Remembering Nissan’s GIjOE vs Ken TV Ads (1996)

Joe scouts ahead with binoculars, searching for a giant cat in this screenshot taken from the first “GIjOE vs Ken” TV commercials. (Photo: Nissan)

Everyone knows Ken’s a wuss. With his pastel, preppy sweater vests and an ever-present tennis racket; that guy is forever destined to be the blandest of bland boyfriends. His stiff, skinny arms have no Kung-Fu grip. He’s not able to grow “commanding” facial hair. Clearly, gal-pal Barbie is only biding her time with this loser until a REAL man of action comes into her life. Fortunately for all of us, that moment finally occurred in 1996, when the world’s greatest action hero, GIjOE/Action Man/Geyperman, paid the poor girl a visit in two delightfully entertaining Nissan TV commercials. Part of the car company’s new “Enjoy the Ride” ad campaign, the groundbreaking spots would reveal what fans had always known. Ken WAS a real wuss. And GIjOE was the real man. The commercials were thoroughly enjoyable to watch. In a 1996 article published in the New York Daily News, Advertising Age executive Scott Donaton was quoted as saying:

“The Nissan ad is like a minimovie, and it’s probably better than most of the programs on TV.”

Created by Rob Siltanen, of the TBWA Chiat/Day agency in Venice, California, the spots have now gone on to attain legendary status in the advertising business. The article quotes Siltanen as saying:

“Nissan said, ‘Let’s do something different, let’s break the rules,’ To a creative person, that’s as close to nirvana as it gets.”

The first spot (WATCH IT HERE) promotes Nissan’s new 300ZX sportscar, required 11 weeks to produce and cost $1 million dollars. It’s stop-motion animation was both time-consuming and difficult to achieve. According to director Mark Gustafson:

“It’s one of the oldest techniques in the book. “We built the models and then manipulated them one frame at a time.”

During post-production, Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me” was added as the perfect accompaniment to GIjOE’s onscreen action.

Joe was clearly the MAN to Ken’s “wuss.” In this screenshot from the second commercial, Joe prepares to save Barbie from drowning, while Ken fumbles with assorted swim gear. (Photo: Nissan)

The second spot (WATCH IT HERE) promotes Nissan’s Pathfinder and features the equally blatant song “Calling Dr. Love,” by KISS. In both spots, collectors will notice numerous physical changes were made to the characters. GIjOE had lost his facial scar, Ken’s hair was heaped up. Barbie’s face was widened a tad. The changes are all very subtle, but to die-hard fans they were easily spotted.

Bottom Line: Despite their alterations, Nissan soon heard grumblings coming from Mattel’s legal department. Apparently, they disliked the way poor Ken was portrayed and let Nissan know about their ill feelings in no uncertain terms. Nissan quickly agreed to suspend further production of the GIjOE vs Ken spots and that was that. Fortunately, GijOE and Barbie had already ridden off into the sunset, taking Nissan up on its double entendre offer to…“Enjoy the Ride.”

About these ads

One thought on “Remembering Nissan’s GIjOE vs Ken TV Ads (1996)

  1. kneonknight says:

    Hahaha…I love the fact that Mattel was butthurt over the treatment Ken received at Joe’s hands. You know, Mattel, if you’d have Ken man-up a bit and quit being such a limp wristed sissy, maybe Barbie might take an interest in him again.

    Hmm, a fully articulated, adventuresome Ken. That’s really not a bad idea. I wonder if I can do a head swap onto a CC or Timeless body? Sounds like I’ve got a project for the weekend. if it works out, I’ll send some pics, Mark. If I can keep it away from my daughter long enough to get a few shots, that is.

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