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Super Bowl Ads: Automakers Bring Their A-Games

  • February 4, 2008
  • The Car Biz
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At any given Super Bowl party, half the guests are there with no intention of paying attention to the game. For them, it’s all about the commercial breaks. And rightly so — Super Bowl advertising sets the tone for the rest of the year and provides fodder for water coolers, USA Today and countless blogs for the rest of the week.
Everyone always remembers the big productions rolled out by beer companies and junk food manufacturers, but I was wondering whether car companies could step up and play with the big boys. After all, Hyundai and Audi were back in the big game after long absences, and mainstays GM and Toyota had to show they’ve still got the mojo to justify paying upwards of $3 million for 30 seconds of airtime.
Now, I’m no math genius, but that’s…a lot of money per second. Was it worth it? Let’s see.
Editor’s Note: Katrina Ohlemacher (that’s “OH leh maker”) is the newest member of AutoPacific’s Industry Analysis team in Southfield, MI. As you can tell, she brings a unique perspective to the subject of Super Bowl Ads. Refreshing and irreverent.

Audi R8

Luxury is what the say they’re selling, but they presented an air of menace and aggression that I associate with sports cars. Indeed, I’d be hard-pressed to call the R8 anything other than a sports car. Of course, the people with the disposable income to drop $110,000-$120,000 on the R8 are boomers, and they want a heaping helping of sports in their luxury to convince themselves they can fire up all eight turbocharged cylinders and zoom away from the icy scythe of death. Good times!
Gen-Y bitterness aside, this was good work from Audi. They took advantage of primo real estate in the first commercial break after kickoff. More people watch that break than watch the kickoff itself. They no doubt drew extra attention by taking advantage of their full 60 seconds to build the Godfather atmosphere. This comes right after a lackluster 30-second Bud Light spot. (I think we as a nation deserve more in leadoff Super Bowl commercial than a ripoff of an old Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich ad.) Audi wins this short but very important break.
Toyota Corolla

I got two messages from this ad:
1) The Corolla has a quiet passenger cabin.
2) People who don’t answer their cell phones promptly should have their faces chewed off by angry badgers.
Well played, Toyota.
As for the rest of this spot, it’s like the staff at Daddy Warbucks’ house got fed up with their life of cheerful servitude and constant musical numbers and decided to take revenge on the Corolla-driving bourgeoisie. The cannons bear me out here — the revolution has come, and it has been televised.
GMC Yukon

I knew there would be at least one of these tonight: an arty, think-piece of an ad that takes its full running time to get over itself and tell us what it’s selling. There’s a great message in here (Significantly lower city gas mileage on a monster-sized SUV!) but everyone missed it because they left the living room to get another beer as soon as the squigglevision pen-and-ink animation started up. Yes, it’s squigglevision pen-and-ink animation by Academy-Award nominee Marcell Jankovics, but I think the significance is lost on most of us.
Also, that’s quite a political move, slyly bringing up the myth of Sisyphus in your hybrid-SUV ad during an election year when candidates are pressing for updated CAFE standards. Why not just put up 60 seconds of title cards: “We know you want better average mileage. That would be really hard, though. And it would probably be a big waste of time, because by the time we get that done, you’re just going to want something else from us. Feh. Here’s your damn hybrid.”
Am I reading too much into this? Maybe, but I bet my old sociology and literature professors are proud of me.
Hyundai Genesis No. 1

I think it’s too early to start spoofing the “staid car commercial” format in Super Bowl advertising. Admittedly, I’ve not been a hawk-eyed observer of the art form (at least not before I started working here), but it seems like it’s only been in the past couple of years that automakers have really gotten into the spirit of fun, attention-grabbing Super Bowl ads. We’re not so far removed from the straight-faced Super Bowl launch of the ill-starred Chevy SSR. And lord, we know GM was trying last year with the “Robot” ad. Remember him? I understand it was considered funny in some parts of the world, but here in the Detroit area where folks have spent about 30 years losing jobs to that stupid robot, we weren’t inclined to be sympathetic when it decided to end its own miserable mechanical life.
But I digress. Look, Hyundai. This is the one day of the year when viewers are actually looking forward to the big twist. It’s International Ad Cliche Day, when we celebrate that kind of thing. Viewers are primed to talk about your twist at water coolers and on message boards on Monday, and by invoking the twist but failing to employ it, you’ve consigned yourselves to scuttlebutt oblivion. I declare your meta-twist too clever by half; you have beaten yourselves at your own game.
Toyota Sequoia

Suddenly, I’m sort of wishing some of my friends were mature enough to have joined the kids-and-giant-SUV set, just so we could grab some Big Wheels and become dangers to ourselves and others. There’s a point about halfway through this ad where it looks like a grown man is going to turn a 12-year-old girl into street pizza. I’d feel bad if that actually happened, but everything else about the ride down the hill would be super sweet.
Toyota’s done a good job of balancing its ad card tonight. The “Corollas contain angry badgers” ad in the first half caught the attention of the edgy types who watch the Super Bowl for the ads in an Alanis Morisette-style “ironic” fashion, and this ad, coming in the fourth quarter, catches the eye of the people who are uncool enough to stick with the game for the game’s sake, but who are cool enough to hijack their kids’ toys and disrupt traffic. (Man, that looks like so much fun.) Good job, Toyota.
Hyundai Genesis No. 2

Hyundai, it’s like you’re not even listening to me. I just said, it’s not about what the ad report cards say, or what your competitors say, it’s what people are saying the day after the game. You’ve given them nothing to talk about.
There were rumors swirling for a while that Hyundai was going to drop the Super Bowl slots they’d paid so much for. Was it worth it to keep the spots and run this filler material? Granted, there’s less emphasis on punchy, outrageous ads this late in the game, but this was a great opportunity to be the second-half standout. Genesis is meant to be Hyundai’s new flagship, and its launch feels inauspicious to me.

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