NEWS ANALYSIS: Super or not?
Super Bowl spots: Chrysler breaks through but there were other winners, too. Here's a review of hits, thismisses and the also-rans
Last year automotive advertisers emerged from their recession bunkers and flocked back to the Super Bowl.
You had one game-changer ("Imported from Detroit") for a company (Chrysler) that sorely needed a game-changer. You had the just-right cuteness of Volkswagen's Darth Vader spot, epic computer-generated imagery from Kia, and Mercedes-Benz appearing for the first time.
This year, automakers unleashed another flood of commercials -- and another bold effort from Chrysler stood out.
But the abundance of automotive spots has become a challenge in itself to marketers. Will your incredibly expensive minimovie stand out? Or will it melt into an undifferentiated mass of cars on twisty roads, computerized critters, bikini-clad women and adorable dogs?
Of course, these aren't just TV spots anymore. Nearly all were bouncing on the Web and social media the week before the Super Bowl.
You could argue that this diminishes their impact during the game. But under current advertising theory, that doesn't matter. Reaching several million more viewers in the days before and after the Super Bowl trumps the surprise factor.
Quaint as it may seem, let's just look at the debut commercials as commercials, seen during America's biggest sporting event and midwinter revelry.
HIT: Acura "Transactions"
This pretty much fills the bill of the Super Bowl big production.
"Transactions" shows Jerry Seinfeld's desperate bids to win the right to the first Acura NSX from the guy who beat him out. The bits range from pretty funny (zip line, $20 bill) to a little flat (Munchkin). With the arrival of Jay Leno in a squirrel suit, two well-known car collectors are vying for the NSX. The risk in this kind of commercial is that the car might not merit the attention. But the NSX is stunning enough to make it work.
MISS: Audi "Vampire Party"
If your target demo is mopey teenage girls yearning for a heavy-lidded vampiric stud to bite their necks, drink their blood and all of that, this hits the mark. For anyone weary of actors wearing silly canine-teeth extensions, it seems like a convoluted way to point out that Audi has bright headlights. Really, really bright headlights. Yes, curvy LED headlights are an Audi design cue. But they're a pretty secondary product feature.
MISS: Cadillac "Green Hell"
Traditional auto advertising territory here: the new car, in this case the ATS, roaring around a twisting track. Cadillac, seeking to show that the ATS can screech tires just like the Germans, errs in making the goal explicit. The voiceover describes the ATS as "built from the ground up to take on the BMW 3 series." Then it gives the Bimmer props as "the world's best." It's a problem when you define your car by the competition.
MISS: Cars.com "Two Heads"
OK, this is just weird. A car shopper has gained confidence by comparing deals on Cars.com. So his "confidence" appears as a singing worm-thing coming out of his back? And the guy is visibly uncomfortable with his "confidence"? This one made me yearn for the next beer/financial services/salty snacks commercial. Anything. Just make the worm go away.
HIT: Chevrolet "Happy Grad"
This spot showing a high-school grad mistakenly thinking his parents have given him a Camaro convertible is a delight. "Happy Grad" stays in one scene, as a growing swarm of adolescents exults over the car. And the sweet-looking yellow Camaro convertible remains planted in the middle of the scene throughout. Contrast this with some of the hyperactive comedy extravaganzas that forget the car as they barrel through a dozen scenes.
HIT: Chevrolet "Sonic Anthem"
Targeted at first-time buyers, this minute-long effort from Chevrolet also scores. It's an exuberant ode to youth that cuts among Chevy's Sonic subcompact in four crazy stunts -- a bungee jump, a parachute dive, a kick-flip and a music video. And watching the kick-flip driver close his eyes and brace himself is pretty cool.
HIT: Chevrolet "2012"
Here Chevy meets the perennial challenge of pickup advertising -- how tough is your truck, buddy? -- by playing on a supposed Mayan prediction that the world will end this year. (Wait, wasn't the world supposed to end last year?) The spot shows a Silverado emerging from post-apocalyptic rubble, with the owner and dog cruising to a rendezvous with other Silverado owners. The group pauses briefly to mourn a friend who didn't make it because "he drove a Ford." The end-of-times destruction is sanitized, but this probably clicks with the Super Bowl's core audience. Extra points for the rain of frogs.
