Peugot Uses WACKY RACES Nostalgia To Sell Cars To Gen Xers

Plus thoughts on live action cartoons and how you get sold.

Yesterday I wrote about nostalgia and it got quite a lot of attention (and, predictably, anger). Nostalgia and the way it is used is obviously something that fascinates me, so when I saw this car commercial pop up in my Facebook feed I had to comment on it. It's old - at least a year - but I had never seen it before (apologies if this is ancient news to you). The way it works nostalgia is really interesting.

Wacky Races is exactly the sort of property I had in mind when I was writing about the frisson of nostalgia kicking in when you remember something as opposed to being constantly assaulted with it. The Wacky Races cartoon isn't particularly omnipresent - you might see it on one of the cartoon channels if you're the kind of adult who wastes his time on cartoon channels - but if you're a certain age it used to occupy a big space in your mental real estate. The Hanna-Barbera cartoon was a riff on the 1965 movie The Great Race, and it featured a diverse cast of cartoon types all engaged in road rallies against each other (not to be confused with the Laff-A-Lympics, which was a big crossover show with all the Hanna-Barbera characters in the style of Battle of the Network Stars). As a kid characters like Dick Dastardly, Muttley, the Gruesome Twosome and Penelope Pitstop were iconic. 

The thing to remember about Wacky Races is that while the aesthetic is cool the show is sort of bad; it's silly and broad in the wrong ways, and I don't even want to get into the gender issues surrounding Penelope. But it is very identifiable, and it has also dropped out of the lives of most Gen Xers - which makes this commercial a nostalgia slam-dunk. As each of the Wacky Racers pull up to the starting line old people like me will get a sudden burst of memory, one that is probably deeply identified with childhood happiness... and which hopefully gets conflated with the brand of Peugot. Yes, the commercial says, you're a middle-aged person with disposable income, but you still totally want to fuck Penelope Pitstop. 

I like this commercial for one other reason - the way it literalizes the cartoon characters. This is tough to do - look at Dick Tracy and The Flintstones for examples of cartoon characters not quite making the jump to live action. This commercial has the benefit of being a minute and a half, not an hour and a half, and that really makes a difference. Still, the way the commercial makes The Slab Brothers and the Gruesome Twosome 100% work in live action shows that cartoony imagery can be brought to life, if shot right. 

One last thing: this commercial is in the same vein as the Volkswagon Darth Vader commercial, where you don't even realize you're being sold a car. It's all about positive brand identification; they want you to finish the commercial feeling good about their brand so that when you are car shopping Peugot or Volkswagon are your first choice. This is how advertising truly works, not by making you want a Coke right now but by making it so that the next time you're thirsty Coke is the obvious, unconscious choice. They don't want you to feel like you're being sold something, they want you to feel happy. And maybe, just a little bit, subconsciously associate that happiness with their brand. It's absolutely brainwashing, on a small and hard-to-notice scale.