"I feel like I have an animal under me."
That's how members of a focus group of young men described driving an SUV. New York advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which was developing a public education campaign to promote SUV safety, was listening.
The response inspired the agency to create "Esuvee." The giant, hairy creature is the symbol of the $27 million campaign commissioned by the attorneys general of the 50 states.
The campaign is funded out of the 2002 settlement of a lawsuit the attorneys general brought against Ford Motor Co.
The state officials alleged Ford misled customers about SUV safety. They say the intent of the campaign is not to discredit SUVs but rather to focus on safer driving.
"It's just a different way of promoting" safety, says Ford spokeswoman Gina Bonacchi. "Would it have been how we chose to do it? Maybe, maybe not."
Esuvee "emotionally felt like what these guys described a real SUV to feel like," says David Terry, the ad agency's head of planning. "It's big and it's powerful, and mastering it is something all SUV drivers need to learn how to do."
Peppercom, a New York strategic communications firm, built Esuvee 10 feet tall, 11 feet wide and 16 feet long. Its face and head move by remote control. It has headlights for eyes and a grille in the middle of its face.