Super Bowl Automotive Ads: She Said, He Said Analysis with Chris Baccus
In recent months, I have been working diligently to expand my social media network. In my quest to build an online presence and to learn what social media is all about, I met Chris Baccus (@cbaccus). Chris is a digital brand guru from Detroit who has a successful blog and loves his red BMW 335i.
A few weeks ago, he invited me to collaborate with him on a “She Said, He Said” piece all about the automotive industry ads airing during Super Bowl XLIV. Here is our take on we saw during the game last night.
SHE SAID: Having a brother six years my senior, my upper arm could never forget the pain it endured from the “Punch Bug” game of my childhood. There was a “Punch Bug” graveyard on the way to our Aunt and Uncle’s lake house that housed hundreds of broken down and beat up VW Bugs. My brother and I played the game every time we went to their place, both of us anxiously awaiting that lot. Whoever spotted it first not only won the game but also had the pleasure of endlessly punching his opponent in the arm.
The VW “Punch Dub” ad appealed to anyone old enough to remember the original VW Bug. It successfully spanned demographics both through the characters in the commercial and in its appeal. While memorable, I don’t think this commercial ignited a new game of “Punch Dub” in America. I doubt kids riding in their mom’s Routan today are looking for other VW’s so they can punch each other and shout a color.
HE SAID: This ad was an early favorite at the party I attended. People really enjoyed the end with Stevie Wonder and Tracy Morgan. In the beginning, it was a bit confusing to those who may not be familiar with the ‘punch bug’ game the concept is developed from, but it is effectively communicated in the 60 seconds.Most surprising about the campaign is how VW extended the idea online with a video called “How did he play PunchDub?” where Stevie Wonder educates the viewer about a device that helps the blind “see” colors. It is a nice extension of the Super Bowl ad.
It was also nice to see VW not bring in the online personality of “Sluggy Patterson” who is currently leading the campaign through social media (see my blog post for more information.) VW realized the difference between online and TV and showcased PunchDub in a way that was more accessible to the large audience of the Super Bowl while maintaining the integrity of the campaign. This was by far my favorite ad from the industry Sunday night. It was simple, memorable and effective in communicating a passion for the brand. Plus I believe VW will build on the success of the ad as it continues to evolve the campaign.
Audi “Green Police”
SHE SAID: Audi’s commercial was much better than the PSA previews the company aired ahead of Super Bowl XLIV. I liked the rock n’ roll tune and the way Audi brought all of it together to highlight the product. Personally, I love the Audi A3 TDI – and it won Green Car Journal’s 2010 Green Car of the Year Award – so it wasn’t a tough sell from that perspective.The German automaker was targeted greenies and car enthusiasts alike by wittily excusing the A3 TDI from a “Green Police” Eco Check Point. Car enthusiasts like me also enjoyed hearing the TDI’s exhaust and power as it navigated its way out of the checkpoint, dodging green traffic cones and speeding off into an enviro-conscious sunset.
HE SAID: In a world of Eco-Guilt, Audi decides to mock the ridiculousness of it all with a crew of police patrolmen busting yuppies and teens for all kinds of environmental mistakes. Eco-Guilt is a developing trend where people feel they are not doing enough for the environment. Even Oprah Winfrey’s “O” magazine covered the topic demonstrating there is a cultural awareness about the behavior.
Audi received some early criticism around using “Green Police” which was a phrase used to describe Nazi Germany’s police force. Very few know about the history and it became a minor issue for the brand online, but soon dissipated after most acknowledged the “Green Police” name was about environmental “policing” for those not in environmental compliance and was simply a poor naming choice by the marketing team.Cheap Trick did the soundtrack for the ad and the situations busting people for wrong light bulbs, using plastic bottles, and choosing plastic bags at the supermarket. The ad ends on a couple high notes with the “Eco Check” police checkpoint that lets the Audi A3 TDI go ahead and with cops stopping cops for using Styrofoam coffee cups. The ad received predominantly positive buzz online, which tells me it did get its message across effectively. Overall it’s another win for the Volkswagen Group.
