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Welcome to the annual ‘He Said, She Said’ analysis of the Super Bowl automotive ads! While covering the car commercials can be daunting, especially with so many pre-game web releases (more on that later), this is one of my favorite posts of the year.
This is the third year in a row that I’ve teamed up with Chris Baccus, who heads up AT&T’s social media. Chris loves his BMW 3 Series, gas station tacos, and great home-cooked recipes – and he often writes about all of these! He is knowledgeable about cars, marketing, and social media. You can find him on Twitter at @CBaccus. Check out his blogs here: The Auto Marketing Blog, Sustainable Dad, and Gas Station Tacos.
This year’s Super Bowl was somewhat of a game changer for the auto industry. Much like the mood at the North American International Auto Show, the message last night was “We’re back! Now please buy our cars.”
Twelve carmakers spread the ad love with 22 commercials aired before and during the big game. Hyundai and Chevrolet had the bulk of ads with four and three spots respectively, but that doesn’t mean they were the most memorable. Hyundai sponsored the kick-off pregame, where it aired two ads – one on the Elantra and the other on Hyundai’s 45,000 employees in the U.S. Toyota sponsored half time.
Needless to say, cars could be found in nearly every commercial break. And it seemed as if every car company was trying to out-do Volkswagen’s 2011 ‘Darth Vader’ ad, including Volkswagen, but none really achieved it. Honda’s Ferris Bueller homage was probably the closest to recreating the VW nostalgia among audiences.
#SuperBowl social media was everywhere
The incorporation of social media was even more prevalent in this year’s Super Bowl. Last year, we saw the introduction of promoted tweets and hash tags, and SB46 included a plethora of such targeted advertising. While Audi and Acura added hash tags to the end of their commercials (#SoLongVampires and #JerrysNSX), others stirred buzz through promoted tweets and has tags.
There was even a social media between Ford and Chevrolet over the Chevy’s apocalyptic “2012” ad that specifically mentions a Ford truck driver ‘didn’t make it’ through the end of the world. A lawyer from Ford sent a cease and desist letter to General Motors on Saturday, February 4. Read more about it here.
YouTube ruins ads for anyone paying attention
If you’re like me, then you’re excited about the teaser ads companies release prior to the Super Bowl so you can get a taste of what is to come. All I wanted was a taste, but the week leading up to the big game left me drinking from a fire hose. Once an auto brand jumped off the YouTube bridge, the others tumbled like dominoes right behind.
The pregame release of commercials can be fun if they aren’t the same ads aired during the game or simply share the beginning of the story and you have to catch the rest on TV. The only car spot that we didn’t get a sneak peek at was Chrysler’s ‘Halftime for America’ ad starring the ever-gritty Clint Eastwood.
Now on to the good stuff…
Below is the full ‘He Said, She Said’ analysis with Chris Baccus for each automotive ad during the Super Bowl in the order that they aired. Enjoy our commentary and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Hyundai – Victory Lap
Car featured: Elantra | Watch the Video
HE SAID: Another quick, simple idea with Jeff Bridges calming delivering the punch line, must be another Hyundai ad? Not much to say here except I wonder if Hyundai could make a bigger splash by concentrating their Super Bowl ads into a single ad.
SHE SAID: Hyundai kicked off Super Bowl XLVI with a feel-good, patriotic ad aired during the pregame event. The familiar voice of actor Jeff Bridges told us it was a Hyundai commercial before ‘Stars and Stripes’ cued the adorable Elantra, this year’s winner of the North American Car of the Year.
Hyundai – All for One | Watch the Video
HE SAID: Hyundai went for short comedic spots, but for this one they shared how their corporate culture is one of supportive action complete with Rocky theme music. If I recall correctly, this ad ran between the coin toss and kickoff. The positive energy was fun but like many Super Bowl spots last night it didn’t generate much interest after its 60 seconds were up. With only 70,000 views on YouTube, no one searched for and based on the comments a significant amount of Union Automotive workers didn’t feel inspired after non-union Hyundai factories were featured.
SHE SAID: The Korean-based automaker took this opportunity (and the ‘Rocky’ theme) to showcase its 45,000 employees in the U.S. and how the team at their Montgomery, Ala. Plant helps to make Hyundai the brand that it is today. Although the singing was a bit cheesy, I liked that this ad helped to dispel the myth that American cars are built only in Michigan.
