It may seem dreamy for a motor-oil brand to imagine what it’s going to look like in a half-century, but that’s one of the goals of a new advertising campaign by Mobil 1 synthetic motor oil that’s pinned to Americans’ endemic — and seemingly enduring — love of driving.
Spearheaded by a short online video and advertising spots that cleverly portray drivers breaking loose from their workaday entanglements with constraining digital technology, “Breaking Free” represents the brand’s attempt to harness itself to mainstream Americans’ love of driving and move outside previous positioning that focused on motorsports and superior performance specs for Mobil 1.
“The goal of the campaign is to grow the category of people who are enthusiasts about driving,” Bryce Huschka, consumer marketing manager for Mobil 1, told me. “Car enthusiasm can get really associated with technical details, and that can be intimidating. But if you make a subtle change to driving enthusiasm, you can grow that to so many more people.
“As a brand, there’s a pressure to have a bigger purpose for what you’re doing. I do think that pressure can lead [brands] to get a little bit exaggerated about what our roles are. We want to stay humble. We are a product and brand that people don’t use frequently, in a small percentage of their lives. But driving is a place where we can have a big impact and a meaningful one, and it’s authentic to our core.”
In a 30-second spot for the campaign, which is exemplary, office workers are literally weighed down in a meeting by heavy computer cables that snake into the room from all over and disperse themselves over attendees like slimy creatures from Alien. They even follow a woman into a bathroom stall. All the while, the Nancy Wilson classic from 1964, “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am” — lyrics: “My love has no beginning, my love has no end” — plays over the action.
The spot shifts to a woman on her laptop in a park, tethered by the same irresistible tangle of cables, keeping an eye on her daughter, who’s playing a game of jumprope — with computer cables. The daughter sees a car speed by. Fed up with it all, the woman jumps in her car to escape, the spot depicting broken cables trailing behind like tin cans on a honeymoon-getaway car, and the daughter smiling out the window.
“Disconnecting,” the spot concludes. “Feels a lot like breaking free. For the love of driving.”
“Ther’s a really clear tension with people about being over-programed and over-scheduled,” Huschka said. “We’re all guilty of this. So we tell stories about this.”
The insight to take this approach, he said, started with an earned-media campaign Mobil 1 conducted last year devoted to “saving” ancient Route 66, the iconic byway that wends across the American West and Southwest. “It had a lot of resonance across the country, in big cities, small cities, with diverse populations,” Huschka said. “So we wanted to normalize it and turn it into a platform we could use for a number of years.”
He also explained, “There will be major changes to the category. So what does the next 50 years look like to us?”
Huschka stressed that Mobil 1’s success over the next half-century doesn’t necessarily hinge on how long the sunset of the internal-combustion engine takes to develop. “It’s agnostic of whether we’re talking about ICE or electric vehicles,” he said. “EVs still have a gearbox, and they still require fluids to protect the vehicle. Actually, it’s a new and exciting technology that we are focused on.”
In any event, “We’re at an inflection point, and we think that no matter what happens with motor oil and ICE, Mobil 1 will be a relevant brand. The best way to extend your business model is to have a strong brand that gives you the credibility to extend it.”