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What Auto Dealers Can Learn from Automotive Super Bowl Ads



The New York Giants denied the New England Patriots a Super Bowl ring again. With this familiar, trivial news out of the way, let’s talk about the important stuff – the commercials.

At around $3.5 million per advertisement, companies spent mountains of cash for 30 seconds of Super Bowl airtime. As expected, auto manufacturers engaged in an all-out branding war, creating almost a dozen car commercials this year.  A few were true marketing gems but all were entertaining.

In this blog, we’re giving these companies the attention they paid for by identifying what was great about many of this year’s Super Bowl car commercials!  Additionally, we discuss marketing lessons that auto dealers can learn from them:

The Gems

Chrysler – Halftime in America

Just before Madonna’s glamorously stilted halftime show, Chrysler unleashed its own multimillion-dollar baby – Clint Eastwood stars in a gruff, industrial portrait of Detroit rising from the ashes of the auto industry fallout. Despite the melodrama and Americana that are the hallmarks of so many bland auto commercials, Eastwood’s gravelly timbre combined with startlingly authentic emotion left America with the growing encouragement that yes, we do feel lucky, punk.

The takeaway for dealers: optimism sells, and sometimes this means more than having an American flag in your dealership’s logo. Chrysler’s ad is effective because it uplifts the audience, replacing mindless patriotism with an honest look at American hardship and resilience. Despite economic struggles, remember to stay positive – after all, it’s only halftime.

Honda – Matthew’s Day Off

Another movie star makes the difference for an auto manufacturer – Matthew Broderick reprises his role as Ferris Bueller from the 80’s classic film. The proof that this ad was successful is readily available – Honda’s retro ad garnered 18.4 million views before the Super Bowl even began!Honda reached almost as many fans on the web as they did during the game itself, proving that digital marketing is the new king of promotional tools.

The takeaway for dealers: go viral. If you have a great promotion, an entertaining video, or a magnetic personality, the best way to get exposure is to post a video online or start your social media campaign. Follow Honda’s example – make yourself heard!

The Entertaining

Audi – Daylight

If the new Hasbro movie Battleship isn’t evidence enough, the world is running out of original source material. In this spot, Audi hops on the sexy vampire bandwagon, well-travelled by hundreds of brands before it. As vampires party in the woods, one lone bloodsucker shows up in an Audi S7 and inadvertently slays his companions with the car model’s new “daylight” LEDs headlights. Yes, the ad walks on what some would call ‘tired ground,’ but the ad succeeds in entertaining and humorously demonstrating one of Audi’s innovative new features, daylight LED headlights!

The takeaway for dealers: features sell just as well as benefits. The more natural LED lighting is a definite bonus and just might convert skeptical luxury shoppers into an Audi evangelist (especially shoppers that hate the Twilight series).  Dealers should always try to drive your marketing messages towards the competitive advantage of your offerings and these days, the shopper wants as much bang for his buck.

But dealers, get with the times! Vampires are out, zombies are in.

Toyota – It’s Reinvented

The third quarter’s Toyota Camry ad was funny, clever, and entertaining.  Still, some may criticize that the ad has little to do with the Camry and never really explains exactly how it has been ‘reinvented.’  The same goes for Acura’s Seinfeld commercial, which was vaguely about a car but mostly about celebrity one-upsmanship…

The takeaway for dealers: Keep consumers entertained but also be transparent about your product.  It’s true that to sell something today, you have to captivate the consumer’s ever-dwindling attention span.  Yet, if you neglect to tell consumers about your product, they won’t buy it.   Therefore, dealers would be wise to seek a balance between focusing attention on engaging prospects and selling automobiles.  Anything else you provide is window dressing.

The Cute and the Crazy

Volkswagen – The Dog Strikes Back

There is nothing more American than self-esteem issues, and Volkswagen knocks it out of the park with its spot about a fat dog burning calories so it can run alongside the 2012 Beetle. With a cute animal, weight loss, and a James Brown soundtrack, how can you go wrong? Surprisingly, the last few seconds of the spot take an abrupt and random turn, hearkening back to last year’s popular Super Bowl ad featuring the Darth Vader baby.

The takeaway for dealers: Being cute works but it’s best to stick with one idea.  Volkswagen, you had me at cute dog!  Was it necessary to eat up so much screen time reminding me of what you did last year?  Either way, the ad effectively communicated the sentiment of the new beetle as a fun, hip car for healthy people (and dogs).  Selling a lifestyle is something that VW does really well.  So auto dealers, if you sell the lifestyle that comes with the car, you’ll always win.

Chevrolet – 2012

Chevy’s message this year was simple: as the oldest truck manufacturer in the world, its car models can outlast even the inevitable Mayan apocalypse. Battered refugees drive their dusty, dependable Silverados across a city’s ruined hellscape as Barry Manilow’s “Looks Like We Made It” comforts the survivors. The commercial is certainly funny, poignant and a sci fi film enthusiast’s dream, but Chevy might have gone too far by suggesting that those who drove Fords “didn’t make it.” In fact, Ford execs have officially taken offense to the ad.

The takeaway for dealers: lighthearted jabs at the competition are fun but can result in negative consequences (no matter how ridiculous or exaggerated the circumstances). It’s always best to focus on your dealership’s quality of vehicles and service. Remember that your goal is to sell as many vehicles as possible, which doesn’t necessarily mean “destroy the competition.”  Even though Chevy’s comment was hilariously facetious, being negative about competitors (especially with nasty politics polluting the airwaves on a regular basis) does little to build its brand.  It’s always best to stay positive and leave competitors out of the conversation.

As for GM, Global Chief Marketing Officer Joel Ewanick says that “we can wait until the world ends, and if we need to, we will apologize.  In the meantime, people who are really worried about the Mayan calendar coming true should buy a Silverado right away.”

Another takeaway – always maintain a sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously :)


Which Super Bowl ads did you like?   Tell us why in a comment below:


Lindsey Auguste
I liked the add with the floating self confidence head behind the gentlemen buying a car. Couldn't help but laugh. Here's a link:
Stephen Jackson
Lindsey, Thanks for the comment! That particular commercial with the floating appendage disturbs me to my core. I can't help but think of the Alien movie...
Tessa Wissler
As a Chrysler Dealer, of course, I am partial to our Super Bowl Ad. I felt that most of the other automotive ads did well too (just not as well as Chrysler of course). There was 1 ad though that bothered me in particular, from an allied industry...Carfax. Why, to sell their product, must they make us (their customers...let's be real, it's the dealers that pay them), look like a bunch of thieves, and cretins?
Chris Costner
Lindsey I laughed so hard at the "floating self confidence" spot and still do just thinking about it. Reminds me of a part in Men In Black where Johnny Knoxville has his coming out of the backpack. It did its job. I enjoyed the VW commercial as well and how it tied into last years hit with the "Little Vader" spot that was so huge. Kudos to Chrysler for hitting a home run and making America feel good all at the same moment in time. I found it touching. All in all I enjoyed the spots more than the game itself. Thanks for sharing Stephen and allowing us to relive that night once again. Who won anyway?
Lindsey Auguste
But he's totally jamming! haha :)

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