Kia – Dream Car for Life
Car featured: Optima | Watch the Video
HE SAID: Adriana Lima, Chuck Liddell, Motley Crue, and a stadium full of bikini clad fans… seriously what more do you want from a small automotive brand? It’s a fun ad with a lot of big production ingredients designed to hit all of the target demographic passions of its aspirational buyer.
SHE SAID: Kia plays up both men and women’s senses by giving us a look into their dreams with this outrageous ad featuring fairy dust, Motley Crue, a race track, a white stallion, and Adriana Lima (who made a second SB46 appearance for Teleflora). This one wins my award for ‘most fun’ out of the car ads. It pleased both male and female audiences and had a lot of great energy behind it.
Hyundai – Cheetah
Car featured: Veloster Turbo | Watch the Video
HE SAID: Meh. They promoted this ad quite a bit using Facebook ads the entire week before the game. It too is highly forgettable and the concept while cute for a second lacks the fun of the other Hyundai spots like “Think Fast.”
SHE SAID: By now, I was ready to see an ad from someone other than Hyundai…and this wasn’t even their last installment. While the commercial was entertaining, I felt that stacking all of their ads so close together made it difficult for everyday consumers who were watching to differentiate between the company’s products.
Hyundai – Think Fast
Car featured – Genesis Coupe | Watch the Video
HE SAID: Charming. When you can make a temporary heart failure charming, you know your ad has a great premise. This simple ad without a big name celebrity, Hollywood movie set, or show dog finds a fun way to message performance. It’s unexpected and gets a quick smile from the Super Bowl audience.
The ad is complimented by several online videos featuring the High-Powered Business Tips from the boss in the Genesis Coupe ad. Of course you’ll have to figure that out online and not from the TV spot.
SHE SAID: I had a small chuckle at this ad, mostly because it reminded me of a scene from my favorite movie “What about Bob?,” where Bob (played by Bill Murray) won’t wake up out of bed Other than that, it simply shows that the Genesis Coupe comes with good braking agility.
Cars.com – Confident You
Watch the Video
HE SAID: If weird is your thing, Cars.com has an ad for you. Complete with Siamese bobbing goiter head.
SHE SAID: I really didn’t enjoy the Cars.com ad. Confidence doesn’t have to be so creepy. And it doesn’t have to sing either.
Chevrolet – Happy Grad
Car featured: Camaro convertible | Watch the Video
HE SAID: And now for some MoFilms user-generated semi-professional videographer ad goodness that’s not from Doritos. The Happy Grad ad is great. A new sports car is something any grad would go nuts for if mom and dad presented such a surprise while still in a cap-and-gown. The reality of the graduate’s non-present is one we can all relate too.
SHE SAID: I didn’t really get this ad either. The parents really didn’t try to show their son the fridge. And who gives their kid a mini fridge for graduation? Much less one out on the front lawn….
Toyota – Connections
Car featured: Various Camry models | Watch the Video
HE SAID: This is a continuation of Toyota’s personal stories campaign that’s been asking owners on social media to share their stories. It’s not a bad ad; though, like the Lexus ad it blends into the crowd. What’s missing here is personalizing the stories even more by showcasing the exact language from their owners and sharing posts the brand has received on the web.
“Connections” is similar to a lot of past ads by just about any car company. We all have a story to share from our car. Every car I’ve ever owned has some story. So having a personal story really isn’t that interesting so I’m doubtful this campaign creates any compelling positioning any against competitors. Sharing a story in and of itself is dull even if you do add a cute dog hanging its head out a window.
SHE SAID: Toyota tried to tug at your heart strings here , but I think this commercial would have been more effective as a regularly run ad. The Super Bowl is so cluttered with attention grabbing spots that trying to get people sentimental about their Camry’s a few adult beverages in, may not be the best approach (unless, of course, you’re Chrysler).
Fiat – Seduction
Car featured: 500 Abarth | Watch the Video
HE SAID: I refuse to review this ad as a Super Bowl ad, it was launched last year and is not original to the Super Bowl. Granted it was the first time many people paid attention to the ad, even if they passively saw it before…
SHE SAID: This video was saucy to say the least. What can I say, sexiness sells. Any commercial that can get my husband to tweet that he wants to look at a Fiat 500 is a success in my book. Sorry dear, it doesn’t come with the model.
