Y2K Day has passed. It's history. Time dust. As we enter the new century, it's time to honor, or at least recognize - without reward, though - the best new automotive commercials and TV campaigns from 1999.
Some commercials will continue to run this year. Thankfully, many will fade like a sour note. Others, like the ill-fated Mars Polar Explorer, should simply vanish without a trace. A few deserve kudos for inspiration, imagination and interest. Those that are dreary, dubious or dreadful will be conspicuous by their absence.
This is not a Clio, Addy, Andy, Gold Palm, Gold Door, Effie, Caddy, Cannes, or any other competitive TV commercial judging event or award. There are no certificates or plaques. No trophies to be displayed. There is not an expensive awards banquet to attend, or an equally expensive book or reel to buy.
Auto advertisers historically have been the biggest ad spenders. As the reigning dominant category, auto advertisers have an obligation to themselves and the ad industry to strive to produce advertising that is better than any other advertisers. If you're the biggest, you ought to be the best ... right?
How were the winners picked?
The winners and losers were discussed carefully and selected during a subjective review and no-alcohol lunch meeting between the two of us.
Between us, we've probably seen almost every new car, truck, sport-utility or auto dot-com TV commercial created during 1999. Some were seen on agency- or manufacturer-supplied reels. Others were seen as TV couch potatoes. If your spots were not seen or mentioned in this article, don't despair. Just put us on the distribution list this year.
The criteria we used in naming our winners were the commercials' ability to build brand character and drive consumers into dealer showrooms.
The Best New TV Campaign or Commercial of the Year category was tough. It came down to two excellent campaigns: Mercedes-Benz and the Mitsubishi Eclipse. But for pure originality and target-market focus and appeal, the Eclipse campaign wins.
This campaign was integrated, imaginative and flawlessly executed. Everything worked. Idea. Concept. Cinematography. Copy. Music. Voiceover. Production. Graphics. Editing. Audio.
Every new Eclipse commercial stood by itself, but was coordinated in tone, style and attitude. Mitsubishi and its agency, Deutsch L.A., are to be congratulated.
The new Mercedes campaign, while extremely well crafted and produced with style, sophistication and wit, was just too close to its previous award-winning campaign. Not that that's bad. The 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' rule applies. But it is not really a new campaign, even though that's what it was called. It's an extension of an old winner. So it didn't win ... but it was a video finish.
Special mention goes to Saab for its stylish 'Saab vs. ...' campaign, which had sensational integration and coordination in all media - TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, direct mail - on a global basis. All media were well done, which is rare.
Three companies - Lexus, Honda and VW - split the Best Continuing Campaign award. All three sold the brands, and helped bring customers in to buy cars, but they also excelled for different reasons:
Lexus, for proving expense and luxury do not always equal excess. Lexus continues to use focused commercials that relate to the driving comfort and experience, while not-so-subtly hinting at owner satisfaction. They don't shout, 'Hey, look what I'm driving ... I'm loaded!' like some other brands we all know too well.
Honda, for demonstrating that practicality and quality, as in value for money, is not a perception; it is an economic attribute. Most of the new Honda commercials in 1999 were a continuation of various campaigns that sold one, or at most two, specific benefits of owning a Honda. Not much self-praise, either. Simple words like value, quality, reliability and dependability create their hallmark.
VW, for its ads for the New Beetle. The ads, while unique, pay overdue homage to the benchmark set by the old Doyle Dane Bernbach agency, VW's first shop.
The Grab the Channel Switcher award goes to Dodge and its 'different' - make that 'irritating' - teaser campaign, which preceded the full 'Dodge. Different' program. Too little an idea that was aired far too often in too many commercials.
Ford wins the How Much Did That Cost and Why Did They Do It? award for its two-minute worldwide TV 'millennium' splash.
Kia gets the How Come They Fired the Goldberg Agency? award, for obvious reasons. Goldberg Moser O'Neill in San Francisco produced the year's edgiest auto ads: Kia TV spots poked fun at Y2K in TV commercials this year. It refused to yield to demands from the American Bankers Association to yank spots that poked fun at people lined up at a bank to withdraw their money.
Who else would do a spot in which the ashes of a departed uncle are vacuumed from the Sportage's back seat after a jostling ride up a hilly trail? Goldberg had handled the account since 1993, Kia's only U.S. agency. But Kia dismissed the agency in November. Pity.
Enough said about the past. Time to move into the new millennium. Don't agree with our selections? That's OK ... because this year Automotive Marketer will run a real automotive advertising competition that's going to be unique. There will be three judging panels - suits, creatives and consumers - viewing the commercials.
Their votes will be counted by individual panels and as an aggregate. The result? In any given category, a commercial could win four times - once for each group of judges, and the composite award, too. If you feel there have been some poor choices or obvious errors of omission or commission in this article, forget it. The past is history.
We've moved into Y2K. And, we hope, it's for the better.