Jerry Seinfeld on the Lost Art of Creating Fun TV Spots

In interview, comedian reveals he how steered new Acura commercials

acura seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld: ad man?

The popular comic doesn’t look anything like Don Draper (or his modern-day heirs) and doesn’t work for an ad agency. Yet over the years, he has become sort of a guiding force on Madison Avenue, showing marketers how to dip their toes into new techniques and test emerging technology.

In an interview with Variety, the comedian said he looked to the history of TV marketing for inspiration for new work with car maker Acura.. “I think that kind of old advertising model has gotten lost a little bit,” he said.

In eight new spots designed to accompany his streaming-video series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Seinfeld lampoons car ads that might have enjoyed a run on the three big broadcast TV networks in the 1950s and 1960s. In one, a family that would not seem out of place on “The Andy Griffith Show” or “Leave It To Beaver” chows down on a giant bowl of potato salad, while an announcer touts the trunk space of the Acura MDX.

“Yesterday’s improvements! Today’s advancements! Tomorrow’s accomplishments!” the narrator bellows.

The ads were produced by Acura’s ad agency, Mullen.

This isn’t the first time Jerry Seinfeld has taken a crack at commercial interruption. In 2004, he worked with ad firm Ogilvy to create what may be the first “webisode,” or short commercial designed to stream online. In a four-minute-long effort, Seinfeld cavorted about town with an animated Superman, talking about such things as how much mayonnaise to put on a sandwich or how to fix a DVD player.

He hatched the idea long before Super Bowl sponsors like Volkswagen and Chevrolet began to unspool sneak peeks of extra-long commercials they had designed for the annual gridiron classic (indeed, Seinfeld appeared in just such an ad for Acura in 2012).

In 2008, Microsoft tapped the comic to help it take on Apple at a time when the Seattle technology company had been assaulted by Apple’s snarky “Mac vs. PC” campaign that potrayed Microsoft’s mainstay PC as bureaucratic, fusty and resistant to change. Seinfeld was reportedly paid $10 million for the effort, which first came to notice before a single ad had launched due to a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal.

Part of the appeal of crafting commercials, Seinfeld said, is the chance to be creative and have fun without having to get tied up in a long-term commitment. Another facet? A chance to bring back what once made commercials memorable – an art Seinfeld thinks is in danger of fading away.

At one time, ads “were supposed to be entertaining,” said Seinfeld. “I feel anything on TV or any other screen is supposed to be entertaining. You can’t just sell us. If you just sell us the product, you’re not really doing the job.”

Even so, he likes being able to thwart industry convention. Some of the new Acura ads last between 30 seconds and 60 seconds. Most video ads try to hit the 30-second mark exactly.

The comic is interested in doing more, so long as potential partners understand how to work with him. Overanalysis is not welcome. “I don’t want to get involved with anybody where I have to explain why it’s funny,” he explained. “I can’t answer it. I can tell you if it’s funny and if it isn’t funny, I can tell you. I can’t tell you why it’s funny,” he said.

Many may want to make use of the comedian’s talents, but not everyone offers the right fit. “I need companies that have, as they describe Moe Greene from ‘The Godfather,’ a man of vision and guts.”