LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE

Auto companies are buying the creative souls of late night TV

Larry P. Vellequette covers Chrysler for Automotive News.Larry P. Vellequette covers Chrysler for Automotive News.
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Two bedrocks of late night TV did something so unseemly last week it looked as though they had responded to an unholy informercial.

Are you an artist looking to sell your soul, but don’t want to stand at the Crossroads waiting for the Devil?

If you are, then we’ve got great news! Detroit wants to make you a counteroffer!

That’s right: Cash-rich auto companies are looking to buy your used soul today, if you’re ready to sell. All you have to do is ask! We have operators standing by!

The first happened Friday, when new “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon announced the result of a quixotic, month-long quest to buy a pickup.

I take Fallon at his word that he felt he wanted a pickup in New York City, though heaven knows there are several hundred vehicles that makes better sense in that locale. And in choosing a 2015 Ford F-150 King Ranch -- a pickup which won’t be out for months -- Fallon will get a very nice pickup that I’m sure he’ll be happy with, if he ever finds a reason to need it.

What was unseemly was a new advertising pact, sponsored by Ford, that was revealed in connection with the March 28 announcement. Its timing is very telling, if you ask me.

Ten Ford dealers from across the United States began standing aboard the USS Intrepid in New York Harbor Monday with their hands on a 4x4. The last one hanging on wins the honor of selling Fallon his King Ranch, which, as Fallon keeps reminding his audience, he’ll pay for, “because otherwise it would be illegal” payola.

Was the whole thing faked for Ford’s benefit? Who knows?

A spokesman for Ford said Fallon decided to buy the King Ranch on Monday, March 24. Ford helped “fund production costs associated with the competition, including flying the sales consultants and shipping the 2015 Ford F-150 King Ranch to New York.”

The spokesman also said that Ford will loan Fallon a 2014 F-series to tide him over until the 2015 model goes into production later this year. Then Fallon will buy the pickup “with his own money.”

In my book, trust is something you lose, and once lost, it’s hard to regain.

The second incident happened during “Saturday Night Live.”

The irreverent variety show has produced fake commercials starring cast members since it began, lampooning products and advertising such as the fictional Mercury Mistress sedan. Yet this week, cast members starred in a real commercial made up to look like a fake one for the 2014 Jeep Cherokee.

The spot showed two cast members using the new Cherokee to race across town for a last-minute costume needed for the show, and showcased the Cherokee’s self-parking and remote liftgate, among other features.

It left me wondering where the joke was, and then I realized: It was on me, for having assumed that after three decades, “Saturday Night Live” was above such craven acts.

After all, there’s a world’s difference between irreverence and selling one’s soul.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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