America’s Most Toxic Car Ads: #GirlBoss Edition
Editor’s Note: This is the seventh of eight matchups in the first round of our America’s Most Toxic Car Ads contest. Scroll to the bottom to vote, and don’t forget to cast your ballot in our sixth match-up, BMW vs. Mercedes, before polls close at 11:59 ET on Thursday, Sept. 30.
We’ve seen a whole lot of toxic masculinity during this contest, but this one’s for the #Ladies.
Today, we’re looking at two toxic ads that use the shiny gloss of white feminism to sell cars as a form of women’s empowerment … while conveniently ignoring just how preposterously hollow that vehicular “victory” might be.
Oh, and it also conveniently ignores all the ways that car culture kills people of all genders. But you already knew that.
Ready to get gaslit, gatekept and girlbossed? It’s time to check out this week’s contenders.
The Nissan Sentra
With no disrespect to Captain Marvel, we had a hard time choosing just one ad from Brie Larson’s latest campaign for Nissan, which may embody the cringey #Girlboss aesthetic better than anything else on the air right now.
We got a few submissions for this one, in which we fast-forward through sixty years of social upheaval to arrive at the dizzying apex of the women’s rights movement, when people of all genders are a finally free to drive trucks as fast as possible up the side of mountains, apparently.
We were also a little gobsmacked by this one, in which Larson — styled this time like an extra from the Dukes of Hazzard — nostalgically yearns for the days “when driving was fun” while flooring it down a highway in a sportscar from the era when seatbelts were still considered optional by too many Americans. (It wasn’t exactly a banner time for gender equality either, but we digress.)
But ultimately, we went with this incredibly ubiquitous Sentra ad, which depicts a down-on-her-luck worker bee getting the bad news that she won’t get the big promotion she earned after all — until guardian angel Brie pulls up and takes her on a high-speed downtown joy ride to remind her why she should never “compromise,” just like the Sentra’s designers didn’t compromise on the car’s handling capabilities!
As she says this, Larson “handles” her car into a rubber-burning right turn, immediately in front of two pedestrians who visibly have the walk signal.
Brie also brags that the Sentra didn’t “compromise” on advanced driver safety features, but the ad only highlights the car’s automatic rear braking capabilities…when she nearly reverses into a bunch of bollards. And considering that automatic emergency front braking is still an imperfect technology, her reckless action-movie driving in this ad is even more troubling. (Nissan’s page about its available advanced driver assistance systems, for the record, contains a whopping 43 disclaimers warning customers not to trust the tech too much.)
Anyway, the ride ends, and our plucky young heroine, newly inspired by the intoxicating power of the Sentra, proudly exits the car, strides up to her boss, and…who knows, because the commercial is abruptly over.
But is this one even worse?
The Infiniti QX60
In this Infiniti ad, our heroine isn’t behind the wheel; she’s out running a marathon on a beautiful day!
Meanwhile, her entire family is speeding recklessly through the streets of downtown Chicago, because they couldn’t be bothered to take the L to get to the course, much less show up on time to cheer her on.
In under 15 seconds, a dad with his three young kids in the car narrowly avoids smashing into a police barricade, t-boning a box truck, and reversing out of an alley into moving traffic. But because his Infiniti is so great at handling, all is well, and they make it to the marathon just in time to see mom finish her victory lap.
It’s one of the least believable examples of the bizarrely-empty-urban-area trope that’s endemic to car commercials — nominator Jeremy notes that there are “usually thousands of pedestrians in the streets” during the Chicago marathon, and there’s no way an SUV could park just steps away from the finish line without running into any of them. And it’s also a pretty shallow attempt to sell a massive car as a family-friendly way to show up for the #girlboss in you life.
On a serious note: the U.S. has a long and horrifying history of vehicle ramming attacks at large public events like these, which Infiniti’s ad execs don’t seem to have considered as they crafted this spot. In 2017, New York City officials were famously forced to ramp up perimeter security on the NYC marathon because a truck driver had intentionally plowed into a crowd of pedestrians and cyclists on a nearby bike path before finally crashing into a school bus just six days before. The security team responsible for the Boston Marathon also worried about vehicular terrorism threats in the years following the 2013 bombing, which killed three and injured 264 people (including Adrianne Haslet, who famously lost a part of her leg in the attack, only be struck and seriously injured by a driver while jogging in a Boston crosswalk six years later.)
Images of reckless drivers speeding straight towards large crowds of vulnerable road users can be downright triggering for some…just like a lot of the images in this competition. And in general, it’s very weird that America has normalized this kind of reckless driving so much that it’s can be confidently used to sell cars.
Let’s vote: which bad ad deserves a spot in the quarterfinals?
Polls are open until Monday, Oct. 4 at 11:59 ET.