AdSpotting Super Bowl Edition: Grading the Ads

Just like Super Bowl XLVI had to have a winner and a loser, so do the commercials. We've assembled every car commercial that aired during the big game after the jump, along with a poll allowing you to vote on your favorite.

To help you decide, we've graded the ads based on the opinions of our own AOL Autos Editor-in-Chief David Kiley. Having been marketing editor at BusinessWeek, an Adweek and Advertising Age columnist and reporter, and an ad executive at three agencies that worked on Mercedes-Benz, Mazda and Cadillac accounts, Kiley's judgment counts more than most in this sort of discussion.

Follow the jump to review our report card and vote for your favorite Super Bowl car commercial in our poll. The automakers are listening, so use your vote to tell them the ad you liked most, and just maybe you'll see more like it next year.


The Agency: RPA

The Good: Excellent use of a celebrity. Though jowlier than when he went off the air in 1998, Jerry Seinfeld shows in this ad that he remains in full possession of the lasting cultural value of his show and characters. His timing and line delivery is still impeccable. Cameo by the Soup Nazi is a nice touch. And the creators did well to keep the story line simple – Jerry wants to buy the first Acura NSX and tries to convince the guy who beat him to it to give it up. The cameo by Jay Leno, well known for being an even bigger car collector than Seinfeld, worked really well. Entertaining from beginning to end unless the viewer didn't watch Seinfeld. This ad is so good that it makes us wonder if Seinfeld and his people did most or all of the writing.

The Bad: Comments from readers show some criticism about not showing the actual car more, but that seems a bit besides the point in a Super Bowl ad. An ad like this is meant to drive people to the website to check out the NSX. Very few people will buy this sports car, but it might help to ignite a little interest in Acura's lineup as a whole.

The Grade: A+

"Vampire Party"

The Agency: Venables Bell & Partners

The Good: There is a story here, and actual stories make the best ads, especially on Super Bowl Sunday. It takes advantage of the current and odd U.S. cultural fascination with vampires.

The Bad: The story hinges on and features the power of the LED headlamps. We wonder how many people will think it odd to hang a Super Bowl ad on headlamps alone. Audi is an up and coming brand in the luxury space, with vehicles that the press has a crush on. We're not sure this ad really seizes the day.

The Grade: B-

"Green Hell"

The Agency: Fallon Worldwide

The Good: There is consistency with the ongoing campaign Cadillac has been running for the launch of the ATS – that General Motors went to Germany to develop and test the ATS to benchmark the BMW 3 Series.

The Bad: This is just an ad buy. Cadillac nor the agency seized the opportunity to stand out and make a special statement about its brand or this product. It doesn't feel special. By all accounts, this is a special, hugely important car for Cadillac. Why just bring the ad equivalent of a bag of potato chips? Also, we notice that a Caddy ad refers to the 3 Series as "The World's Best." We thought Cadillac was "the New Standard of the World."

The Grade: C

"Happy Grad"

Agency: MOFILM

The Good: Lots of energy in this ad, which was sourced through a contest rather than being created by one of its regular ad agencies. We can almost hear some of the high-salaried ad writers sniffing contempt over this ad being too slapstick. But it is probably the best of GM's Super Bowl offerings.

The Bad: Not much to complain about here. It's nice to see a young person go so berserk over a Detroit car.

The Grade: A


The Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners

The Good: A good story about how a Chevy, pitched as the most durable, long-lasting pickup truck, survived the Mayan Apocalypse. Anybody in a Chevy truck also survived. That Twinkies also survived is a pretty good gag, too.

The Bad: The suggestion that their one friend who was a Ford truck owner did not survive is necessary for the joke. But there is something that seems about five degrees off when the guy says their friend didn't make it because he was in a Ford. We think it would have been better if they had just shown some Ford F150s reduced to smouldering scrap-metal. We also disliked last year's ad that made fun of elderly people in an assisted living home. Feels like the same creative team worked on this ad.

The Grade: B

"Stunt Anthem"

The Agency:

The Good: Lots of cool moves with a Chevy Sonic. We like the personification of the car, suggesting a video scrapbook of the car like you would create for a child. The stunts, chronicled at the Sonic website, include first music video, first bungee jump, first skydive, etc.

The Bad: Not much bad here. It's a feel-good spot, though one that will probably just score in the middle of the pack in the various ad ratings.

The Grade: B+


Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners

The Good: The Chevy Volt is a vehicle that deserves more imaginative and inspiring advertising. The car is good. The messaging needs work.

The Bad: Ads with aliens seldom work. This ad feels like it went through 20 script rewrites. GM is spending a lot of money advertising The Volt. Generally speaking, we are fans of the car and the technology, which is a good solution for a lot of drivers. But the ads need a more potent combination of information and passion.

