The Mercedes Commercial I Didn’t Expect

Mark Sayers | August 28, 2017

Mercedes Benz’s new campaign video, Grow Up: Start a Family, begins with imagery we expect in a car commercial marketed toward young families: attractive parents, a cute child, and a shiny vehicle cutting through the American West. Of course, the West invokes a mythic meaning in the American soul as an arena for pursuing personal freedom.

But is there a downside to such freedom? The commercial seems to answer yes.

False Freedom’s Trap

Our popular culture has long explored this question. One of the most penetrating explorations is Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1974). In the film, New York has descended into a kind of Wild West. A taxi driver spends his nights driving through the claustrophobic streets, his vehicle no longer symbolizing freedom. He wishes for a cleansing, divine rain to wash the streets of moral pollution, but he spends his days popping pills, gorging on sugar and booze, and going to pornographic theaters. Ultimate freedom paradoxically only delivers the trap of addiction.

What’s remarkable about the Mercedes Grow Up campaign is that this pessimistic cultural analysis has entered the realm of advertising. The campaign features a hip young English couple taking their daughter on a road trip to the American West. Yet all the romance of our Western mythology disappears as…

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