“The overall theory says that advertising must reflect the trends in society,” Sanjit Sengupta, professor of marketing at San Francisco State University told Car and Driver. Frankly, society’s had it pretty tough lately—and in ways that have been whiplashingly difficult to reflect.
In March, when it wasn’t appropriate to pitch products with pop music and good times, brands adjusted. They turned down the volume. Audi and VW changed to their logos to socially distance the elements, Ford pushed a message of togetherness, and Fiat Chrysler encouraged everyone to “Explore the Great Indoors” and #StayOffTheRoad.
Seven or eight months into this pandemic (depending on when you start the clock), things are, well, maybe not better, but different. And automakers are trying to lure customers back into the showroom by pushing them back onto the road. Kia’s pushing the K5 with a spot titled “Turning the Lights On.” Infinity went with “Back into the World,” and Jaguar has urged us to “Resume Play.” Porsche developed an entire program. Because it’s Porsche.
And because I’m nothing if not susceptible to marketing, I figured I’d see for myself just how effective Porsche’s might be. (I just really needed to get out of the house.)
Stay Driven is an invitation to “Discover Your Drive” by taking a “Porsche-curated drive,” “curate” being a buttoned-up way to say that Porsche made some maps and Spotify playlists for routes in San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, and New York. More or less. The routes actually leave those cities—like everyone else these days, if the news is to be believed. Whatever you might think of city living, city driving usually sucks. It’s good to get away. I’d say the Spotify playlists are curated, too, but San Francisco’s has Train on it. Hard to see why anyone would purposefully do that.
I don’t own a Porsche, but I didn’t want to let that stop me from running the Bay Area route. I do own a 2014 Subaru BRZ, which is kind of like a Porsche, right? Sort of? At least it’s a manual. The point is: Porsche isn’t the boss of me.
When people think of San Francisco, they think of the bridge, hippies, and tech. What they miss are the amazing roads that surround the region. I’m actually a little angry at Porsche for sharing this route.
I pointed my BRZ toward the Golden Gate Bridge while listening to “Heroes and Villains” by The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson is a musical genius, and that is especially apparent on such a nice day. I hit the 101 towards Mill Valley as the Ramones cover “California Sun.”
Past Mill Valley the road gets technical, with tight switchbacks that cause most drivers to slow to a crawl, which is fine. You’re overlooking a valley that stretches to the ocean. To get the most out of these turns, you typically have to pull off and let the slower traffic get out ahead of you. But the scenery is magical. It’s worth slowing down just to take it all in as the ocean breeze wafts in through the window.
The switchbacks I’ve driven through in dozens of expensive cars link together so well even cheap wheels would be a joy. Then that Train song appears. Train is from here, but that doesn’t keep me from hating their music. Still, skipping a song seemed like a cop-out. I needed to stop to take a photo or two anyway. I stood outside until the song ended.
The road creeps up in elevation until it crests to reveal the rugged Northern California coastline on the left. I stop next to a tree that’s home to two blackbirds. I name them Ferdinand and Kenji after the founders of Porsche and Subaru. Neither can explain why the BRZ doesn’t have a turbo or why there are turbo variants of the electric Taycan. So that makes three of us.
The road from here to Stinson Beach grips the cliffs and hills above the ocean. If you’re driving in the opposite direction, the punishment for failure is a potentially fatal accident that ends in the deep. Driving north, it’s a bit more forgiving. Either way, most take it easy through here. Below, Stinson Beach is busy. It’s not full, but it’s as close as it can be with everyone spaced out. Wait a second. Are there two Journey songs on this playlist only separated by an Arctic Monkeys song? How did this oversight slip through the fingers of the same company that engineered the suspension of the 718 Cayman GT4? For shame.
After Stinson Beach, the drive gets less technical. Tight corners give way to sweeping turns and slow drives through the small towns that dot Northern California and never make it into songs about the Bay.
The day is getting long, and while I want to stop in Point Reyes, I know it’ll throw my timing off. I should have stopped. Drives are about the exploration of both the vehicle and the world. “Life in the Fast Lane” by The Eagles comes on. It’s a song so steeped in cocaine that I’m pretty sure I see white dust billowing from my speakers.
I round Nicasio Reservoir as I hit the one-hour-and-23-minute mark of my drive. I know this because the music stops. “Ticket to Ride” by The Beatles fades out, and that’s it. The drive is supposed to be two hours long, but the playlist is short by 37 minutes short. I queue the greatest song about driving known to this man and hit repeat: “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers. 1,2,3,4,5,6 …
I turn on to Lucas Valley Road, a tree-shrouded road punctuated with an uphill climb to a large rock. It’s called Big Rock. Maybe it has an official name that’s more poetic, but if you look at it, it’s a big rock. The downhill switchbacks from here are the last on the drive. It mellows out as I get to the 101. This is the cooldown period of the drive, a chill highway route back to the Golden Gate Bridge.
I arrive at the bridge one hour and 56 minutes after starting. Months ago the span across the mouth of the San Francisco Bay was nearly deserted as we all hunkered down in our homes trying to determine what was next and ads reminded us we were all in this together but from afar. Now there’s an uptick in traffic as the business day ends.
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Sengupta tells me that advertising firms have sociologists and anthropologists on staff to keep a finger on a pulse of what’s happening and they share that with automakers. And slowly, the sales figures are rebounding.
But do you really need scientists to know that we need the joy that comes from sitting behind a windshield now more than ever? Porsche, other automakers, really all of us are navigating a weird world that needs moments of joy—even if the current trend is a corporate-curated activity that includes Train.
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