Want more proof that the U.S. auto industry is starting to recover? There are more celebrities than ever lending their voices to car commercials. Jon Hamm, the star of Mad Men, recently lent his perfect advertising-man voice to a commercial for a Mercedes-Benz hybrid vehicle, which he assured us would lead to a “cleaner, safer future.” Not to be outdone, Ford hired Hamm’s Mad Men supporting player, silver-haired John Slattery, to do a commercial for its Lincoln line of cars. Last month, General Motors announced that Tim Allen will be “the new voice of Chevrolet,” while Jeff Bridges continues to do voice-overs for Hyundai, though an arcane Academy rule forced them to pull his voice from a commercial the night he won an Oscar.
Which stars are picked for which cars? That depends on whom the company is trying to reach. Mad Men, which has a small viewership but an older and more affluent one, is perfect for selling expensive luxury vehicles. Ford marketing director Matt VanDyke told the New York Times that his company picked Slattery because he “represents the potential customer” they’re seeking—men in their 40s and 50s with a lot of money to spend. Chevrolet’s Cruze, a compact car, needs a star with broader appeal: Allen, whose voice is recognizable all over the English-speaking world thanks to Toy Story, is the perfect choice to tell us that we should spend what little money we have on a car.
What we’re not seeing much of, yet, are commercials where the actors appear in the flesh, like Ricardo Montalban selling “Corinthian leather.” Slattery is the only one of these celebrities who does his selling on-camera, wearing glasses and looking pensively at us while he drives. This may be not in spite of the fact that he’s less of a star than Hamm, Allen or Bridges, but because of it: car companies worry that people, as opposed to voices, may be too associated with their characters, whereas with Slattery, VanDyke said, “Whether you know him from Mad Men or not, it doesn’t really matter.”