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BLOG: What’s the best car ad?

28 June 2012

We recently received a nostalgic letter from a reader about manufacturer’s ploys to sell cars in the fities.

Clever adverts aside, he talked specifically of the jargon used in car ads, on spec sheets and by dealerships.

The idea was dual – to create excitement and confusion. The product seemed simultaneously exclusive and confusing – hiding the monotonous fact that most of these revolutionary inventions weren’t all that exclusive. He says:


The Studebaker lark, for example, came with “swing easy” doors. Imagine that!Another hot number had the equa-poise engine, with “equa-flow” cooling, coupled to a “deep-breath” manifold. Imagine what that would be, compared to a shallow breath manifold, or even worse – a breathless one! One sedan had“hydra-coil springs” in front and “para-flex springs” at the back. It almost sounded as though you’d be driving a Sealy Posturepedic! There were “gyrol” drives and electromatic drives; venitports and durex bearings (the latter branched into Latex long after this). One brand of car had road-rite balance, duomatic spark advance and permi-form steering – now that was a car!

While the whole exercise seems a little insulting now, you can’t help but wonder where the creativity went. Playing in digital playground, social media campaigns and ads have become the sole focus of many a company. That did, however, get me to thinking about the ads we’ve seen lately. The recent Nandos vs Santam spar was nothing short of brilliant – though I’m still not entirely convinced both companies weren’t in on it.  So, here’s my list of awesome car ads. Feel free to ad your voice to the pile!




You can’t have a list of awesome car ads without this one – the Volkswagen Dart Vader ad. Granted, it went a bit viral and overloaded our media, which took a lot away from the brilliance of the concept. Not only was it talked about for weeks, it set off a series of spoofs, least of which are these greenpeace videos and a second superbowl special by the company itself. There was a spinoff by Target, it was remade countless times as a home video, and the kid was even dramatically unveiled on American tele (he’s also very cute).


PS. The VW skydiver ad was also pretty hot.


  • Schumacher vs Rosberg

There were a couple of these, but this one of the pregnant woman debating who is taking her to the hospital is classic. Here’s one that has

Häkkinen in it, about egos and sizes of things. Mercedes has been in the spotlight for a risque ad, which I thought was exceptional – “Not in this weather” (PG rating on this one, gents). Possibly my favourite ever.


The Afrikaans FJ Cruiser ad is a real gem – whether you’re Afrikaans or not. If you’re not South African, however, I doubt that you’ll get it (sorry). My favourite is the last line: “Jou pa se four by four

PS. There’s a pretty sexy FJ ad in English, too.


  • Fiat

Fiat are just awesome. Most recently, the stunning Catrinel Menghia features in the Abarth advert. You may also remember the string of Fiat Palio adverts from years ago – “A cup of tea is NICE!” and the annoying cyclist who gets what’s coming to him. Timeless.


Terry Grant, world famous stunt driver, took to Alfa’s MiTo Quadrifoglio Verde in a World Records Academy attempt. How’d they do it? They put coloured balloons on a wet skid pad, arranged to look like the Alfa Romeo badge. The result? 2734 balloons popped, a new world record and a very cool video.

P.S. I interviewed Grant once. The answer is yes, he truly is as mad as a hatter. The man will try anything behind the wheel of a car.


In the VW Polo ad is just awesome. I love how it quivers.




EXTRAs: Creative social media campaigns:


  • Date Drive – Polo Gti

Not quite our type of car – although undoubtedly a fantastic little thing – this social media campaign is my favourite so far. After applying, via various media (radio, blogs etc) to be one of the date-drivers, individuals received the Polo Gti under the premise that they would take it on a date. It’s creative, it’s engaging, and it takes something relatively mundane and turns it into something fun and talked about. Check out what the spin doctors did with the campaign afterwards, here.


  • Facebook flipbook – Amarok

Volkswagen has posted this ‘Flipbook’ on their Facebook page. The idea, although underutilized, is to revisit the simple flipbook concept as an album. When you scroll through the images, the Amarok (as with the Mini below) moves through a virtual world. They could have done a lot more within the virtual world – it’s just a loop of the car driving on road, off road, ramping, through water – but it still offers much more than the average Facebook page does.


  • Twitter Mini

Do you remember the text-teddy bears? When cellphones first came to our fine country, you’d be bombarded daily by smses filled with punctuation which, when received on the correct phone, would look like a teddy bear. Or a Christmas tree. Or an Easter Bunny. The folks at Mini were, apparently, quite bored, and created this gem. It works on the same principle – a string of tweets use punctuation to create the effect of a Mini driving through a town. It’s a novel idea – at least it’s creative and has a nostalgia factor – but it doesn’t work very well. Watch the video here rather to see what it’s meant to look like.


PS Is the digital world too overwhelming? Are marketing teams frazzled by the task of catching up to the new generation so much that they struggle to be original and creative within it? Granted, no idea is truly original – but the possibilities within the digital framework allow for so much more than a Facebook Flipbook or a Twitter sms-type stream. The Date Drive idea was great.