storytelling I don’t mean those ads where cars are the main actors of unbelievable feats, but stories with a plot, actors, and process). The 2002 release of John Frankenheimer’s Ambush on the BMW Films website serves as a clear case study.


Ambush, by John Frankenheimer.

With the series, BMW delved into storytelling and was rewarded when it saw their 2002 sales numbers go up 12% from the previous year. The movies were viewed over 11 million times in four months. BMW Films: The Ultimate Marketing Scheme by Tom Hespos The films proved to be so popular, that BMW produced a few more seasons and showcased many more of its vehicles in action that it would have ever done with a standard advertising campaign.

Clearly the automotive industry is in the midst of an identity crisis, questioning the ways it does things. I just think it has been doing this for a while now… not finding a clear position for itself… and not understanding how to talk to its audience. There is no need for this move to superficial strategies. All is has to do is connect with the audience… provide stories… (and then bring in typography) and not only will it see itself rewarded, but also provide a more meaningful experience for those who have to see these spots repeated for weeks at a time, armed only with the weapons of changing a channel or muting the speakers.

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One Response to Can’t sell your car? Apparently just throw some typography at it. Wait… what? Really?

  1. marty says:

    the typography IS the content. haha. just giving you a hard time. great insight and comparisons about the use of kinetic type. it’s interesting that you refer to kinetic type as a technique. do you not see it as another genre? in my opinion the ad, The Car That Reads the Road, actually has a pretty integrated conversation going on between the imagery and typography, whereas the first ad is just BAD. overwhelming in every sense.

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