Dodge “Man’s Last Stand”
SHE SAID: My first thought was, “Is this the man version of ‘I am woman, hear me roar?’” From a woman’s perspective, there wasn’t much positive to say about Dodge’s commercial. Sure the music was cool and they had some great camera shots at the end, but Dodge seemed to go a little overboard with its man-centric, “women force us to suppress our true feelings and deny us the ability to have our own thoughts” theme. Unlike the man-bashing FloTV ads, the humor injected was not funny to both male and female viewers.In fact, I was surprised that so many Super Bowl ads were focused only on the male buyer when women continue to be the bigger spenders. This is what I want to know from Dodge. I’m a woman; I like fast cars with horsepower and a sleek design. Why does he deserve to drive a Dodge Charger R/T with the 5.7L V8 and I don’t?
HE SAID: I feel like almost disqualifying myself for providing any commentary on a Dodge ad. I just feel so subjective whenever I review the latest from Auburn Hills, Michigan, but I’ll give it a try.Of all the automotive ads on this list, this was by far the most polarizing from what I can gather across YouTube comments and Twitter conversations. People either loved some of the swipes at the elimination of manliness like the “I will carry your lip balm. I will watch your vampire TV shows with you.” Or they hated it for the ad’s attempt to insult all requests from a wife or girlfriend as if it was being anti-female.Personally, I felt the ad followed a common theme of Super Bowl marketing: It’s okay to make fun of boring middle-aged men. It’s the last segment of the population that is fair game to mock. Can you imagine the uproar if this concept were reversed?Women staring blankly at the camera with voiceover by Weed’s star Mary-Louise Parker saying, “I will get the kids ready for school, kiss you goodbye and rush to get ready for my job. I will pretend to understand why you care if a team wins a game. I will fake an orgasm this weekend.” Oh wait, maybe this concept does work. Now what car would go roaring down the highway in the female gender version? BMW Z4 sDrive 35i with a manual transmission to beat the pants off that automatic only offered Dodge Charger.
Honda “Crosstour Squirrel”
SHE SAID: I had to watch this ad a second time to get the gist. Sadly, the featured squirrel was a hoarder. Thankfully the Honda Crosstour’s space helped him store and organize items like an acorn, a pineapple, and a bowling trophy. I think kids and their parents probably enjoyed the commercial, but the general population may not have found this ad memorable.The most clever aspect of this commercial was how the camera panned through the interior of the car before they showed you the exterior. So many automakers focus on the exterior design elements and expect customers to visit the dealership to see what’s inside. Honda was smart to take this approach because the Crosstour’s exterior is specific to certain tastes, but the interior’s style likely will make up for it.
HE SAID: For what it had to market, the RPA Agency did an excellent job with this ad concept. I can just imagine the creative brief: It’s an inside story. Communicate the versatility and beauty of the vehicle using its interior amenities.The squirrel filling what appears to be a tree and ends up being the inside of a Honda Crosstour with all kinds of items is an interesting way to showcase the CUV’s space. I also really like the art direction with the sharp edges and strong use of shadows throughout the commercial.My only negative is that it didn’t really standout for a Super Bowl ad and was forgettable when people tried to recall what they watched. I probably would’ve saved the media buy dollars and went more niche targeted since the vehicle is desirable to a very distinct customer segment.
Hyundai “10 Years Strong Featuring Brett Favre”
SHE SAID: The Hyundai Brett Favre commercial was a fantastic play on his situation and with impeccable timing. It was clear that Hyundai was comparing the certainty of their 10 year/100,000 mile warranty to Favre’s NFL retirement uncertainty. I believe their audience, although it could be perceived as just for men and football fans, was actually larger. Anyone who’s watched mainstream news on a regular basis could have picked up on the joke. The commercial was funny in a relevant, rated G, way – unlike random men walking through a field in their undies.
HE SAID: You can rarely knock relevant, ‘rarely’ because you can screw it up. Here Hyundai delivers with a play on their 10-year warranty and the longevity of football’s aging quarterback Brett Favre. The message highlights the term of the warranty in an interesting, compelling way that is also appealing to the football faithful and who doesn’t know who Brett Favre is, especially after “There’s Something About Mary.”
Hyundai “Sonata Built-by-Hand”
SHE SAID: In its crowd-surfing ad, Hyundai stressed quality and American craftsmanship by highlighting the 3,300 employees who work at its Montgomery, Ala. manufacturing facility. The ad persuaded potential buyers to consider the care and attention to detail Hyundai’s employees give to each car that comes down the assembly line, and it showed that this Korean-based automaker employs Americans to build their cars right here on our home turf.
