Eric D. Lawrence
Detroit Free Press
Published 12:25 PM EDT Sep 15, 2020
Carl Sagan’s words and voice have a way of bringing perspective to something as small as our pale blue dot seen from almost 4 billion miles away.
More than 30 years after the Voyager 1 spacecraft, at Sagan’s urging, was directed to capture an image of Earth as the craft traveled far into the solar system and later led the late astronomer to pen a moving description for humanity’s only home, those words echo again.
It’s a call to action of sorts, in the guise of an advertisement for the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe, electric plug-in hybrid, in a video available Tuesday on YouTube.
The Wrangler is there in the video, but mostly, “Pale Blue Dot,” which also has an upcoming TV broadcast planned, is about the planet we all inhabit, depicted here as little more than a speck in the beginning of the ad. Pictures of life, a celebration, vast landscapes, famous people like Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe, even a plastic soda ring floating in the water to show the harm we can unintentionally unleash, are all there before the near two-minutevideo ends.
The message? We’re miniscule, practically insignificant in the vastness of the cosmos, and we’d better take care of our home.
“From this distant vantage point the Earth might not seem of any particular interest, but for us it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives,” Sagan’s voice says.
It’s a powerful elevation from car commercial to something more, the kind of high ad art Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has showcased during Super Bowl spots with the likes of Eminem, Clint Eastwood and the voice of the late broadcaster Paul Harvey.
In this instance, Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan, one of the co-creators along with the famous astronomer of the monumental 1980s “Cosmos” TV series who was also involved in the Voyager project, partnered on making the spot. FCA has committed to providing an undisclosed donation to fight climate change to two groups, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations and the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University, for every completed viewing on YouTube. There’s also a licensing fee tied to the use of Sagan’s soliloquy, in an amount not being released.
Getting to this point, however, took time. FCA Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois had originally approached Druyan several years ago about using the piece for Jeep, but she was not swayed.
“I explained that I could never license the use of the Pale Blue Dot soliloquy to an internal combustion engine car, and then he said (he’d) come back when they were ready to make an electric Jeep Wrangler,” Druyan said.
And that’s what Francois did. In fact, he kept a version of the ad, which was developed with the Detroit-area’s Doner Agency, in a secret folder on the desktop of his computer. Francois said he held it aside at the urging of Sergio Marchionne, the late Fiat Chrysler CEO, waiting for the right opportunity.
The plug-in hybrid, to be available by early next year, opens a new chapter for the Jeep brand, which for almost 80 years might have represented the most capable SUV, but one that also came with a carbon footprint, Francois said, something that, as a European, he is sensitive to.
“So what we want to do now is Jeep to be capable, but also protect the planet while exploring it. So we wanted to be the most responsible and ethical SUV brand in the world. So that’s our project with it. And that’s the reason why you saw that commercial,” Francois told the Free Press.
Francois said Sagan’s description hit all the right notes.
“It’s a love letter to the planet, and it speaks to inclusion. And when he starts and says, everyone you know, everyone you love, everyone we ever heard of, and it exactly is an anthem to inclusion. So it checks all the boxes of the perfect, perfect, perfect Jeep commercial,” Francois said, noting that the ad is set to the music of composer Philip Glass.
Druyan explained that her decision now to allow Sagan’s voice and words to be used relate directly to the new vehicle.
“It represented a leap to a vehicle that would not only do less damage to our environment, but because the Jeep Wrangler has such a mythic … a mystique to it. Who but the drivers of such vehicles would I want more to be thinking electrically than them?” she said.
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While some may question allowing Sagan’s words to be used by an automaker, Druyan said she focused on what she believes they can accomplish in this format, helping transform this American impulse to travel on and off the road into something less harmful. And time is limited.
“This idea of making the perfect enemy of the good makes no sense to me when we desperately have to move toward the good as fast as we possibly can,” Druyan said during an interview with the Free Press on Monday.
Druyan made clear her concerns about the future of the planet and the impact of climate change, noting a West Coast in flames and a storm-threatened Gulf Coast.
“These storms, these fires, these disasters are coming more fast and more furiously, and we all know it,“ Druyan said, stressing that she still has hope for the future, a theme of another TV show Druyan is behind, “Cosmos: Possible Worlds,” which premieres at 8 p.m. Sept. 22 on Fox.
“Any organism that completely destroys its environment is doomed, and I don’t want to think that about us. I have hope. That’s what my new show is about. It’s informed not just by science and history but also by great dreams of the future we can still have,” Druyan said.
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