The video above is Ford’s attempt to sell the 2011 Fiesta via an advertisement suggesting that, in certain situations, keyless entry might prevent your being consumed by the soulless husk of your dead grandmother. Caution: zombies, and surprisingly gross makeup/realistic ligament-crunching sounds for a car commercial. If you’re like me, you consider zombies by far the most frightening monster western culture has ever come up with (second most frightening monster,) to the point where watching Shaun of the Dead made it impossible to sleep for the next 48 hours. You are probably not like me. Humorous or at least tongue-in-cheek zombie products—Zombieland, The Zombie Survival Guide, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies—far outnumber tongue-on-floor zombie products in contemporary culture. America seems to have decided that living corpses bent on surrounding and then mindlessly forcing their way into your boarded-up house so that you wake each morning to the sound of scratching, scratching, until finally they eat your face and ears have at least some camp value. Zombies are hip.
Hipness is a force I fear almost as much as zombies, and it’s probably not a coincidence that I find the two so morbidly fascinating. Anyone who has read Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, spoken to Chris Stangl or taken Intro to Film Analysis knows that horror myths—particularly a postwar horror myth like zombies—reflect the anxieties of their age. Zombie movies really took off in the 1950s, when the threat of nuclear war made the prospect of gross mutants wandering the American landscape especially au courant. The template for the modern zombie flick, George Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, firmly connects them to American pop culture’s greatest fear: mass conformity. Arguably, we are still more scared of being vaporized by a nuclear reaction than of dressing like everybody else, but the association between zombies and the crushing force of social dynamics has become scholarly cant if not psychological truth. It’s probably why they’re kind of funny now.
Which returns us to the Ford Fiesta. I assume that you went to high school with someone who drove the 1990s version of this car, which was like a Burger King wrapper filled with other Burger King wrappers. The Fiesta is what is politely called a good first car. As the above commercial and its $13,320 MSRP indicate, the 2011 Fiesta is marketed at young people, which presents Ford with a problem. Currently, one out of every four Americans under age 30 is unemployed. Now is an unusually difficult time to sell cars, especially to young people, yet now is also an especially important time for American auto manufacturers to sell cars. Because, you know, total collapse. This is going to take some genius advertising.
Moments of the 2011 zombie Fiesta spot are inspired. I particularly like the zombie rental guy at the :20 mark, and narrator Jonathan’s insistence on taking a call as he is being pursued. Yet several elements of the spot are completely baffling. I’ve watched it several times now and I can’t figure out what “dawn of the new key FOB” means. The first part is presumably a reference to Dawn of the Dead and “FOB” is almost certainly an acronym, but I have no idea for what. If I may wax Comic Book Guy for a moment, the consumption of the Honda Fit girl at :58 presents a confusing continuity error, since up to that point I understood her to be running from the zombie, which is now somehow in the back of her car.
Most baffling, however, is what this zombie car commercial is selling in the first place. The whole thing centers on the Fiesta’s keyless entry and push-button start, two features that lend themselves nicely to chase scenes but are also not likely to appeal to the aforementioned cash-strapped twentysomethings. Relaunching an economy car in a down market, Ford has chosen to sell luxury. Presumably, young Americans about to spend their life savings on a sub-compact to drive them to their new job two towns over are looking for a car that won’t break. The Toyota Yaris, owned by that douche in the western shirt with epaulets, costs less, has only a slightly smaller engine and gets the same city miles. It doesn’t come with keyless entry, but it did win the Intellichoice Best Overall Value of the Year award.* But hey, the Fiesta has heated seats!
One can’t blame the marketeers for such discrepancies, though. Ford’s zombie commercial is the product of a nation that is much better at making advertisements than making cars. With that in mind, is it a coincidence that executives at the Ford Auto Company found the zombie narrative so compelling? Panicked, cash-strapped people, relentlessly pursued, turn to their cars to save them from being consumed. It’s no Night of the Living Dead, but it just might capture the fears of a nation. Or at least of several old white guys.