HE SAID: Hyundai used the Super Bowl to help launch its all-new Sonata. This is one of two ads promoting the new car. Unlike the Brett Favre ad, the two Sonata ads showcase the car as part of Hyundai sponsorship of the NFL Pre-Game Show. The ad is fine as far as a vehicle launch commercial is concerned, but it is forgettable. Though that’s fine since the Sonata ads played heavily during the Pre-Game spots and were really about getting people familiar with the new sedan.
Hyundai “Painted Hyundai Sonata”
SHE SAID: This advertisement was elegant, classy, and it struck a chord with my pianist and violinist background. It was a refined way to appeal to upper class buyers by comparing the paint job process to that of the Mercedes-Benz CLS550, while indicating a much lower price tag. The audience in the room did mention that it may have been more effective had the Mercedes comparison line run on the screen for longer.
HE SAID: Of the two Sonata spots this one has a bit more appeal than the one with office workers carrying an empty body frame of the all-new car. The ad communicates a technical process in a way that is more interesting and elegant than what might have been expected when talking about paint. So it’s a well-executed product feature commercial to compliment the launch of the Sonata.
SHE SAID: Kia’s ad also struck a childhood note with me. The commercial reminded me of when I was a kid and believed that my stuffed animals came to life at night. Kia used the reverse logic – the stuffed creatures daydreaming of a more exciting nightlife – to appeal to its audience of busy parents and their kids.The music was catchy and fresh; I watched the commercial again just to hear it. While Kia alluded to these children’s characters coming alive and having a good time in its teaser ads, they left you totally clueless as to how the company would incorporate them into a worthwhile Super Bowl commercial. This ad was a definite win because Kia connected its teasers with its Super Bowl debut as seamlessly as a sock monkey.
HE SAID: As a father of twin 3-year-old boys, I actually know all the characters in the whimsical, odd Kia Sorento ad. The ad played late in the game after many football fans were probably a few beers into the festivities which I’m sure made the more inebriated wonder out loud, “is that a sock monkey riding an electric bull and a robot toying doing the robot dance? Or is it time for me to put the beer down?”The ad’s campaign line of “A Departure from the Unexpected” works well with the commercial’s concept while the music “How You Like Me Now” by The Heavy added an extra oomph in energy. It was definitely my second favorite ad from the automotive industry and the best music score for the night. It also marked the first time in over a year that I didn’t think about the Kia Hamster, which further added to the success of the ad. The Kia Soul hamsters are cute, but the brand needed to not be defined by them and this Super Bowl spot helped with that issue.
Cars.com “Timothy Richman”
SHE SAID: The “Timothy Richman” ad aired by Cars.com incorporated a more sublte vibe into the mix. The storyline was slightly far-fetched, and the ad didn’t believably link the character’s Doogie Howser intelligence to his inability to make a decision on a car. Cars.com wanted to assure everyone that, regardless of their IQ, they could feel comfortable buying a car simply by visiting their website and consulting a professional. In that sense, the commercial was a hit. I personally missed the “Timothy Richman is a life-long genius but can’t figure out how to buy a car” theme. Perhaps that is merely a reflection of my own aptitude.
HE SAID: A calming, storytelling advertisement that isn’t about being outrageous or insulting male behaviors should be a refreshing departure from most of what was shown Sunday evening. For the most part, it was a nicely executed exception to the silliness.The ad follows all of the intelligent decisions and deep knowledge of a growing young man who finally is baffled by the process of buying a car for the first time. Fortunately, he is bright enough to turn to Cars.com for expert advice. It is a well-written commercial. The issue is that it just falls flat in the circus that is Super Bowl advertising; though, I do have to give kudos to the buy because the ad would probably be ignored on any other given day so at least it does drum up some buzz for a rather sedate brand.I like it for its charm, but also fault it for its charm. Charm is simply lost when everyone else is going with absurd.
CarMax “Dramatic Chipmunk”
SHE SAID: The first “Dramatically Smart” ad run by CarMax was my favorite “funny” auto commercial. These ads made me want to watch the furry creatures, all with the same action line, perform again and again. My guests and I actually rewound the DVR so we could watch the prairie dog repeatedly nail his cue to glare intensely into the camera. Those beady eyes are ingrained in my memory. The commercial may not be the best representation of CarMax, but it was hilarious nonetheless.
HE SAID: When you have nothing smart to say attach your brand to a popular YouTube viral video that has over 18 million views. To me it is a dull ad that does nothing for the brand with its cheap desire to be interesting and funny of which it is neither. This was by far the worse ad from the automotive industry. Yawn.