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.

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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.

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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?

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.

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