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Several mainstays sat out of Super Bowl 49, but with an industry still high on 17.5 million vehicle sales in 2015, it’s no surprise that this year’s Big Game was stacked with automotive spots. Everyone — from Acura to MINI to first-timer Buick to regulars like Hyundai and Kia — played up the positive buyer’s market during tonight’s game.
Most Super Bowl 50 ads were well received, but few truly inspired laughter or deep emotional connection. Perhaps carmakers are going for a more lighthearted approach now that the economy is improving, gas is dirt cheap, and people are generally in a happier place.
In our sixth year of covering the Super Bowl automotive ads, Chris Baccus and I give you our run-down on nearly a dozen car commercials. P.S. – We lied last year when we said our 5th review would be our last. But is that so bad?
Acura | “What He Said” featuring Van Halen and the NSX
HE SAID: A little Van Halen to pump us all up for a true sports car. It’s been too long for Honda. The combination of sheet metal porn and dramatic camera angles all add to the elongated launch of Acura’s NSX which is finally here. It’s doubtful to get the commercial watching audience all that excited, unless someone hasn’t seen the car yet and cares about high-end sports cars.
SHE SAID: What a perfect way to kick off our 6th annual “He Said, She Said” writeup of the Super Bowl’s lineup of automotive ads than with Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil’ and a spot from Acura.
We’ve waited long enough, and now the nostalgic 90’s-era sports car from Honda’s luxe arm is finally letting us get our hands on it. Acura has been teasing enthusiasts with its brand-new NSX since its official debut at the North American International Auto Show in 2012. That’s also the last time the brand had an ad in the Big Game. Remember the Jerry Seinfeld spot?
I get it that Acura wants to tie in America’s rock ‘n roll favorite, Van Halen, with its Marysville, Ohio-built NSX, but I think they could have done so much more to connect the audience with this Super Bowl spot. We’ve already seen the car…several times over.
The newest info displayed here is the fact that orders will begin on February 25, 2016. Now, who’s going to be first in line behind Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno?
Audi | Commander featuring David Bowie’s “Starman”
HE SAID: It’s an aspirational Sunday with the Acura NSX and the Audi R8 V10 Plus. What’s not to love about this ad? There’s likely more talk in America’s living rooms about David Bowie than Audi. Still that’s not a bad thing. The Commander is a beautiful story of reliving excitement and staying young. If that’s what the Audi brand is about, it checks a couple boxes for many others and me.
SHE SAID: I have a feeling this one tugged at the heartstrings of my Gen X colleague and music buff, Chris Baccus. Featuring the late David Bowie’s track “Starman”, this ad does well to pull from several sets of emotions: a loss for passion after retirement, for hope after an exhilarating career has ended, a nostalgic feeling of jolting through the atmosphere in a rocket ship.
What’s amazing is — and we have confirmed this with an Audi spokesperson — this concept and its accompanying music were selected before the passing of the 69-year-old rock star. Simply brilliant.
Buick | Featuring Odell Beckham, Jr. and Emily Ratajkowski
HE SAID: It’s probably a bad sign that I don’t know who Odell Beckham Jr. & Emily Ratajkowski are. I just haven’t watched much football the past few years so I’m sure the football faithful will get the joke here. And while I don’t know who Emily Ratajkowski is either, she does look amazing with that bouquet catch, so maybe I’ll do some Googling after the game.
Now that we have that out of the way, the Buick Cascada I do know. In fact, I remember taking a photo of Melanie in one at the LA Auto Show last November. It’s a nice-looking convertible and does have enough styling to match Buick’s brand campaign that leaves people surprised when a car or SUV is a Buick. I do love this brand campaign. It recognizes the brand’s position in a comical but honest way.
The ad is Buick’s first in a Super Bowl and for the automotive commercial bunch it’s a successful play!
SHE SAID: I also am not familiar with these two starlets, but at least Beckham, Jr’s profession and skill becomes apparent to the viewer in the commercial. I don’t think Chris will be disappointed if he Googles Ms. Ratajkowski, who famously starred in a Robin Thicke music video a few years ago.
Anyway, the point of the ad is that Buick’s got a beautiful new convertible that young people are likely to love. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. In the first-ever Super Bowl spot for the GM brand, Buick is breaking down what barriers remain after its lengthy media campaign where youngsters ask, “That’s a Buick?”