Audi – Vampire Party
Car featured: S6 headlights | Watch the Video
HE SAID: A few people have asked me what do I think of the Twilight Audi ad. I felt it was more True Blood with the older vampires and cooler Echo and the Bunnymen soundtrack. Plus as one 20 year old reminded me they think Volvo when thinking Twilight vampires, since Volvo dominated in movie placements.
The whole Twilight, True Blood, vampire trendy thing aside the ad is a great example of taking a rather mundane product feature like headlights and making it compelling in an interesting way. Is it Super Bowl entertaining? Sure. Not every ad on game day has to have a dog or model (or soccer star) in underwear.
SHE SAID: This one actually made me laugh out loud, mostly because I’m not into all that Vampire stuff. Lots of people liked the funny ad and the hash tag they assigned to it (#SoLongVampires). This commercial was for those of us who aren’t in love with blood-sucking teen wolves. Unfortunately, the ad fell short of promoting a car. Who spends $3.5 million to advertise headlights?
Suzuki – Sled
Car featured: Kisashi | Watch the Video
HE SAID: My choice for cutest dog ad goes to Suzuki for the Kizashi “Sled” commercial. It’s adorable heck even the human driver is adorable and isn’t that what great pet advertising is all about? Plus what else are you going to say about an All-Wheel Drive system that hasn’t been said or done twenty thousand times already.
SHE SAID: My first reaction was, “Suzuki has enough money to buy a Super Bowl ad?” After the initial shock, I then found this to be a witty ad. Glad to see the Kisashi get some love. Hopefully it’ll translate into some U.S. sales for the company.
Chevrolet – Stunt Anthem
Car featured: Sonic | Watch the Video
HE SAID: One creative idea that always gets tiring is the “let’s break a world record or be the first at X.” You know the brainstorming has hit a wall when your creative team starts Googling to see if anyone has skydived a car before.
That said, it’s a well done version of a rather boring concept. Of course the well chosen music track “We Are Young” by Fun, ft. Janelle Monae helps dramatically.
SHE SAID: Many of my friends really liked the adventurous spirit of the Sonic ‘stunt’ ad. I thought it was pretty rad and catered to the X-games demographic. I’m not running out to get a Sonic anytime soon (because I still think it’s a glorified Aveo), but others have recommended the sporty compact.
Bridgestone – Performance Football
Watch the Video
SHE SAID: Much like the Patriots’ final play, this ad from Bridgestone was a great idea but was poorly executed. (Sorry, Pats fans.)
Lexus – Beast
Car featured: GS | Watch the Video
HE SAID: Nice grille. Now is a good time to go get another beer before the game comes back on. Seriously, it’s a good update to a rather bland design and in person I love the new GS I saw at the Panasonic booth while at CES last month, but this ad is entirely forgettable and nothing is worse than a forgettable Super Bowl commercial you just paid $3.5 million for.
SHE SAID: I actually liked the teaser ad better because it created some suspense and excitement. I would have like to have seen an extended version that showed the some of the performance aspects of this Lexus classic.
Cadillac – Green Hell
Car featured: ATS | Watch the Video
SHE SAID: Sorry, but just because you hired German engineers and flung it around the ‘Ring doesn’t mean it’s a BMW beater.
Bridgestone – Performance Basketball
Watch the Video
HE SAID: Sleeping baby for the win! Not sure how a bouncing tire tread basketball on a wood court is similar to a pothole filled Michigan road on 19” performance rims, but I’ll admit I’m over thinking this one. Maybe it’s just because I don’t really care to make the connection between basketball and a tire’s quietness.
SHE SAID: Yawn. Nobody wants to hear about tire treads, we want to see it in action. Give us performance!
Honda – Matthew’s Day Off
Car featured: CR-V | Watch the Video
HE SAID: One of my favorites as long as you overlook the sad notion that every child of the 80s high school playing-hooky idol ends up in middle-age driving a Honda CR-V. Then again many do end up in a basic, but nice car like a CR-V. Nothing is wrong with that except many of us remember the car aspect of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as the beginning of collective our lust for a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California.
Of all the Ferris Bueller film moments in the ad, it’s not surprising we don’t see Broderick telling us, “if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up” about the CR-V. Oh well, it was great seeing a character we all loved return; though, Honda’s teaser made several think a new Ferris movie was coming, not another Super Bowl car ad. Guess we’ll all have to continue waiting for the full feature film of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off from Work coming to theaters in…?
