How to rile a country, General Motors-style

A fun outcome of the Superbowl ads this year was the number of responses evoked by General Motors’ ad starring Will Ferrell.

General Motors (through their agency McCann WorldGroup), launched their ‘No way, Norway’ teasers on February 2nd. The first teaser featured Will Ferrell reading about the history of Norway and their ‘mackerel slap fight’, among other curious facts.

On February 3rd, Will ordered 5 million pizzas with anchovies and asking it to be delivered to entire Norway, with the billing done on a coupon held by ‘Olaf’ (who was one of the Olafs indulging in the mackerel slap fight!).

General Motors followed it up with another teaser on February 3rd where Will sang, “Norway… comin’ for you! No way, Norway! Knock knock… it’s America! And we’re gonna punch you in the face! Norway, gonna destroy you!”.

The big game commercial was also launched on February 3rd (besides being aired on February 7th, during the game).

The tone, all across, was exaggerated and abrasively funny – this fits Will’s on-screen persona and some of the characters he played. I did find the tone to be a bit more antagonistic than necessary for an advertisement, but this goes broadly in line with American-style irreverent humor too.

General Motors was also not pointing to any single brand in particular (in terms of rivalry) and was focusing on Norway’s stature as the most EV’d country in the world right now. In a way, General Motors was also indirectly acknowledging that Norway was far ahead in terms of EV adoption and that USA had to do a lot more… and GM’s new Ultium battery was pitching in that direction.

The rivalry could have been framed in a healthy way too, without framing it as ‘hate’ – you don’t necessarily need to hate a rival who is genuinely doing good for the planet. You may also look at it as healthy competition and find ways to outdo another country without hating them.

That Will Ferrell ‘hated’ Norway for having more EVs and a better ecosystem for EVs is a conscious framing choice for the narrative, because, in a post-Trump world, such rivalry based on ‘hatred’ (albeit mock ‘hate’) could offer a lot more attention. If the same aspect was pitched as a graceful competition, it perhaps may not evoke so much attention.

Anyway, it was all utterly corny and funny, including the way Will gathers his team (fellow actors Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina), and how he lands up in Sweden instead of Norway 🙂 Incidentally, Will is married to Swedish actress Viveca Paulin, so that explains his feelings about Sweden as he opens the car door!

What happened next is a lot more interesting than General Motors teasers and ads!

Possibly because of the hate-filled abrasiveness in the narratives from General Motors, there’s a lot of ‘responses’ by assorted brands and people!

Ford Norway responded first, via Twitter, highlighting the fact that their Ford Mustang Mach-E crossovers are already being sold in Norway, and they used it to deliver the pizzas Will ordered 🙂

The Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg (who is also the country’s climate minister) had her say too, particularly about the pizzas with anchovies, and Ford Norway actually quote-tweeted her!

The earliest full-fledged response (a properly produced video response) was by Audi Norway.

Audi Norway responded in record time (agency: POL), by February 5th, in 3 films featuring Norwegian actor Kristoffer Hivju, known for playing Tormund Giantsbane on Game of Thrones, for the ‘Don’t hate. Imitate’ campaign.

The title of the campaign is so very apt, trying to move the focus away from ‘hate’ and asking instead of ‘imitate’. He even picks up the now-broken globe (a smooth continuation of specific elements from Will, to Hivju) and asks, “You want us to do this to us? To the world? We’re trying to save the world!”.

Hivju responds to every other slight aptly too! The mackerel slap fight (he corrects it as salmon slap fight!) and the pizzas with anchovies!

He even sings, ‘America is coming for us! Norway Norway is the best country in the universe!’.

The time within which Audi responded is outstanding; the content and retorts carry the right attitude and spirit!

A few other brands and individuals have reacted too.

One of the best reactions is from the University of Agder, in Southern Norway. The University’s Rector, Sunniva Whittaker, uses generous dollops of sarcasm to demonstrate how much more advanced Norway is, as a country, compared to USA even as she is vocally apologizing for all the progress their country has made 🙂 It is scripted really well that you don’t really bother about the home-video’ish production values where every actor seems like they are going to burst into a fit of laughter 🙂

Circle-K, a chain of convenience stores and fuel retail, through its Norwegian counterpart, offered a full-fledged American style welcome to Will!

Circle-K’s Denmark counterpart went a step further, offering a dramatic war-cry by Viking warrior Mirana, Olaf’s daughter (!) to utterly bewildered Circle-K workers!

AMCAR, a Norwegian automotive organization, offers a more direct attack and mocks GM’s poor track record of sales and support in Norway through an ‘Olaf’ trying to bring a plug to charge his drained Chevrolet Bolt stuck in the middle of nowhere!

The official Tourism Board of Norway joins the party and has school kids schooling Will Ferrell on basic geography 🙂

Easee, a Norwegian company that manufactures electric car chargers, joins to chime in that they have made available a car charger specially for Will, in the middle of a frozen lake!

Another hilarious response is from a Norwegian vehicle importer named Bertel O. Steen. His response is incredibly caustic and attacks American football directly!

Christina Bu, the Secretary-General of Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association, offered her own graceful welcome to Will, even riffing on an earlier Saturday Night Live episode, asking for ‘more cow bells’!

Grunde W. Knudsen, the Mayor of the town Kragerø, in Telemark county, Norway, took upon himself to react to Will Ferrell too, and even challenges Will to beat him in the first electric go-kart grand prix! Even as he’s talking, a pizza guy delivers 10,391 pizzas with anchovies 🙂

Given how popular the responses have been, I’m fairly sure there are more to come. And I reckon even General Motors may be taking stock of the reactions and perhaps following a sequel featuring Will Ferrell!

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