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Our top 16 best car commercials

By Sally Dominguez, 30 Jun 2020 Car Style

BMW E39 M5

Sixteen clever car ads that prove even the weirdest car branding works

Commercials are one of the many effective ways car manufacturers push their brands into the public eye. Creating something memorable – whether it is clever, hilarious or crazy – is a sure-fire way to increase brand recognition and customer retention.

Among the many channels, conduits and media to get the message across, TV advertising remains one of the most popular, effective and often among the most expensive.

Some of our favourites you’ll find below aired during the US Superbowl - an ad slot renowned as having the highest price tag of them all. How does about US$5.6m (A$8.1m) per 30 seconds sound?

You might be surprised to hear many car makers successfully build a business case for that kind of outlay and investment. TV advertising is truly a powerful thing.

Here are some of our favourite car commercials that cover the gamut from awesome to wince-worthy, hilarious and downright WTF moments.

CITROEN

Citroen does strange like nobody else. Its cars are packed with quirks that are sometimes plain bizarre, and its promotions are little different.

The 1970s Citroen DS is often voted as one of the most beautiful cars to date, but it’s equally renowned for its independent suspension and innovative use of hydraulics. Current Citroens continue that heritage of edgy styling, plus a little French ‘je ne sais quois’ on some of the packaging and internal detailing.

So it makes sense that Citroen’s ads are as quirky as the cars. After all, Citroen isn’t seeking the average customer. Dancing robots with great moves but for no apparent reason? A Citroen driving out of the head of pop icon Grace Jones as she screams at nothing in particular? C’est la vie!

These ads get to the heart of what sets Citroen apart from the herd.

FIAT

In Fiat’s Blue Pill ad, an ageing man howls in frustration as his 'performance' pill bounds from roof tile to downspout and into the fuel of a Fiat 500X, we feel his pain. Sort of.

The pill works its magic to bulge up the little Fiat into an all-wheel version, and we totally get what Fiat is telling us. It’s that reach to the everyman that Fiat perfected in this, and many other TV commercials.

KIA

It was a risky move to use hamsters to sell a car – cute animals are scraping the bottom of the advertising bowl – but it worked for Kia. Maybe because, as creative directors, D&G commented after winning a string of awards for the campaign, “the hamsters always have their paws on the pulse of pop culture”.

Kia needed to dramatically increase its international profile and emphasise the edgy cred of the Kia Soul, and the hamsters made it happen. It wasn’t enough to grab the attention of a youthful Australian audience as Kia would have liked, but the model is incredibly popular with America’s young drivers.

SUBARU

Oh, this is just gold. Close your ears to the American “Su-BAH-roo” twang and go straight to the crux: the car is “cheap and ugly”. Say what? You heard it. They went with it. (wait until you get to 1:30)

BMW

BMW prides itself on creating the pure driver’s car almost as much as it does creating the cleverest ads to promote them, so what better way to make the point than in a series of extreme driving shorts.

The Hire is a series of short movies using renowned directors and actors. High-profile stars including Clive Owen, James Brown, Madonna and Gary Oldman hammer the message home that BMW is cool.



But the German marque has previously produced another brilliant advert, this time for the launch of the 2000 E39 M5. At the time, the V8-powered four door was the world’s fastest sedan so what better way to demonstrate the achievement that with this wonderful act of misdirection?

FORD

Ford does a great job in the States exploiting their 1960s and 1970s muscle car heritage, with lots of dad-and-son drive stories. It also captured the Aussie experience in a more down-to-earth way with its controversial (and banned) cane toad ad.

Ford also nailed the hot hatch demographic when it partnered with Ken Block. Ford got Block to put a modified Fiesta through the cult-followed Gymkhana paces, which was a great way to showcase what a little hatch can do, albeit after a full rally preparation.

AUDI

Audi is all about bringing it to the traditional luxury car market and showing BMW and Mercedes-Benz up as old school. Its way of thumbing its nose at the opposition in this advertisement is direct and effective. The ad Release the Hounds is a classic example, while Doberhuahua is hilarious.

Read next: Essential car accessories for dog people

MERCEDES-BENZ

Mercedes-Benz is about class, heritage and dependable luxury. Not In this Weather is a classic yet slightly naughty ad that emphasises the ability of a Benz.

And, with a completely different approach, the Uncrashable Cars campaign might be one of the most effective ads on the benefits of safety technology we’ve yet seen.

VOLKSWAGEN

Volkswagen loves to reference its dependable, Germanic character, but a warning comes with advert: YAYAYA will most likely be circulating in your head days later. Possibly months.

HONDA

The Cog is a fascinating Rube Goldberg sequence that epitomises the Honda byline: “Isn’t it nice when things just work”. It has even inspired a whole genre of copycat ads.

Read next: Honda Accord pricing and features
Beautifully, this incredibly clever ad was not a fake and used very little computer generated elements. The only post-production intervention was for minor adjustments including the removal of wires and other distracting visual elements.

Although it appears to be one continuous shot, the ad was, in fact, pieced together from just two 60-second pieces. Like a painstakingly prepared and perfectly executed domino rally, Honda really did set up and nail the entire ‘machine’ almost exactly as you see it. Incredible.