Top Picks: Best Auto Marketing of the Past Year (or two)

Volvo Trucks Commercial - Jean Claude Van Damme

Written by: Steven Bochenek

Most sane people will tell you they hate advertising but what they really mean is they hate bad advertising and 99 percent of the time that’s the same thing. Let’s look into the 1 percent. Some of these were actually done in 2012 but were celebrated in 2013 and ‘14 at international award shows.

Let’s also go beyond the television because 1) people only watch TV commercials on Superbowl Sunday (though we don’t even get them in Canada) and 2) advertising is as ubiquitous as good advertising isn’t. But just because it’s so much easier to watch a TV ad, let’s start there.

 

Tear-jerking virality, attaching trucks to massive American iconography

This gut-wrenching paean to farmers, crucial customers for truck manufacturers, was first broadcast during last year’s Superbowl.

Farmers? That’s a pretty narrow audience (according to EPA stats, less than 1 percent of the population). However, according to AdWeek magazine this was shared 1.88 million times. And if this touching tribute is at all true, it wasn’t farmers doing that sharing. They don’t have the time. Note the spots careful and beautiful super, bringing it home: “To the farmer in all of us.”

 

Winner for interactive — it’s got zombies, what’s not to love?

Let’s gradually ease ourselves away from traditional TV, step by step. Offering users a virtual chop shop where they build their survival machine, this website links the Hyundai brand with that zeitgeist-capturing ‘viral’ TV show, The Walking Dead. When one brand attaches itself to another, marketers call it the halo effect, although we don’t know of any zombies who’ve gone on to become saints or angels. (Holy business idea, marketers!)

The Walking Dead Chop Shop

 

Runner-up, interactive — Piggybacking Google Street Views

The PickMyElantra.com website from Hyundai was smart. Driveway Decision Maker let users virtually drive any of the three Elantra trims home: Sedan, Coupe and GT.

Yes, home. You enter your address and it mixes recorded video with local street maps and Google Street Views to have the car ultimately arrive at your address. It’s a runner-up because, clever as it is, the software’s very finicky and can take several seconds to process data. It seems any waiting at all these days is too much. Furthermore, the app seems to be solving a problem you probably don’t have: letting you ‘drive’ all three to your home. Unfortunately, the site is no longer functional, so you’ll just have to picture it.

Finally, Arcade Fire’s Wilderness Downtown video did pretty much the same thing. You’d type in your childhood address and, during the song, a kid runs through streets then onto yours, completing the song at your residence. It came out three years earlier (although it’s even more finicky and rarely works at all). Still the experience is a real kick and here because it makes users the centre of the story, which people love.

 

Smart ambient marketing — making their own street views

In late 2012, the BMW i tour visited big cities around the world, mainly to show off the concept BMW i3 and i8 cars.

The cars wouldn’t be available for a year or two but the manufacturers wanted to demonstrate (their vision of) the very near future of traffic. Using live cameras they recorded actual traffic passing along 6th Avenue, and converted nearly all of it into i concept cars, then broadcast it back, in real-time, on the glass wall outside of where they were staging the larger event. Passersby and taxis didn’t change, though, so the effect was utterly real.

 

Revenge: Jeff Gordon takes his schtick into a taxi and schticks it to an auto writer

His Wiki intro says Jeffrey Michael “Jeff” Gordon. You wouldn’t expect a guy whose nickname moves Jeffery to the cryptic “Jeff” to be much good at disguise. You’d be wrong.

Remember last year, the NASCAR hero posed as a nerdy minivan who worries a Camaro is too much car for him, then pranks a hapless sales guy who nearly has a stroke during a test drive? Auto writer Travis Okulski called the stunt a fake. That turned out to be a bit of a mistake because Gordon and his well-funded sponsors decided to prove the stunt’s veracity, pranking Okulski this time. The following schtick happened just two months ago. Expect to see it in awards shows next year.

(Incidentally, if you wonder whether the marketing dweeb in me thought that was good advertising, he does. Unlike many cases of hilarious hijinks that leave you saying ‘That was cool, what was the ad selling?”, these spots end with a simple super attaching relevance, bringing the whole thing home: “A zero-calorie cola in disguise.” Perfect.)

 

Making technology relevant and even beautiful

This may be my favourite of the batch for its sheer inventiveness. The message: Honda’s Internavitelemetry system collects and delivers heaping adult portions of driving data really, really fast. Initially the system was used for Honda’s F1 team and it recorded Ayrton Senna’s record-setting lap in 1989.

To make a technology visceral — indeed to make any product or service exciting — you need to connect with people emotionally. Tech can be quite cold. This ad demonstrates the exceptional data collection and delivery capabilities of this tech, though, with marvelous storytelling. They recreated Senna’s lap at Japan’s Suzuka track with everything except Senna and his car. Genius!

It’s easy to find video of the actual lap shot from Senna’s onboard camera (a sort of GoPro Proto). This is just as exciting.

 

Something from Canada

If you don’t speak French, perfect! This ad for Quebec’s provincial auto insurance corporation is a great example of how truly good advertising tells a story without having to say too much. It’s short, but you’ll get what’s going on very quickly. NB: click on the play buttons on this page to view the ads.

Now, please put away the phone and enjoy your drive instead.

 

All-in-one ads rarely work, but this turns the convention on its head

Back to English. This commercial’s raison d’etre is ambitious: show Honda’s history. Yikes! The result could have been tedious or, worse, all over the place. To solve the second issue, they anchored the whole ad into one seeming single shot, looking down at a pair of hands. Visually, you’re singularly focused. So you have mental space to talk about multiple subjects in the story.

But that only maximized the first issue. How do you not make it boring if you’re giving a history lesson about yourself? Enjoy how masterfully they solved it.

 

Of course, you’ve probably seen Jean-Claude Van Damme but…

This is so good. It’s a brilliant demonstration of the stability and precise refinement of the Volvo FM truck’s Dynamic Steering, Van Damme did the splits while two FMs reversed in time. The driving is almost balletic, but the real dancer’s grace is all JCVD’s. Still, you can’t watch it without marveling at how accurate the steering must be: product as problem-solving hero.

Supremely planned and executed, this spot was shot at sunrise in a single take. We can only assume they took the rest of the day off and did donuts in the FMs. One problem: nearly everybody in the universe has already seen it. If that’s you, proceed.

 

Did you know the Volvo spot also advertised Ford?

The makers of this Rob Ford parody knew to keep it subtle and maximize humour by changing very little. So they left pretty much everything. A fascinating side effect: the untouched voiceover about having had ‘ups and downs, my fair share of bumpy roads’ seems creepily prophetic and far more relevant than in the original.

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Steven Bochenek
Despite being a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada and a member of its house band, the Troubadours, Steven is a veteran marketing writer who came to writing about cars almost by, umm, accident.