Ad Nauseam: Tiki Barber and His Cadillac Escalade


While reading the NY Times essay about the woman who drives back and forth across the Brooklyn Bridge the other day, I was reminded of the Tiki Barber ads for the Cadillac Escalade. The spot that premiered during the Super Bowl is a moody, impressionistic montage that shows the former New York Giants running back driving solo through the streets and over the bridges of New York, talking about "seizing opportunities." The tagline is "Life. Liberty. And the Pursuit."

It’s a very seductive portrayal of a world in which the blacktop of Gotham is a suitable environment for a 400-horsepower SUV with a 130-inch wheelbase. Bicyclists, pedestrians, and other cars are but a blur as Barber’s vehicle proceeds with unassailable assurance through the city.

In a more extended ad from the same campaign, New York plays an even more prominent role. We see him looking down at traffic from his lofty apartment, wryly remarking that "Second Avenue is a pain in the butt, man." We see him standing next to the Caddy beside a roaring highway, affably shaking the hand of a regular guy from Queens who’s a big fan. We see him calling his garage, saying, "Hey, yeah, this is Tiki. I’ll need my Cadillac in about five minutes," and we see the Escalade being rolled out for him. We see him snuggling with his wife (who never speaks), and saying, "We are certainly New Yorkers. There is no way we’re ever going to leave here. We’ll get a summer place somewhere but we’ll be New Yorkers for life." Apparently, Barber’s idea of the perfect New York lifestyle includes tooling around town in a mammoth vehicle that’s listed as getting 14 miles to the gallon in the city. 

What makes this ad especially pernicious?

Its documentary style and use of a bona fide New York hero (of sorts) remove the Escalade from the realm of standard auto-ad dreams and present it as something to be yearned for in a real urban context. Barber comes off as a family-loving guy who was shrewd enough to walk away from football before it destroyed his body. The fantasy of
automotive power in harmony with the streets of Manhattan becomes almost as appealing as he is. Drive a ride
like Tiki’s, the message seems to be, and you’ll never encounter traffic
or unpleasantness of any kind. Along the way, you’ll prove how smart and powerful you are. The Philip Glass score lends a hypnotic
peacefulness to the whole scenario.

Because of his new role as employee for NBC, which is starting in April, Barber is reportedly going to forego his endorsement contracts (the ongoing Cadillac spots have earned him some criticism as a potential conflict of interest). Let’s hope Barber really is getting out of the car-ad biz. Because let’s face it, the man can sell things.

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