The ad Chrysler chose to run in the Super Bowl half-time show was a salute to U.S. veterans, a TV spot that was co-sponsored by the USO. Narrated by Oprah Winfrey, the two-minute ad was poetic and moving, scenes of homeland -- homes, dinner tables, playgrounds, bedsides -- all waiting for veterans for return home. There is a few scant shots of a Jeep Wrangler in the ad. And a closing line we liked very much: "The best of what we're made of."
In the 2012 Super Bowl, Chrysler was the most talked about advertiser, choosing iconic actor Clint Eastwood to give a half-time pep-talk to the country about "the second half being better." Political pundits, bloggers, tweeters all thought Chrysler was alluding to a second term for President Obama. Controversy pushed chatter about the ad for a week after the game. Why the connection? Chrysler, of course, benefited from an Obama-led tax-payer bailout of the automaker in 2009. The year before, Chrysler surprised the country with a two-minute anthem, to Detroit, led by hip-hop artist Eminem who lent his "Lose Yourself" to the ad, and appeared in it himself.
There will be no controversy around this year's Jeep/USO salute to veterans, at least we hope not. Some, though, may question the issue of whether Jeep leaned on veterans to get a message about its brand across. Even so, it was the best of the car ads in an otherwise weak year.
Runner up for best ad goes to Mercedes-Benz for its "Soul" ad in which a young man if offered a deal by the devil, played by actor Willem Dafoe, to get all the trappings of wealth -- magazine covers, model-girlfriends, and a ripping fast Mercedes-Benz -- in exchange for his soul. But as he sees a billboard go up for the all-new Mercedes CLA with a starting price of just under $29,900, he turns down the devil. "I got this," he says as he sees the affordable price. Besides Dafoe, the ad features Kate Upton and Usher. Mercedes got the use of celebrity down just right, something a lot of advertisers get wrong in the big game.
Hyundai "Pick Your Team"
Showing in our competition is Hyundai's ad, "Pick Your Team." We like the real life situation of a group of tough kids taking a smaller kid's football and refusing to give it back. They tell the kid to go get a team up if he has the nerve. He does. Our hero goes out and finds some ordinary kids doing extraordinary things: wrestling bears, lifting barbells, rescuing people from a fire, welding. We also like that his mother, looking as determined as he is, drives him around in the all new Santa Fe to round the team up. The story really connected to the product.
Subaru chose the Puppy Bowl, not the Super Bowl, to air its big commercials. The ads, which showed dogs driving and said, "When you sit, you'll stay" were cute and aimed precisely at the consumers Subaru is trying to hit: Parents with children. All that for about a quarter the cost of the $3.5 million 30-second Super Bowl ads.
Ram Future Farmers
Chrysler waited until the fourth quarter to run another two-minute ad, this one for the Ram. As is usually the case with a Chrysler Super Bowl ad these days, it was highly unusual and arresting. No fancy special effects. It was simply a radio recording of the late radio icon Paul Harvey waxing, including drawing on scripture, about what it takes to be a a farmer. The recording ran against a slide show of photographs of farm families. "So, God made a farmer."
Both ads from Chrysler were moving and meant to draw on the emotions of people -- first veterans and then farmers. Both ads show how artful ad makers can take messages and images that draw on our sense of patriotism, country and family without being jingoistic. And we love that this ad looked and sounded like no other.
The rest of the car ads were pretty much tied for also-rans.
Hyundai once again was the biggest in-game sponsor in terms of number of ads run. To promote the new seven-passenger Santa Fe crossover, Hyundai depicted an "epic play date" that includes a family hanging with a rock band, creating mischief in a natural history museum by going into the exhibits, out-driving a pack of motorcyclists, skateboarding in a half-pipe. Hyundai also had a cute, if forgettable, 30-second ad for the Genesis R Spec, a performance version of the luxury sedan in which the car is zipping around a race-track, egged on by a voiceover of a zealous fan as if the car is a running back zigging and zagging down the field.
Audi went with a familiar story line -- product as hero, transforming an ordinary or geeky boy into a romantic hero. We've seen Pepsi play around with this idea in past years. In Audi's "Prom," the kid who goes to the prom stag winds up with the coolest girl at the dance, boosted because his Dad let him drive his Audi.
Toyota opted to promote its RAV4 crossover with an ad that payed off the old "Genie-grants-a-wish" idea featuring family members that all get their wishes granted -- to be a princess, to be an astronaut, that animals could talk, that I could eat as much chocolate as I want, that I could get rid of a spare tire (waistline).
Volkswagen's "Get Happy" ad in which a white office worker from Minnesota tries to jazz up the atmosphere in his office by talking in a Jamaican patois, "No problem, mon," drew catcalls from a few social and ad critics last week charging racism. Neither the Jamaican Tourism Authority, nor two leading Caribbean culture authorities agreed with the critics. Turns out to be one of the bigger smiles of an otherwise dishwater year for car ads.
Lincoln had an epic failure with its much hyped Super Bowls ad that was inspired by people tweeting real-life road trip stories for the past couple of months. It was an idea in which Lincoln enlisted late-night TV show host Jimmy Fallon to curate the stories. Something terrible went wrong between idea and execution, because this ad just seemed weird -- like a 60-year old uncle that shows up at party where everybody else is under 20. The "story" was about a woman who picked up a German hitchhiker and ran into a movie shoot, turtles crossing the road and a pack of bikers. The automaker ended up running a shortened version of the ad, plus a regular old ad in the first half that was more in line with the image Lincoln should be projecting.
Kia turned in a workman-like effort with an ad for the Sorento crossover in which a father is making up a story about where babies come from. The story gets visualized as he spins a yarn about babies coming from space. It's nice, will appeal to young families, probably cost a lot to make and was a safe piece of story-telling for the big game. The second ad was for the Forte, a less successful ad in which a geek at an auto show gets beaten by a girl-bot at the Kia stand after he kicks the tire.