HIT: Chrysler "Halftime"
Say what you will about Chrysler, but the company doesn't lack ambition. This two-minute spot not only trumps other celebrity signings with Clint Eastwood, it delivers a sermon -- a halftime speech, actually -- to America. The commercial was starkly shot in a style that connects to last year's Eminem "Imported from Detroit" spot. The combination of Eastwood striding through a nightscape, his trademark growl and his unabashed patriotism is stirring. It doesn't really advertise a Chrysler product. My guess, though, is that the glow that this generates will reflect back on Chrysler.
UNDECIDED: Honda "Matthew's Day Off"
Honda's replay of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, complete with Matthew Broderick, doesn't fare as well as corporate cousin Acura's Seinfeld fest. The CR-V compact crossover is a successful, practical vehicle. But audience members who remember the movie likely also remember that the truant teens were cruising in a Ferrari (a 250 GT California Spyder, to be specific). Broderick is genial, revisiting the movie raises pleasant associations, but would a valet really jump at the chance to take a joy ride in a CR-V?
UNDECIDED: Hyundai "All for One"
This is the kind of commercial that corporate honchos love, "showing the people of the company." Cubicle dwellers, assembly line workers, test drivers et al. pipe up with an a cappella version of the Rocky theme to buck up a discouraged colleague. The "Gonna Fly Now" thing has an undeniable cheesy infectiousness. But it's still working from a standard template.
UNDECIDED: Hyundai "Cheetah"
A simple concept: the Hyundai Veloster races a cheetah. And, of course, the Veloster kicks the cat's spotted tail. At which point the cheetah turns on its handler, runs him down and, you would think, kills and devours him. But we wouldn't want the mean humor to be that mean, would we? So we see the cheetah chasing the guy around as the Veloster driver happily speeds away. Anyway, the spot puts across a simple formula: Veloster equals speed.
MISS: Hyundai "Faster Acting"
Another screeching-around-the-track spot, this time in service of the Genesis R-Spec. Maybe the spot should race against Cadillac's "Green Hell." It even calls out a German competitor: the Porsche Panamera S. Again, standard stuff.
HIT: Hyundai "Think Fast"
This spot for the Genesis Coupe R-Spec works better, with a young mentee using the car's hot acceleration and sturdy brakes to administer automotive cardiopulmonary resuscitation to an unconscious (and pompous) boss. It's a basic joke, but it is crisply done and ties in well to the vehicle.
HIT: Kia "A Dream Car. For Real Life"
Yes, the Optima screeches around a track, but Kia sets it up humorously as a dream sequence, then piles on wacky, wretched excess -- Motley Crue, ultimate fighter Chuck Liddell, a cowboy riding a bucking rhinoceros, a pair of lumberjacks sawing apart a giant submarine sandwich, model Adriana Lima, and many, many bikini-clad women. Kia is still building basic brand recognition as Hyundai's brash younger sib. This should help.
UNDECIDED: Lexus "The Beast"
Lexus doesn't have its GS screech around a track. Instead, the GS is an ominous beast smashing its way out of a steel-walled cage. The message: "Change cannot be contained." Give Lexus points for avoiding the track. And it does another thing right -- it doesn't name any German rivals. Lexus has a way to go to build a more exciting image, but this snarling spot moves the effort forward.
MISS: Toyota "It's Reinvented"
Toyota riffs on reinvention in honor of the new Camry, with a couch made of bikini-clad women (and another of guys in swimsuits), a time-traveling baby, curtains made of pizza. Moderately funny, but in this venue that doesn't get you much notice.
MISS: Toyota (Camry stories)
This unpreviewed spot was a quick montage that made the point that the Camry, a perennial sales leader, has been a big part of people's lives. Not terribly dramatic or witty, this one just slipped by.
HIT: Volkswagen "The Dog Strikes Back"
What's as lovable as a kid in a Darth Vader costume? Ah, the family dog! VW follows its standout spot from last year with another cute creature from home, in this case a pudgy dog that goes on a fitness regimen in order to chase a gleaming red Beetle. Not only are the workout sequences funny, I swear the dog emotes when it forlornly ponders its stout shape in a mirror. And the climactic shot of the dog racing alongside the Beetle is very nice -- two elegant forms in motion. It's so nice that the Star Wars cantina coda, while clever, is unnecessary.
You can reach Dave Guilford at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Dave on