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Car Commercials That Engage

The automotive manufacturing sector’s global advertising and marketing expenditure is estimated to be in excess of 11 billion dollars annually. It is a major, if not crucially important source of creative output and revenue for many advertising agencies.

Impassionate Observer, or Engaged Viewer?

In this highly competitive marketing and advertising segment there are however, many automotive commercials that fail to engage viewer attention sufficiently for effective brand recall a few days later.

The reason is that they are usually filmed with the familiar technique of showing a helicopter view of a vehicle busy negotiating city labyrinths, mountain passes, or long stretches of open roads with panoramic vistas. The driver of the car is only occasionally, if ever identified.

Cinematically these commercials can be visually appealingly and dramatic, but more often than not, the lack of an emotive human angle makes them impersonal, devoid of personality and quickly forgotten.

The Motivating Human Angle

The important insight is that likeability or consumer choice of a particular automotive brand or model is a rational and emotional decision making process. For many people the rational equation outweighs the emotional but for just as many the reverse is true.

However, the one is not mutually exclusive of the other. It is this combination of thought about fit for purpose and intuitive preference that drives compelling and engaging automotive commercials that resonate with viewer affinity.

Here are some of my favourite automotive commercials that engaged me as a viewer.

1. VW Polo, Red Flashy Thingy

Advertising Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, Cape Town, South Africa

Brilliantly directed by Greg Gray with a great voice-over by narrator Bob Dunsworh and a superb cast, this meticulously crafted and skillfully paced commercial is very entertaining and makes for highly rewarding, multiple viewing.

2. Mercedes-Benz AMG Roadster, Easy Driver

Advertising Agency: Merkley + Partners, USA

The AMG technical laboratory and German engineering workshop for high performance engine modifications, was launched in the late sixties.

So too was a biker movie in the US called ‘Easy Rider’ that was produced by actor Peter Fonda. He also starred in the movie alongside a newcomer by the name of Jack Nicholson. ‘Easy Rider’ became the ultimate cult movie about the spirit of freedom and consequential love of the ‘open road’.

50 years later, these two totally unrelated events, have been commemorated and brought together with surprising relevancy. Directed by the Coen Brothers, the AMG Roadster commercial is an amusing parody that also features a cameo appearance by Peter Fonda, the originator of the ‘road movie’ film genre.

3. Peugeot 206, The Sculptor

Advertising Agency: Euro RSCG Worldwide, Milan

A young man in Jaipur India, after seeing a picture of a Peugeot 206, decides with typical entrepreneurial zeal that the country is so well known for, to convert his boxy car to look like the ultra cool 206.

Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen, the commercial won dozens of top International awards, and this year, on its twentieth anniversary, it is still being hailed as one of the best car commercials ever made. The music title is ‘Bhangra Knights’ which was specially composed for the commercial by Husan White.

4. Volkswagen Golf, Kids’ Dreams

Advertising Agency: Grabarz & Partner, Hamburg, Germany

Sebastian Strasser directed this bold initiative by the Agency and Volkswagen to feature the Golf’s safety features in a commercial that bravely highlights many of the highly desirable, super car brands and models that children dream of, and that are anything but a new Golf.

5. Audi, The Comeback

Advertising Agency: Razorfish, Berlin

A Tyrannosaurus Rex is the surprising focus of this touching, metaphoric narrative for Audi Piloted Driving. The commercial, directed by Stephan Wever, was made for the web and loved by many for telling a story instead of just showing a car.

The finding of joy after the depressingly long humiliation the T-Rex had to endure because of his short arms was an online hit and quickly went viral.

6. Kia Sorento, The Perfect Getaway

Advertising Agency: David&Goliath, Los Angeles USA

Multi-award winning Matthijs Van Heijningen directed this commercial about a film producer unpacking his proposal to James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan to star in a story about the perfect getaway vehicle.

What makes for rewarding viewing is that the dramatic firepower the actor envisioned, amusingly turns out to be fireworks of a romantic nature.

7. Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Sorry

Advertising Agency: Jung von Matt/Neckar, Stuttgart

This is a story about a driver who discovers to his surprise that he has suddenly acquired a rather grim passenger.
Superbly directed by Alex Fell, the E-Class Brake Assist commercial also has a surprise for Automotive Industry followers. Amusingly, the passenger playing the role of the Grim Reaper is ex VW boss Ferdinand Piëch.

8. Grand Basel, Idris Elba on What Gives Cars A Soul?

Advertising Agency: Jung von Matt/Limmat, Zurich, Switzerland

Directed by Elias Ressegatti, and filmed at Turin’s iconic Lingotto automobile factory in Italy, this commercial is about the world’s first exhibition of automotive masterpieces to be launched later this year in Basel.

The narrator is car enthusiast and award-winning actor Idris Elba who reveals his “lifelong obsession” with cars. He describes the characteristics that make cars masterpieces of automotive design and ponders on what the other characteristics are that give a car a soul?