Putting faith in tech­nol­ogy to con­front past fears

Mercedes-Benz SA has cre­ated a rivet­ing doc­u­men­tary fea­tur­ing the mo­torist who crashed down the side of Chap­man’s Peak Drive 30 years ago

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

Many peo­ple will re­mem­ber the fa­mous ad­vert by MercedesBenz af­ter mo­torist Christo­pher White crashed down the side of Chap­man’s Peak in Cape Town.

The ad is of­ten still dis­cussed by mar­ket­ing peo­ple be­cause it was in the days when com­pet­i­tive ad­ver­tis­ing was still al­lowed and not long af­ter Mercedes ran its ad, BMW and then Land Rover jumped on the chance to push their own brands.

The orig­i­nal Mercedes ad aired in 1990 but now the com­pany has taken White back to Chap­man’s Peak.

In a dra­matic doc­u­men­tarystyle con­tent piece, MercedesBenz takes view­ers on a jour­ney along the windy moun­tain pass with White, sur­vivor of a crash 30 years ago that saw him lose con­trol of his beloved Mercedes af­ter a mo­ment’s inat­ten­tion and plum­met the equiv­a­lent of 30sto­ries onto the jagged rocks below — a crash he sur­vived only be­cause he was wear­ing his seat­belt, and ac­cord­ing to Mercedes, be­cause he was driv­ing one of their cars.

Fast for­ward to 2018 and the lat­est gen­er­a­tion Mercedes SClass is the lat­est ren­di­tion on the road to au­ton­o­mous driv­ing and White places his trust in the brand that saved his life 30 years ago, by tak­ing his hands off the wheel to let the car drive him along the road that nearly took his life. Telling White the com­pany be­lieves the S-Class is the most in­tel­li­gent car in the world didn’t al­lay his fears. The drive had to be felt to be be­lieved.

At the start of the con­tent piece, which is avail­able on­line, view­ers feel White’s ter­ror and his un­will­ing­ness to trust the tech­nol­ogy. But in the clos­ing frames, White puts his trust in the car.

Brad Reilly, ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor at Net#work BBDO, which cre­ated the doc­u­men­tary, says the de­ci­sion to launch it in­stead of a more tra­di­tional 30-sec­ond ad-spot is brave in a world of se­lec­tive view­ers and chan­nel-hop­pers.

“As a brand, Mercedes-Benz is lead­ing the in­dus­try to­wards the fu­ture of mo­bil­ity. The con­cept we pre­sented was, in that sense, brand rel­e­vant.”

Reilly says the con­tent is rivet­ing and the cre­ative ap­proach height­ens the emo­tional im­pact to lev­els not at­tain­able in a shorter for­mat: “We knew that this was the only way to do jus­tice to the con­cept, to the cars, and to the brand.”

The con­tent piece takes view­ers through White’s 1988 crash in sec­ond-by-sec­ond de­tail, break­ing footage from the orig­i­nal ad up into jagged seg­ments of ac­tion in­ter­spersed with White re­mem­ber­ing what he was see­ing, feel­ing and think­ing at the time, and fea­tur­ing me­dia footage and com­ments from the first re­spon­ders to the ac­ci­dent scene.

The mood is sur­real as White, who moved away from Cape Town and had never been back to Chap­man’s Peak, gets be­hind the wheel to drive the treach­er­ous bends and cor­ners in the 2018 hands-free it­er­a­tion.

Reilly says: “It’s five min­utes of drama and emo­tion that are ma­nip­u­lated and dramatised by the short, sharp edit­ing style. It’s five min­utes of a ter­ri­fy­ing roller-coaster ride that al­most goes on too long to be com­fort­able. It’s five min­utes of his­tory best-for­got­ten meld­ing into an unimag­in­able fu­ture that Mercedes-Benz has ac­tu­alised.”

Says Selvin Goven­der, mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor of MercedesBenz Cars SA: “Mov­ing for­ward from 1990, from a time when au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles couldn’t have been imag­ined, to to­day, when the Mercedes-Benz SClass is a re­al­ity, we needed to do the unimag­in­able.

“For White, Chap­man’s Peak was a place of hor­ror. We asked him to re­visit it, to drive it again, but this time to let our car drive him. His fear, his trep­i­da­tion and his emo­tions are ev­i­dent to start with. It’s heart-wrench­ing. But then you see him re­lax. You see the won­der on his face. You see the fu­ture of driv­ing.”

Of course, let­ting any car with au­ton­o­mous ca­pa­bil­i­ties drive you along Chap­man’s Peak Drive is not to be rec­om­mended, in fact it is not even le­gal as you are now only al­lowed to re­move your hands from the wheel for 10 sec­onds.

The doc­u­men­tary shows ex­actly how ca­pa­ble the tech­nol­ogy is and how it can con­vince some­one who gen­uinely needed con­vinc­ing.


Christo­pher White re­turns to Chap­man’s Peak Drive 30 years af­ter he plum­meted down the side in a sim­i­lar Mercedes.

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