A Hummer poser

The ritual denunciations of the vandalism of a Hummer in Washington D.C. are already well underway, but because it’s a ritual, I must briefly add my own.

I will confess to a moment’s satisfaction at the mutilation of a gross SUV. But then my brain kicked in and I got over it.

This is bad. Nobody has the right to destroy another person’s stuff, even if it’s “FOR THE ENVIRON” (they probably stopped at “N” because they ran out of room, but reading the story, I wonder whether actually it was just affronted locals acting in the interests of the neighbourhood’s image, not of the environment per se). It’s a bad image-maker for the green movement, and at best it’s just likely to lead to more painting and the flattened tires being replaced, and then where are we?

What really caught my attention in the Washington Post‘s story was this paragraph:

[Owner Gareth] Groves, who grew up in the District and works in marketing for a local radio station, said he wanted the car in part because he is starting a company, Washington Sports Marketing, that is “image-based.”

The scare-quotes are apt here, I think, because I can’t figure out what he means except in the most general terms. What image, precisely, does he intend to project? Conspicuously consuming, I guess, although I’m not sure I’d hire a marketing company whose first asset was a Hummer — before, in fact, a functioning website. Sometimes I see Hummers painted up as advertising vehicles driving around town, and those mystify me a bit, too.

Some mornings on my way to work I pass a streetful of red Volkswagen Beetles all painted up with a name like “Nerd Squad,” parked outside a local greasy spoon. I guess the mobile tech-support guys (and a couple of girls) sometimes get together for a breakfast meeting. This message, I get. Besides acting as billboards for the name of the company, the fact they’re all Beetles implies the people driving them are modern, hip without being ostentatious, and zippy. There’s an element of cool without its being overpowering, and it plays directly against the stereotype of tech-support workers as anti-social know-it-all geeks.

I assume the message of a Hummer is “We’re so successful we can afford this car,” but what does that tell me as a potential customer of your sporting-goods store or listener of your radio station? What is, as the marketers ask, the story they’re telling?

Personally, I suspect it’s just “Our marketing director, who’s kind of an ass, wanted to drive a Hummer on somebody else’s dime.”

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