There's no plate, but these strange dents that appear to come up in the shape of numbers and letters...
July 31, 2008 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Why are license plates painted over on car commercials?

I've wondered about this for a while, and finally thought to ask. I've searched here and Google, and the closest I could find was information about hiding license plates on cars that are actually out in the world.

I want to know specifically about painting over the license plate with a solid color that I've seen on many car commercials.

It's not like it does a wonderful job of hiding the plate numbers. If I wanted it bad enough I could figure it out. And I'm assuming that if you're driving on a closed course (as many of the commercials claim in their legal fine print), you don't need a plate.

It just seems to me that taking the plate off and filming would be a lot less work than either editing the shots to add that color overlay or taking off the plate and wrapping something of a solid color around it and putting it back on.
posted by theichibun to Media & Arts (11 answers total)
I've noticed this, and found that they're either painted over (same color as car) or non existant. I've always assumed it was for aesthetic purposes, and the fact that perhaps that having a state's license plate indentified in the commercial would not make sense from a geographical marketing point of view.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:14 AM on July 31, 2008

Well, what's the mounting holes for the plate aren't particularly sightly, so it makes sense they wouldn't want them to be visible. What I don't get is why they don't just put a blank plate in that position instead of the unnatural looking solid-colored stand-in.
posted by phrontist at 8:14 AM on July 31, 2008

To clarify, I saw a (Mazda?) commerical recently where there was no plate at all on the vehicle.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:16 AM on July 31, 2008

Best answer: Google Answers calls it 'greeking' and that it's to remove regional identification of the plate. That may help your search.
posted by Science! at 8:38 AM on July 31, 2008

I've never seen this on car adverts in the UK so perhaps the reasoning is unique to the US.

In Europe cars in ads tend to have fictional plates that can be mirrored so they can flip the picture depending on if the country is left or right hand drive and not have to refilm the ad. eg MNV 008 becomes 800 VNM.
posted by Ness at 8:45 AM on July 31, 2008

I've always assumed the plates were "genericised" in this way to make the footage playable country-wide. Car manufacturers like to drive-home that "local, home town" relationship for their dealers. Thus, it wouldn't do to have an obvious Arizona plate in a commercial playing in Ohio, Nebraska, Florida, etc.

It's just a way to make the footage more widely applicable.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:56 AM on July 31, 2008

License plates are visual noise that breaks the sleek lines and shiny reflections of the car. The car has to look magnificent, anything that detracts or distracts is will be as minimized as possible.

Some cars even present the option to the owner - plate covers like this come standard with some cars, for when driving in those states that don't require front plates. And the later models of the same brand don't seem to even have a place for a front plate.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:44 AM on July 31, 2008

In a purely aesthetic sense, you want people looking at the car, not at a potentially brightly colored spot on it -

I've never seen this on car adverts in the UK so perhaps the reasoning is unique to the US.

While many countries have lettering/numbering schemes that reveal geographic information about where a car is registered, the US and Canada have distinctly colored, illustrated and typeset tags for each state/province, something I don't think is too common elsewhere.

That said, for the work we do for MINI, if we aren't featuring the EU-sized white on black tag that names the model, I will use "real" plates with letters/numbers that spell out some of our marketing copy, like "L3T5MOTR" or "4LWYSOP3N" for convertibles. And while I have assets for all 50 states (along with the UK, France, Germany and Italy) you'll most likely see California, both for its aspiriational/car culture associations and its relatively neutral color scheme.
posted by jalexei at 11:03 AM on July 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

This was so asked and answered yesterday: Why do they blur license plates on TV shows?
posted by scruss at 12:22 PM on July 31, 2008

This was so asked and answered yesterday:

This is so a different question.
posted by jalexei at 12:50 PM on July 31, 2008

Response by poster: @scruss - I am aware of that thread. Which should be obvious since I referenced that exact post in my first paragraph.

As for the rest of the answers, the logic for hiding the plate all makes perfect sense as for why they don't want me to see the plate.

I guess I'll just have to live with disagreeing with the car companies about what the best method of hiding the plate is.
posted by theichibun at 10:28 PM on July 31, 2008

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