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles | Jeep “Portraits”
HE SAID: Olivier Francois, CMO of Chrysler Group LLC, comes at us with another Americana ad that attempts to relate the Jeep brand to every American. The ad ends with the profound line, “We Don’t Make Jeep. You Do.”
It tries to recapture some of the photographic brilliance that was 2013’s Dodge Farmer Super Bowl commercial.
It’s a beautiful, thoughtful ad that is sure to excite the Jeep faithful, but little else. Though it does take the show for best black and white photography, if that matters.
SHE SAID: No doubt that this ad is a beautiful representation of the history of a brand that has been around for 75 years. I agree that the execution of the Ram Trucks “Farmer” ad was much more cathartic.
I, too, appreciated the detailed black-and-white portraits that were the centerpiece of Jeep’s message. For me, the vertical photos were a bit odd to watch on a horizontal big screen. I feel they could have done something more with the photo assets they had…even if that meant scrolling through them horizontally.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles | Jeep #4x4ever
HE SAID: 75 Years! That is impressive. It’s a feel-good ad for the Jeep faithful and another America moments ad from the Fiat Chrysler Automobile company. Maybe it will add a few more to the “It’s a Jeep Thing” crowd.
SHE SAID: In this commercial, Jeep does an impeccable job of showcasing many of the reasons why people own Jeep products, especially the die-hard Jeep Wrangler community. I enjoyed the music and tempo of this ad; a nice change of pace from some of the slower, quieter ads of the night, including Jeep’s first spot.
Honda | “A New Truck to Love” featuring singing sheep, Queen
HE SAID: Freddie Mercury and David Bowie in one night of automotive Super Bowl ads? Now I have Under Pressure stuck in my head the rest of the evening.
Singing sheep. Singing a great Queen song. Okay? Sure that’s one way to introduce the return of the Honda Ridgeline. The truck looks great and is a solid improvement over the prior model.
SHE SAID: This is no Ferris Bueller, CR-V ad, but I like the clever way Honda features the available truck bed audio system in its brand-new Ridgeline.
They also do well to show the swinging tailgate (it also folds down like a traditional one would) and the storage space beneath the bed. These features, plus the hidden seat functionality borrowed from the Element and HR-V, are clearly the best things about this truck.
Hyundai | “First Date” starring comedian Kevin Hart
HE SAID: Finally, something funny and Super Bowl attention worthy. Hart plays the watchful dad so well. Plus it’s an ad that communicates what is a fairly boring feature: GPS tracking. My Fiat 500e has this. I’m not really sure what the benefit of this technology is? Tracking cheating spouses? Helping repo men? Oh I get it, it is for overprotective parents who probably helicopter their kids since birth.
Feature value aside. It’s still a fun ad and fits the fun factor Super Bowl ads need to make them memorable which is pretty short list this year.
SHE SAID: At a recent media launch of the 2017 Elantra in San Diego, Calif., I was sworn to secrecy after getting a sneak peek at this Genesis ad featuring Kevin Hart as the typical overprotective dad as his teenage daughter heads out on a date.
This is Hyundai’s first year as an official sponsor of the NFL, making it a prime opportunity to be visible at this milestone Super Bowl. The brand has undoubtedly come a long way in its 30 years in America, and what better way to show its commitment to expanding in the U.S. than America’s favorite football game?
Hyundai | “Ryanville” featuring Ryan Reynolds
HE SAID: Unlike Melanie, I don’t have any nostalgia for Salt n’ Pepa’s “Whatta Man.”
This ad was getting a lot of play on Facebook this past week. Let’s just say a certain gender was sharing it… I actually like the ad even if I didn’t share it out to my Facebook friends. It’s one of the better celebrity laden ads this year and far superior to the MINI celebrity effort. At least this one uses celebrity in a way that has a point.
SHE SAID: Ok, Bowie may evoke nostalgia for my pal Chris, but Salt n’ Pepa’s “Whatta Man” brings back the good ole cruisin’-the-streets-with-my-girlfriends memories for me. Let’s face it, we aren’t going to run into Ryan Reynolds once, or even a dozen times (as he’s featured in this commercial). But this ad, plays to the boy-crazed days of every girl’s youth, and I think that’s clever.
Oh, and I enjoy that it features the entry-level vehicle’s active safety braking, because even when we’re not on our phones, we can get distracted.