SHE SAID: Ferris Bueller lives!…and he drives a CR-V. I liked how Honda brought back pleasant memories from a movie almost everyone over the age of 25 can remember (did I just age myself?). They did a great job recreating scenes of the original flick in such a short amount of time. Not sure anyone will be running out to by a CR-V, but there is a Facebook group pining for a sequel!
Acura – Transactions
Car featured – NSX | Watch the Video
HE SAID: This is the ad that crashed Acura’s website after it aired. I’m not surprised. Not because of the Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno celebrity effect. Nope. The reason everyone was rushing to Acura’s website was to see if they could afford the return of the much anticipated NSX!
What a beautiful car and a fun way to build excitement for the limited production release. Make a game of being first and isn’t being the guy on the block with the coolest car in the garage satisfy one of our most primitive desires? Plus this is one of the more believable celebrity fights to be first to own a car. This is the game of wealthy car enthusiast comedians than your typical Super Bowl viewer.
SHE SAID: The NSX lives!! And it’s really coming to production this time! I heart Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno. This would have been my favorite ad if it didn’t get released before the Super Bowl.
Volkswagen – The Dog Strikes Back
Car featured: Beetle | Watch the Video
HE SAID: Star Wars has gone to the dogs. I ended up playing a drinking game with fellow #BrandBowl tweeters. Simple concept. Dog in ad = Drink. Thank you Volkswagen for the help.
SHE SAID: Well, well, well. VW actually released a teaser video and THEN a full Super Bowl ad that was loosely tied in with it. What a concept! This was a fun-loving bit that anyone could enjoy. Wait, is that the dog driving the Forester in that Subaru commercial?
Toyota – Reinvented
Car featured: Camry | Watch the Video
HE SAID: Some of the concepts here were cute and others confusing. Unfortunately the Camry didn’t look reinvented. It takes a pretty keen eye to see what Toyota has changed on the car this year. And with a typical evolutionary, not revolutionary change the concept of this ad falls short. Also the time traveling baby that doesn’t poop and when it rains you lose weight didn’t really seem all the desirable, except the no pooping part.
SHE SAID: I would definitely want to reinvent the DMV experience. The only thing missing in this ad and the other spot by Toyota was how they reinvented the Camry.
Chrysler – It’s Halftime in America
Car featured: Various models | Watch the Video
HE SAID: I call this the Anti-Mitt Romney NY Times Op Ed Article Commercial. Sure it lacks the ring or sentimentality of It’s Halftime in America. For a second year, Chrysler goes for the emotional up by our bootstraps brand messaging, but this time uses Dirty Hairy and fosters the strength of all of America, not just Detroit. It’s gritty, dark and strong just like last year’s ad but with a broader appeal.
Like the VW Star Wars ads, the Chrysler spot basically borrowed from last year’s success without an original idea. Instead it was more about building on prior success using a similar concept. It’s not that I don’t like the Chrysler spot. It’s good. It’s just that I sort of saw it last year with Eminem and no offense to Clint Eastwood, but last year’s version was better.
Besides I felt it was also so negative. Almost a view of America that is about 3 years old especially after seeing the improvements in the Unemployment rate and reduced fear about a massive recession; though, I’m by no means suggesting this economy is all fixed.
SHE SAID: This ad left me chanting, “Clint Eastwood for President!” For the second year in a row, Chrysler has seriously tugged on the heartstrings of Detroiters and Americans. There’s no one better to send the message of America’s true grit than Clint Eastwood. Although many people found this to be too politicized, I think it’s well timed. I liked how the ad didn’t showcase one car but rather bits of various Chrysler brand vehicles. Oh, and my favorite part of the ad? I didn’t see it before it aired!
Chevrolet – 2012
Car featured: Silverado | Watch the Video
HE SAID: My favorite ad by far. I’m mainly happy to see the end of the world is less depressing than Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Now there is a lot of controversy sounding this ad today after Ford raised several issues with Chevy’s claim of their product not surviving the fake-pocalypse, but that’s an issue for PR and legal. As an ad, it is well done and a great touch with Twinkies surviving the apocalypse for a bonus comedic effect.
SHE SAID: Drama! The ad was great, don’t get me wrong. I just think that it would have had a stronger impact if Chevy didn’t single out Ford in such a negative way. After all, Ford isn’t the only other automaker competing in the truck market.
Disclaimer: The author of this post provides strategic communications services for organizations that represent the auto industry, including many of the car manufacturers featured in this blog post. The views expressed in this post are solely the author’s and were not solicited by any third party.