Car ads were at the forefront of the advertising blitz in the big game this year, but spending $4million for thirty seconds of air time doesn’t guarantee anything more than a highly publicized stinker on the world’s biggest stage. Massive productions that would have been hits during normal broadcast shriveled under the spotlight. Others managed to be sucessful with production budgets John Madden could have burned through at a steak house. From the perspective of a car guy/hack advertising critic the winners and losers were clear.
RAM (So God Made a Farmer)
Ram hit their third consecutive Super Bowl homerun with a two minute spot glorifying American farmers as heroes. The concept could easily have been cheapened in cliché truck ad fashion, the sort where Farmer Joe slaps a dusty hand on a Ram’s hood and shakes his head with a smile, as if to say, “I’ll be a son of a gun if this truck didn’t work harder than me today!”
Instead a Ram truck appears for the first time in the last ten seconds of the ad, simply parked in front of a farmer’s home. The only audio is the iconic voice of the late radio personality, Paul Harvey reading his poem “So God Made a Farmer” while we’re shown beautiful portraits of our country’s independent farming community. Ram was smart to stay well to the rear of the ad’s message. They could afford to; it was that good.
JEEP (Whole Again)
Jeep attempted to celebrate our veterans as Ram did with farmers and royally screwed the pooch. The two minute ad gets off to a good start with Oprah Winfrey reading a powerful narrative as we’re shown tear-jerking shots of veterans’ families awaiting their reuturn. Around the one minute mark the sincerity falls apart with juxtapositions of vets climbing into Jeep vehicles at the airport to make their journey home. If that weren’t exploitive enough there’s several close up shots of Jeep emblems to make sure everyone understands the automaker wants to cash in on the emotion they’ve just stirred.
In a word: Gross.
When a Super Bowl car ad makes you cheer for its main character this much it doesn’t have to go into detail about the vehicle to be effective. In this case the lucky protagonist is a dateless high school guy whose dad loans him the family Audi S6 sedan on prom night. When the bummed-out kid starts the rumbling engine he’s given the bravery to pull burnouts past prom-goers in limos, park in the principal’s spot and bust onto the high school dance floor to kiss the prom queen. The last shenanigan lands him a black eye but he couldn’t be happier as he roars away in the Audi. Americans love underdogs and the Audi kid is no exception.
The only redeeming quality of this ad is a blurry split-second shot of Abraham Lincoln wearing a top hat. The rest works off the premise of a Lincoln MKZ emerging from the flames of a ‘90s Lincoln Town Car. Get it? Like a phoenix? Besides some visual panache and a few asides about Lincoln’s new technology there’s nothing about this ad that lives up to Super Bowl standards. I said it before the game: All they had to do was have Daniel Day Lewis play Lincoln.
Hmmm… How do you introduce the $30,000 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 as the brand’s uncompromising “bargain” car, one that’s within reach of a young professional demographic? Answer: Hire Willem Dafoe to play Satan and see if he can convince said young person to sell his soul for the CLA. Then cut to a dreamscape sequence with supermodel Kate Upton, Usher and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm to illustrate Mercedes-Benz ownership has a celebrity unto itself. The point is you don’t have to cut a deal with Dafoe to get behind a Merc’s wheel anymore. This ad was worth the money and makes the CLA look like it will be too.
LINCOLN (Once upon a tweet)
Lincoln’s second strike of the game was a prime example of crowdsourcing gone wrong. In an attempt to attract new buyers to the luxury brand, Jimmy Fallon asked his massive Twitter following to Tweet their favorite road trip stories. From the thousands of submissions five were crammed into a confusing 30-second spot that makes absolutely no sense. Reverend Run DMC conducting a wedding ceremony and an alpaca “alpacalypse” had potential, but there’s just too much going on here to figure out what in the Twitterverse Lincoln was trying to say.
VOLKSWAGEN (Get In. Get Happy.)
“Don’t fret, me brother. Sticky bun be comin’ soon!”
In theory sexy robots and slapstick comedy are a good way to advertise a car. The problem is this ad revolves around the tagline “Respect the Tech” in order to showcase the 2014 Kia Forte’s millennial-focused technology… But it doesn’t. All we see is a Hotbot pull a young man’s underwear above his head for smudging the Forte’s paint job before super-punching him across the room into a wall. If Kia had just shown the tech the Hotbots idea could have been a good one.
This one had me from the opening scene where a couple finds themselves stuck behind an obese motorcyclist on a crotch rocket. When the biker notices them ogling his sexily exposed leopard-skin underpants in disgust he throws them a sultry air-smooch, prompting them to hit the gas and leave him in the dust. The star of the spot is the couples’ car: A 274-hp turbocharged Hyundai Sonata. The car’s ample passing power helps repeat the gag with a slew of common roadway obstacles: A tanker truck dripping toxic waste, a flaming fireworks truck that’s set to explode and a trailer of slobbering dogs. A voiceover by Jeff Bridges is the icing on this charming slice of ad cake.
TOYOTA (Wish Granted)
If you’re going to convince people the new RAV4 will grant their wishes you’d better mention more about the vehicle than the exterior spare tire isn’t there anymore. The ad managed to pack a few decent chuckles featuring The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco as a genie. She grants wishes to a family who owns a RAV4, such as injecting chocolate into the mom’s bloodstream and turning the daughter into Joan of Arc. The humor alone might have been sufficient in a commercial for other car brands. The problem for Toyota is their image, which to put it nicely is less than exciting. In an ad this whimsical the RAV4 doesn’t make a strong case for itself without supporting evidence it’s anything more than an appliance.
When a boy is bullied by a gang of playground footballers his mom drives him around town to recruit kids for a team of his own. Along the way he befriends pre-adolescent badasses displaying amazing feats of strength, such as choking out a bear and carrying a full grown man out of a flaming building. The point is there’s room for all of the rascals in the seven-passenger Santa Fe. Bear-wrestling and the bully revenge that’s exacted at the end of the spot is enough to make the family-focused ad a winner.
KIA (Space Babies)
A dad driving a Kia Sorento is asked by his son where babies come from. He nervously responds, “There’s a planet. It’s called Babylandia.” His impromptu explanation of conception comes to life in an animated sequence where human and animal babies blast off from Babylandia in rocket ships to meet their parents on Earth. Charming as the spot is it’s still a loser; the only mention of the Sorrento comes when the dad prompts the infotainment system to play “wheels on the bus” to drown out further questioning. The concept is cute. The ad and the Sorento are forgettable.