Polar bear hugA new Nissan TV spot shows a polar bear lumbering down from the Arctic to embrace a surprised suburban commuter in a hug — a thank-you for driving the fully electric Leaf sedan.

Depending on your disposition, the ad comes across as adorable, unforgivably smug, or a clever jab at other products that appeal to a sense of eco-self-righteousness.

A Nissan marketing VP claimed to have the last goal in mind when he said the campaign is meant to offer “a little twist, perhaps a wink” at other self-serious green products ads. Of course, this is 21st-century marketing, so there’s no rule that cutesiness, irony, and moral smugness can’t come wrapped together in one high-budget commercial.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

But let’s take a look at the claim that climate-endangered mammals will thank you for buying a Leaf — which goes on sale later this year for as low as $21,000 in California and Georgia, and slightly more in other states.

An electric car might be superior to the gas-burner you own now, except that it still takes plenty of embodied energy to produce a new car. If buying a Leaf earns you a bear hug, then hanging on to a reasonably efficient ride for a few extra years probably deserves one too.

If you take the step of carpooling in your car, electric or not, that might be worth a bear hug plus a lick on the cheek.

Finding a way to avoid commuting altogether — through telecommuting or living closer to your workplace — would seem to warrant an even bigger bear favor. Perhaps it could mow your lawn while it’s down in suburbia.

Bicycling: even better. Ask that bear to watch your kids while you and the spouse enjoy a night out.

Moving to a neighborhood with a high Walk Score and Transit Score — which cuts the need for all sorts of driving, not just work commutes — deserves a real act of kindness. Do bears prepare tax returns?

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

And if you really want that bear to love you, you might have to get involved with a group like Smart Growth America and work to bring neighborhood-changing plans like Complete Streets and transit-oriented development to your home. That bear wants you politically engaged! I dare say it might not even care what car you buy.