Kia | “Walken Closet” starring Christopher Walken and a sock puppet
HE SAID: Like the “Ryanville” spot, this ad was seeing a lot of social media interest; though, it wasn’t as gender lopsided.
I’m guessing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t drive a Kia.
We need to really discuss the line, “it’s like the world’s most exciting pair of socks.” Seriously? Okay, I love this line coming out of Christopher Walken. I’m not sure anyone on this world can deliver that line of copy without the listener thinking, “WTF!?” So bravo Kia for picking the right person to say the most ridiculous line of copy to position your new car.
SHE SAID: Kia never shies away from getting creative, but this ad falls a little flat for me in comparison to some of their more successful ads, including past Super Bowl spots and even their “In the Zone” campaign with the NBA’s Blake Griffin.
However, the point is clear: if you don’t want the same mid-size sedan everyone else has — a.k.a. beige socks — then choose the new Optima. Kia wants you to live a little! We drove the 2016 model in Colorado last fall and found it to be a worthy competitor.
MINI | #DefyLabels
HE SAID: Wait, people other than Creative Directors buy MINIs? I like the ad, at least the sentiment of it. But does it really do anything for the brand or the audience? I’m guessing most people don’t buy a MINI because they are small and the value factor is fairly low. You pay for the styling and basically get a compact car (or compact CUV) at a higher cost than most competitors. That doesn’t make them bad cars or this a bad ad. It just feels like the ad is communicating something irrelevant. Do people not buy a MINI because of who they think drives one? Hard to believe. Therefore, it’s unclear why this ad’s message needs to exist.
SHE SAID: Smart campaign overall, and MINI is using it as a springboard for its new “defiantly different” campaign centered on the new Clubman. See the themed MINI microsite here.
In its ad, MINI selects famous people who own one of their vehicles and uses them to then appeal to a broad range of demographics that also represent stereotypes of people who drive MINI’s. I really appreciated the individual interviews with inspiring figures in their fields as well, particularly tennis world champion, Serena Williams.
It’s direct, to-the-point, and there’s additional content to inspire people who identify or connect with each celebrity in the commercial. I think this is my favorite spot from the night.
Toyota | “Heck On Wheels” starring an average Prius driver
HE SAID: I really wanted to dislike this ad. But I have to admit it was one of the best spots of the night. The absurdity saves it. Plus, there’s some brilliant copywriting in the song. To work in “Mother Trucker” and get it approved is a hats-off moment to the ad team. Well done and way to be fun and playful, Toyota.
HE SAID: Nevermind. This is the clear winner of the night. I love that Toyota pokes fun at itself and its innovative “appliance” in this commercial. I recently took the 2016 Toyota Prius on a short drive, and after having spent time in generations prior, I can confidently say that this new iteration tops them all.
The Prius is not meant to be an enthusiast’s car (unless you’re enthusiastic about fuel economy and regenerative braking). That’s why the juxtaposition of the Prius and this 1980’s inspired hair band song is so hilarious.
Toyota | “Catch a Prius” car chase
HE SAID: “How hard is it to catch a Prius?” says the Police dispatch. “I feel proud” shares a Prius driver being interviewed by a TV news reporter. It’s what happens weekly here in Los Angeles. The ad recreates a car chase featuring the all-new Toyota Prius. The ad mostly looks and reads like a way to change perception about the Prius with this recent redesign. It’s less funny and reads to me like creative brief where some quotes were lifted out of a focus group.
There’s little here to really get excited about. It’s an okay ad and I’m sure will run in rotation throughout the Prius launch ad campaign. The Super Bowl is merely a way to premier the new campaign with a lot of eyeballs.
SHE SAID: Toyota has been giving us feel-good, inspirational ads for the past four or five years, so it’s really nice to see them feel comfortable taking a risk on a comedic approach. This commercial for the 4th Generation Prius is equally fun for me as the other ad. Everyone can enjoy this storyline and appreciate how well it develops in just 100 seconds. Kudos to the Toyota ad team for this one.
Subaru | Dog Tested
HE SAID: For a second I thought my kids changed the channel to the Puppy Bowl.
It’s a sweet ad. What else can you say?
SHE SAID: My mom used to drive me around in her station wagon at night when I couldn’t sleep. I identify with this ad on two levels — what my mom did for me, and also as a puppy mama to two furry little buggers. They perked up their ears when hearing this little tike bark at the end. I’m pretty sure each time folks watch this ad, the room will be full of “Awwwww”.