The Super Bowl is a contest of advertisers as much as it is for two football teams seeking championship rings, the big trophy and bragging rights.
This year, twelve of the advertisers are from the auto sector: Chevrolet, Chrysler, BMW, Mini, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Hyundai, Kia, Suzuki, Cars.com and Bridgestone.
Why so many car related ads? 2011 is widely seen as a breakout year for the auto industry. In 2008 and 2009, sales fell below 11 million, about one-third less than the industry had been doing in the early part of the decade. Sales in 2010 were better and sales are forecasted to come back even stronger this year.
The slowly recovering economy has kept a lot of consumers out of the new car showrooms. But cars and trucks are getting older. The U.S. has seen a sales rate below the annual scrap rate for a few years now. The stock market is back to where it was before the 2008 economic meltdown. Unemployment is ticking down. Things are looking up.
"The Super Bowl is one of the few times a year that most of the country is gathered around a single event," says General Motors marketing chief Joel Ewanick, who bought five ads at $2.7-$3 million per to advertise Chevrolet models. Chrysler marketing chief Olivier Francois says, "There is no better place for a real coming out," referring to a slate of newly designed vehicles Chysler is releasing this year. Chrysler bought an unprecedented two-minute ad.
Continue reading and to see the rankings of the Top 10.
The game itself was between two teams of the heartland: The Steelers of Pittsburgh and the Packers of Green Bay; two teams from a swath of the country that has been so deeply scarred by the collapse of manufacturing – especially the loss of auto industry jobs.
In its ad, Chrysler tried to turn the perception of Detroit on its head for the rest of the country that likes to treat Detroit like the escaped con at the family reunion. And for that they get huge kudos.
Overall, the auto ads stacked up well against the Super Bowl commercial as a whole. But it was such a mediocre year, it's hard to celebrate the performance of a handful of good car ads. Here is my take on all the auto ads, ranking best to worst.
#1.Volkswagen Passat : The Force
This ad works and was a crowd pleaser before the game even started, mainly because it touches a pleasing note with people, especially the moms, dads and kids at which the ad is aimed. The ad also focuses on just one idea: make the kid feel great when the remote key starter fulfills his wish. It makes the viewer say, "Cool, is that standard?" And that's what you want, an ad that drives people to be curious and go on the web to learn more. Look for Passat searches to be way up this month.
#2 Chrysler: "Imported from Detroit"
Right ad. Wrong car. This is what I'm talking about, though. Chrysler took a huge chance and creative risk. Just when most of the country is trashing Detroit, Chrysler buys a two-minute spot, unheard of at the Super Bowl, to run an ad shot just within the last two weeks around Detroit showing the city and where real cars come from. Eminem, Detroit's favorite son these days, delivers the message. The ad also launches a new tagline for Chrysler: "Imported from Detroit." My only beef is that the ad should have been for the Chrysler 300 sedan, not the 200, which is a refreshed and renamed Chrysler Sebring. None of the early reviews for the 200 has been very positive, mainly because you can only fix so much with just a refresh rather than starting over with an entirely new platform. The 300, meantime, has to apologize for nothing. I would have named this ad #1 if they had used the 300C.
#3 Chevy "Status"
I'm going to get killed for ranking this ad so high. And frankly, I wish that Chevy and agency Goodby Silverstein had used the situation in the ad to be funny. Instead, they went for shmaltz. What I like about the ad is that it focused on one single idea that people would be interested in, and told it well. But, I would have gone for funny.
#4 Audi "Release The Hounds."
The actual ad that ran in the Super Bowl was just okay. The longer form videos that can be watched on YouTube are better. Audi is really pushing this idea that its cars are somehow more "progressive" than ones sold by BMW and Mercedes-Benz. I am a little dubious when an advertiser keeps calling out its competition, but I like the effort to tell a big story in the big game.
#5 BMW "Ch..changes"
For the second year in a row, a German automaker is using the biggest TV audience of the year to push clean diesel. My living room really liked this ad. At first, I questioned the choice of showing old, bad diesel images, but maybe you have to do that to get the message across that today's diesels, at least from the Germans, rock!
#6 Bridgestone "Reply All."
I really liked the fact that Bridgestone and ad agency The Richards Group went for one of those everyday workplace terrors (hitting the "Reply All" when you didn't mean to) to tell a story. I admit, though, that I was so taken with the ad story that I had to watch it twice to see how it tied into tires.
#7 VW "Black Beetle."
It's very bold advertising a car that won't arrive until fall. The ad had my attention, and showed some effort. I still think, however, they should have played off the original Beetle heritage for this ad in front of such a big audience.
#8 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid "Anachronistic City"
This ad shows some effort. I like the strong visual jokes like the huge cellphone and the turntable around the stoner's neck. Looks good in a weak year.
#9 Mercedes-Benz: "Welcome To The Family."
This is one of those ads that works better in longer form on the web. But the sight of all the fabulous Mercedes-Benz vehicles from decades back is a nice sight indeed. The P Diddy joke at the end is kind of cheap, but we like the Janis Joplin track.
#10 Chevy Camaro "Dude."
This was about two guys ruminating over a Camaro ad they would like to make. I like it because it taps into what what ad fans talk about during the game. The ad itself is kinda cool, showing some nice visuals for a hot car. I have to admit the one shot of the car going off the parking structure roof and appearing to head for the building gave me the creeps, but still a good ad to bring up the rear on a top-ten.
The Misc. and The Rest.....
I like ads that tell stories, and critters work in the big game. Tire advertising is really hard to pull off in a way that ties back to the product. I'm not sure Bridgestone is pulling that off, but I do like the quality of the creative.
BMW X3 "Designed in America"
I gotta say, playing up the fact that all the X3s are built in South Carolina doesn't seem like a great ad message to me for a BMW. BMWs are different from other vehicles. They feel and drive different. And yet, it seems like they keep trying to walk away from that with stuff about "Joy" and "Made In America." Stop the Madness. Show me your Bimmer stones.
What I like about this ad is the surprise of the Transformers gimmick in the midst of an apparent dealer ad. Nice execution on the special effects, too, while maintaining the video-look of the dealer ad.
So earnest. Just not very interesting ad for a car that has so many possibilities for good storytelling in front of a big audience.
Kia "One Epic Ride"
This ad is just overwrought. Lots of graphic effects. Blah blah blah. Too much flash and not enough coherence.
There was a good idea here for an ad that just didn't happen in a thirty-second ad.
Call me "old school." I just don't like going for a cheap laugh in a senior living facility.
Hypnotized is right. Snooze. The ad in this series that ran two weeks earlier, showing the sheep driving the car, should have been the Super Bowl ad.
Suzuki "Wicked Weather"
Not only is this not a new ad, but yikes, it's not very interesting for all the special effects. The Kizashi is a terribly named terrific car marketed by a company that can't get out of its own way.
Mini: "Cram It In The Boot"
This ad for the Countryman plays on an imaginary Brit game-show to show how much the big Mini can hold. This was the best ad to come out of the brainstorming meeting?
David Kiley is an award-winning journalist, and has long specialized in writing about marketing. He writes on autos and marketing for Autoblog, AOL Autos and Advertising Age. He has also worked for three ad agencies in his career, working on car accounts. He has been critiquing and ranking Super Bowl ads for 20 years.