But at least two major automakers are using shock value, showing sudden collisions in new ads highlighting safety features.
Is the approach working?
One thing's for certain: These aren't your father's car commercials!
On The Early Show Tuesday, Adweek magazine advertising critic Barbara Lippert told co-anchor Julie Chen that Volkswagen's ad showing a 2006 Jetta hitting a pickup truck hard appears to be doing the trick.
Sales have risen and Volkswagen has re-upped the spot.
But Lippert calls the ads "horrifying," saying, "You think it's a normal Volkswagen commercial, and then you are so shocked, and then you realize this is exactly the way accidents happen. It's perfectly captured.
"It breaks all the rules of advertising in that, they (usually) want you to think your car is a cocoon … where you're free from everything. But it's realistic. They want to show safety. People are more safety-conscious. This (the Jetta) had better front- and side-impact crash ratings in the last two years than it ever has.
"So, I think they did a really good job. Everybody is talking about it in the blogs and everywhere else, and sales are up.
" … The way we can tell is that they've brought this commercial back for another two-week run this week. And they definitely would not have run it again unless it was doing well. The dealers are very happy with it."
The same can't be said about a DaimlerChrysler series of commercials, with company Chairman Dieter "Dr. Z" Zetsche. One shows him in a car with a reporter. The car hits a wall.