Cape Town - It was one of South Africa’s most iconic television ads: a dramatised account of a Mercedes-Benz plunging off Chapman’s Peak Drive in 1988.

The driver, Christopher White, survived the equivalent of plummeting 30 stories onto the jagged rocks below and the 1990 advert’s tagline was that he survived only because he was wearing his seatbelt and driving a Mercedes-Benz.

Now, 30 years after that crash, Mercedes-Benz put White into an S-Class on the same road – and asked him to take his hands off the wheel.

In a dramatic documentary-style content piece, Mercedes-Benz takes viewers on a journey along Chapman’s Peak Drive with White. The 2018 kicker is that the S-Class brings us further along the road to autonomous driving and White places all his trust in the brand that saved his life 30 years ago, by taking his hands off the wheel to let the car drive him safely along the road that so nearly took his life.

Telling White that the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is known as the most intelligent car in the world didn’t allay his fears. The drive had to be felt to be believed.

At the start of the content piece, viewers feel White’s terror and his unwillingness to trust the technology that allows the semi-autonomous car to steer itself along the road. Throughout, the emotion is overwhelming. But, the closing frames can only be described as euphoric.

Net#work BBDO, which has a long-standing association with Mercedes-Benz in South Africa, says that launching the S-Class range of Intelligent Drive vehicles into the South African market demanded an advertising approach at least as ground-breaking as the cars themselves. Executive Creative Director Brad Reilly says that the decision to launch the five-minute documentary instead of a more traditional 30-second ad-spot is a brave one in today’s world of selective viewers and channel-hoppers.

“We knew that this was the only way to do justice to the concept, to the cars, and to the brand,” he said.

The mood of the documentary ad is surreal and as White, who moved away from Cape Town and has never been back to Chapman’s Peak, gets behind the wheel to drive the treacherous bends and corners in the 2018 hands-free iteration, the tension is palpable.

Selvin Govender, Marketing Director of Mercedes-Benz Cars South Africa, says: “Moving forward from 1990, from a time when autonomous vehicles couldn’t have been imagined, to today, when the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a reality, we needed to do the unimaginable.

“For White, Chapman’s Peak was a place of horror. We asked him to revisit it, to drive it again, but this time to let our car drive him. His fear, his trepidation, his emotions, are evident to start with. It’s heart-wrenching. But then you see him relax. You see the wonder on his face. You see the future of driving.”

If you're feeling nostalgic, check out the original ad from 1990:

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