2010 to Come in Plain and Fancy Versions

In less than two months, a new year will arrive, along with a new decade. Each year in the current decade has been spoken the long way, as in “two thousand nine,” rather than the short way, as in “twenty oh nine” (or even “twenty ought nine”).

In 2010, however, another option will present itself, echoing how people referred to years starting in the second decade of the 20th century: “twenty ten,” just like “nineteen ten,” rather than “two thousand ten.”

Most people will have a couple of months to consider how they will refer to next year — but not the automakers, because a model year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

So for Ford, General Motors, Honda, Toyota and the like, it is already 2010.

In print, online, in direct mail and in e-mail messages, 2010 is, well, 2010. But in television and radio commercials, announcers must say the year aloud. What are they doing so far?

A count of two dozen spots shows that most are referring to the new model year as “two thousand ten.” Fewer are opting for “twenty ten.”

A fair number sidestep the question by using phrases like “the new” or “the all-new.” Some are omitting the year on the sound track and superimposing it onscreen, unspoken.

In interviews, executives from automakers and agencies offered reasons for their choices.

The decision was not a coin toss, said Team One Advertising in El Segundo, Calif., a unit of the Publicis Groupe that is the agency for the Lexus division of the Toyota Motor Company. Announcers in commercials for the 2010 Lexus models call them two-thousand-ten cars.

“It wasn’t really a ‘potato, potahto’ moment for us,” Jon Pearce, group creative director at Team One, wrote in an e-mail message. “I think we naturally took to two thousand ten because it felt better on the ear than twenty ten.”

“Twenty ten feels a little slick, a little self-consciously futuristic,” Mr. Pearce said, and “there’s nothing worse than trying to position — or reposition, for that matter — yourself with forced lingo.”

Another reason for two thousand ten is that it is “the logical follow-up to two thousand nine,” he added. “It has a natural-sounding importance to it, which is appropriate when you’re selling $60,000 luxury vehicles.”

The company’s Toyota line is also going with two thousand ten, said Erin Poole, a spokeswoman for Toyota’s agency, the Los Angeles office of Saatchi & Saatchi, also part of Publicis.

Saying twenty ten is “too colloquial,” Ms. Poole said, and two thousand ten is “more formal.”

Cadillac is joining Lexus and Toyota on the two-thousand-ten side of the fence, in commercials for the 2010 Cadillac SRX.

The move was “was a client decision,” Tracy Brady, a spokeswoman for Modernista, Cadillac’s creative agency in Boston, wrote in an e-mail message. Referring to the co-founder and executive creative director at Modernista, Lance Jensen, she added: “Or as Lance put it, ‘Because the client said so.’ ”

(If that seems cheeky, it may be because Cadillac recently placed its creative account in review and Modernista decided not to take part.)

Among other commercials siding with Cadillac, Lexus and Toyota are spots for the Ford Fusion; the Lincoln MKS, sold by Ford’s Lincoln Mercury division; the Mitsubishi Lancer, sold by Mitsubishi Motors North America; and American Honda Motor cars sold by dealers in the New York Long Island Honda dealers association.

The most notable brand taking the opposite tack is another General Motors nameplate, Buick. Commercials for the Buick LaCrosse refer to twenty ten rather than two thousand ten.

The reason, said Steve Rosenblum, director for advertising and promotion for the Buick and GMC lines at G.M., is that twenty ten sounds “different, modern and progressive, which is very appropriate for the new Buick.”

“It’s also a quicker, more intuitive read” for an announcer, he wrote in an e-mail message, “when time is at a premium.” The Buick agency is Leo Burnett, part of the Publicis Groupe.

One brand staying neutral in the debate is Audi, part of Volkswagen of America. “Take the A5 for a test drive today,” announcers in commercials say, as the words “2010 Audi A5” are superimposed onscreen.

“Internally, we’re playing fast and loose and tossing around twenty ten,” Paul Venables, creative director at the Audi agency, Venables Bell & Partners in San Francisco, wrote in an e-mail message. “We live on the edge like that.”

“But when we create marketing for the civilian world, we’re more likely to button our top button, tie our tie and say two thousand ten,” he added, tongue still firmly in cheek.

“Or better yet,” Mr. Venables concluded, “maybe we should just ‘super’ the thing,” meaning superimpose the date onscreen without saying it.

For some brands, the discussion is moot. The models sold by Porsche Cars North America are not identified with a model year, said Michael Baer, senior vice president and group account director at its agency, Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago.

Similarly, said Donna Boland, a spokeswoman at Mercedes-Benz USA, “we rarely say the year in commercials” and instead superimpose it onscreen.

“We like to use the creative for as long as we can,” she wrote in an e-mail message, “and it’s far more efficient to strip out the year in the visual than to redo the voice-over.”

What lies ahead as the next decade proceeds? Well, in commercials now on TV for the coming movie “2012,” a voice is heard saying, “Two thousand twelve.”

By Stuart Elliot

Published: November 2, 2009


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