Last week, the tongue-in-cheek video Max Lanman posted to Reddit advertising his then-girlfriend's used 1996 Honda Accord with 141,095 miles on it went viral. As of Wednesday morning, it has over four million views on YouTube.
It looks and sounds like so many upscale car commercials. A driver puts a key into the ignition and takes off. A narrator talks in a soothing, baritone voice about how she is "one of a kind." The music picks up and you see the car from a bird's eye view, zooming along a scenic highway overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The ad is both satirical and serious. The narrator's deep-sounding message never really comes together. A close up reveals that one of the car's tires is a little flat. White text positioned like billboards on the side of the road reads, for example, "Starting at $499."
It's selling a real car but it's also mocking the way real cars are sold.
"The idea came to me when I was driving the very stretch of highway that you see in the commercial," Lanman, the writer and director behind the project, tells CNBC Make It. He's the founder of a creativity agency based out of Los Angeles, Calif., called, LEÃO, which makes ads, virtual reality and branded content for companies like Microsoft and Häagen-Dazs.
"It just dawned on me that making a high-end car commercial for a really crappy car might be funny, and Carrie fortunately had just the car for the job."
Carrie Hollenbeck, now Lanman's fiancée, is not the actress in the video. That's their friend, Anne Marie Avey. "Carrie's a little bit camera shy so she didn't want to be the main character," says Lanman. But she was the stunt driver for the aerial shots that Lanman took with his drone, a DJI Phantom 3 Professional.
He also used his own SONY A7S2 camera. In fact, except for a pickup truck he rented out to shoot some of the footage, Lanman says he did the entire project with his own equipment and with his own friends. The other cameraman is his buddy Christopher Ripley. The video's narrator with the born-for-radio voice is his neighbor, Matt Pratt. And the cat, Papa Puff Pants, belongs to Avey.
The commercial hardly cost them a thing.
Lanman acknowledges that they put in 200-some hours over the course of a year. And 200 hours might seem like a lot of effort to sell a car with a Kelly Blue Book value of $1,500.
Still, he says, "the experience of doing it was just a blast. That was our M.O. from the beginning. If we have fun making this, then it will be worth it."
The effort might end up paying off financially too. The car is currently being auctioned off on eBay. As of Wednesday morning, its 66th and most recent bid is for $4,300, or almost three times what they would probably have gotten for it without a commercial.
And last week, during an auction that ended up being canceled by the site, bids got as high as $150,000.
"It started to take on a life of its own," Lanman says. "eBay called us to reassure us that, you know, they were monitoring it, they were aware of the story, they loved the video and they were actually removing fraudulent bids. So we were in this sort of weird state where, previously we were thinking, 'There's no way this is going to be real,' and then thinking, 'Wait, is this real?'"
That night, they got a follow-up call informing them that the auction had been canceled, apparently "by someone from the product department, who didn't know about the story, saw the listing and thought: 'There's no way a 1996 Honda Accord could go for $150,000,'" Lanman says.
Whether or not those outrageous bids were legitimate, Lanman and Hollenbeck were left with no choice but to start over. And Lanman hopes to see some authentic offers close to that size before the auction ends early Monday morning.
"That would be truly life-changing," he says. "In addition to having a wedding, as you know, building up that seed fund to put a down payment on a house is next to impossible."
But he is also just happy with the success of the video. He says the experience has reminded him that "it's easy to get caught up in sort of trying to perfect what an audience wants to watch, but ultimately when you get back to the core of what you find funny and what your friends find funny, and what makes you laugh and what makes you smile, that normally does the best."
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