by Magdalen O’Reilly
I don’t think in the history of the man’s legacy have so many people been grateful that Theodore Seuss Geisel, affectionately known around the world as Dr. Seuss, is dead. Film buffs were already shaking their heads at the recent childhood classic to be dragged — kicking and screaming -— into theatres. But what many didn’t expect to see was the Mazda CX-5 tie-in commercial featuring the Lorax. I’d like to deconstruct this for a moment…
The Lorax is a Dr. Suess story about a creature called the Once-Ler. The Once-ler lives in a grim, and polluted world and is recounting to a young boy how the world came to be so ruined. He explains that their world was once lush and green, but his ambition to create a machine to help the world results in him chopping down all the Truffula trees. A creature called the Lorax, who speaks for the trees, tries to warn the Once-Ler not to cut down the truffula trees. But he ignores the Lorax and eventually the environment is destroyed. The story ends on a hopeful note as the Once-Ler gives the boy the very last Truffula tree seed. And this, the Lorax — who speaks for the trees –— is the character they felt should be advertising the new Mazda CX-5.
The first thing to run through my head was, “Hi, I’m John Lennon, and I approved this AK-47.” The message of The Lorax is not open to interpretation, it’s a warning about the consequences of industrialization. Now the CX-5 is not the only advertising tie-in for the movie, but it’s definitely generating the most public outcry. It doesn’t help that the CX-5 is an SUV. The marketing team must have been working around the clock to try and find some way of making such a poor decision palatable.
The first and most obvious choice is that the car in the commercial is blue. Blue is a color we associate with cleanliness, which explains the blue testing liquid you always see used in tampon commercials. Second, the car is said to have brand new “SkyActiv” technology. SkyActiv a mixture of words that serve to convey a feeling instead an actual meaning. “Sky” conjures up the idea of sunny days, blue skies, feelings of relaxation and happiness. “Activ” (E’s are so passé) represents activity, like by buying a CX-5 you’re actively making a difference to help the environment. Yes, the marketing team is desperately trying to convince you that it’s good for the environment to buy a sports utility vehicle. For $20,695 it better power my house and dredge the Willamette River.
Animated characters are vulnerable to this kind of advertising because they can’t say no. Where a real celebrity could have a moral objection (perhaps their heart grew three sizes that day) an animated character, no matter how loved and celebrated is still at the mercy of the company that owns it. Random House sold the rights to Universal Pictures, not Theodore Geisel. And if the great Dr. wasn’t so busy spinning in his grave, I don’t think he’d want anyone to see this movie.