Wait, Who Are You? And Just How Much Cash Are You Waving In My Face?

If you watch television in the New York City area, you might be familiar with a particularly annoying — highly, highly annoying — commercial for a car dealership in Great Neck that fills the low-budget local ad slots on various cable systems. I first saw it this summer during the late innings of various meaningless baseball games. Once it gets into your head, it's difficult to extricate it from your mental space.

I kept wanting people to see it, just so they could understand what I was feeling. It's sort of like when you taste something rotten and immediately offer it to your friend: "Oh, this is disgusting — smell it!" Unfortunately, no one had the foresight to upload a video of the commercial to YouTube. The closest thing I could find was a furtive comment on a "Most Annoying WFAN Commercials" thread.

But on January 10, 2011, the good folks of Great Neck Nissan finally shared the video with the world [4/18/16 Edit: So apparently it's not there anymore (thanks, eagle-eyed Adsensebot!) but the video is posted elsewhere]:

I am surprised it took them so long to post the video. Yes, it has the hallmarks of a viral marketing cliche, but these days — when the people who make Snuggies and Forever Lazy Adult Onesies are dancing on a thin line of self-awareness that confounds cynics — you could do a lot worse than adding this video to the pantheon of ridiculous shit you waste your time on while logged into YouTube. It's not so self-consciously oddball, or even if it is, you get the sense that they didn't perceive that it was until much later (especially given how long it took to make it to YouTube — it's as if they did it by popular demand).

(Speaking of which, I always assumed "all press is good press" was attributed to Mark Twain, but the origin of the phrase, or at least the sentiment, is murkier: As far as anyone can tell, "there is no such thing as bad publicity" seems to come from Oscar Wilde's "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about" and there does not seem to be a tidy explanation of the origin of the aphorism.)

The script is harmless enough — a man identifying himself as Joe Valentino — perhaps this is the same Joe Valentino — holds a wad of bills in his hand and speaks directly into the camera:

Five hundred dollars cash — that's right — five hundred dollars cash! This is Joe Valentino from Great Neck Nissan and that's what I'm willing to pay if I don't give you the absolute lowest price on any car, truck or four-by-four at Great Neck Nissan! So shop 'til you drop my friends — you can't lose — either a brand new Nissan or five hundred dollars cash!

Where does it all go wrong? It's not the out-of-place Lou Holtz/Notre Dame poster hanging over Valentino's right shoulder — even though it's strange in the way that the poster splits the viewer's attention between the Nissan logo to Valentino's left and this piece of Fighting Irish nostalgia on his right, I guess visually it does its part to help frame Joe Valentino. That said, while I understand why Notre Dame is popular — I cried watching Rudy, too! — the Irish haven't been relevant for quite some time, having lost nine straight bowl games until finally getting their mojo back in 2008's Hawai'i Bowl; hearkening back to this bygone era seems like a mixed message of sorts.

Further, I don't mind that Joe Valentino's undershirt is poking up from under that unbuttoned short-sleeved thing he's wearing. I see it as "authentic."

I also don't mind the video quality — yes, the audio seems to peak, and the commercial is jarring when you come across it during the lazy late innings of a ballgame — but that's what local commercials are all about; even though it looks like it was filmed on Betamax, there's a homespun, DIY aspect to it that we don't usually see in professionally produced commercials.

I don't even mind that Joe Valentino keeps punching at the camera with his middle finger sticking out — I didn't even notice that part until now, actually. It's pretty aggro if you look for it. Though if your mind wanders, you might find yourself remembering a similar gesture that Daniel Pearl made with his middle finger on that gruesome video in which he acknowledged his Jewish heritage to terrorists under duress. Is Valentino sending the same sort of veiled message?

No, let's be real — we all know where it goes wrong — it's that voice — that voice! — "fiiiiii-vundred dollars caaaash!" Hear it once and you think, "Oh, wow, that's over the top," but after the fiftieth or one-hundredth time, yikes — it's pretty unrelenting. And it doesn't have to be this way — had, say, Alistair Cooke recorded this, it would have been gentler, more inviting — in a smooth British accent, the promise of five hundred dollars cash would be hard to resist. Even Keith Hernandez would have been more appealing. His Coin Galleries of Oyster Bay ad shows statesmanship and class, and if I had gold I wanted to unload, I wouldn't hesitate to trust his endorsement.

I also find myself gravitating toward that bossy "shop 'til you drop, my friend" command. One, we're not friends! Two, I don't know that I want to shop until I drop — what if I can't get back up? When Valentino says stuff like that I start to envision the Great Neck Nissan car lot filled with hundreds of nonambulatory customers, some stuck on their backs staring into a blinding sun, some on their knees, legs trembling as they attempt to prop themselves up again. I don't know that this commercial ever aired during AMC's The Walking Dead, but if it had, there might have been another mixed message sent.

And this is all well and good — and I'm happy to help spread viruses — but by posting the video, Great Neck Nissan is clearly moving into Comfort Wipe territory. The danger/hope is what they come up with next.

Posted: January 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Do The Hustle | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,