The Grade: C-

"OK Go Needing/Getting"

The Agency: Goodby Silverstein and Partners

The Good: The full length video is very good and a lot of fun. It astonishingly set up over 1000 instruments over two miles of desert outside Los Angeles. The band recorded this version of Needing/Getting, singing as they played the instrument array with the car. The video took 4 months of preparation and 4 days of shooting and recording.

The Bad: Have to watch the full length video to really get and appreciate it. But it's well worth it when you do.

Overall Grade: A

"Halftime in America"

Agency: Wieden & Kennedy

The Good: We love that Chrysler is taking chances, real chances with its ads. Last year's ad featuring Eminem was a game-changer and made a hash of all the ads Chevy put on. This ad takes a chance, too.

The Bad: It doesn't work very well. Clint Eastwood is iconic, but he also seems to be barely breathing. Not a good metaphor for Detroit. We get that it is ironic to use Eastwood, the star of Gran Torino, the film about that starred Detroit's urban decay as much as it did Eastwood. But the writing here is not uplifting. It's poetic maybe in the way that a Whitman verse describes Civil War remains found in a farm field five years after Appomattox. But it does not lift. This is, at the end of the day and the frightful amount of money Chrysler spent to run it, an ad meant to do something positive for Chrysler and the image of Detroit. This was a big swing for the fences, which we like. But it was a miss.

The Grade: B-


The Agency: The Richards Group

The Good: The ad is funny if using a familiar formula of juxtaposing the geeky guy and the gorgeous model. Payoff at the end works well with the Italian beauty turning into the Fiat Abarth.

The Bad: Not much not to like here. The latte foam on the model's chest pushes the envelope a bit, but it works.

The Grade: B+

"Matthew's Day Off"

The Agency: RPA

The Good: A pretty strong idea for using a celebrity and the borrowed interest of an iconic film.

The Bad: Matthew Broderick is not holding up well to reprise the role of Ferris Bueller. We wonder if it would have been a better idea to parody the film with new situations more appropriate to a middle-aged man, rather than re-creating the scenes from the original. Cameos from some of the other original cast members would have been funny as well.

The Grade: A-

"Think Fast"

Agency: Innocean

The Good: Tough one. We like the car, but aren't quite sure what the take-away is supposed to be here. The young guy driving performs a Heimlich or CPR move by quickly accelerating and reversing. Oooookay.

The Bad: Weak story. Feels like the creatives fell in love with one idea to revive a guy with the car, but the execution is lacking.

The Grade: C


Agency: Innocean

The Good: Bit of a formula gag for a Super Bowl ad, and that is not always a bad thing. There is a kind of humor that seems to work best in the big game. Veloster being too much for the Cheetah is a decent gag. The guy being mauled by the Cheetah will play well with the beer and chips guys.

The Bad: Not much not to like here.

The Grade: B

"All For One"

The Agency: Innocean

The Good: The Rocky theme is always good, though some may find it overused at this point. Involving real employees from the plant is always a crapshoot. It can result in ads that make employees feel good, and bore everyone else. But this ad works, and does a decent job of conveying the idea of a lot of people, Americans, behind Hyundais.

The Bad: Not much not to like here.

The Grade: B+

"A Dream Car. For Real Life."

The Agency: David and Goliath

The Good: Strong story about a couple dreaming after the Sandman sprinkles dust on them. The husband gets too heavy a dose of dream dust and his fantasies run to driving an Optima? Okay. We like the way the dream concludes in the end with the husband vanquishing his wife's dream man. Feel good.

The Bad: Not much not to like here.

The Grade: A-

"The Beast"

Agency: Team One

The Good: We are still wondering.

The Bad: Leaves us cold. Brrrrr.

The Grade: D


The Agency: Siltanen & Partners

The Good: Super Bowl watchers generally love dogs.

The Bad: Pretty predictable story for one of the best cars on the market that almost nobody seems to care about.

The Grade: B

"It's Reinvented!"

The Agency: Saatchi and Saatchi

The Good: The Camry has been both the best-selling car in America, as well as the world's most boring car. This ad, showing a series of re-invented things, is both funny and engaging and we predict it will score well on various ad rankings. Pizza drapes in particular were funny. The massaging cop was a tad creepy.

The Bad: Not much not to like here.

The Grade: A-

"Bark Side"

The Agency: Deutsch/LA

The Good: The first part of the ad reminds us of a Budweiser ad with Clydesdales or Dalmatians, or both. It's a heartwarming story of a dog getting in shape to chase after the new Beetle. The back end of the ad, which brings back the kid-as-Darth Vader character in last year's VW Super Bowl ad, rated by many critics as the best ad of the game and one of the best ads of the year, is a decent idea to build off the success of last year.

The Bad: Sequels are tricky. Many will say, "Eh ... not as good as last year's."

The Grade: A-

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