LOS ANGELES -- Auto advertisers were back in force in the 2013 Super Bowl with commercials that were funny and touching -- with a few that just fell flat.
Auto advertisers hit it big in Super Bowl; Chrysler stands out
Social media promotions ahead of the game played a bigger role than ever this year as automakers sought to maximize the bang for their Super Bowl buck. Some of the game's commercials were released up to a week ago to build buzz and get eyeballs on YouTube and Facebook.
Chrysler stood out -- yet again -- despite not running with the pack online in the week leading up to the Super Bowl.
But their two ads weren't the only standouts. Here's a look at the automotive winners and losers who played in advertising's biggest game.
SO-SO Hyundai "Excited"
Taking a page straight out of the automotive ad playbook, a Hyundai Genesis sedan screeches around a racetrack with its 5.0-liter V-8 roaring. Hyundai's touch? Raucous sportscaster Gus Johnson shouting his particular brand of play-by-play, like "SEE. YOU. LATER!" and "MAKIN' 'EM LOOK SILLY." This pregame spot is Advertising 101, with a twist.
HIT Hyundai "Epic Play Date"
This spot has Super Bowl outlandishness in spades. A weekend outing in a family's Santa Fe is jam-packed with skateboarding kids, dad doing donuts in the mud, the family being chased by museum security guards, a biker gang and one angry-looking ostrich. Throw in psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips, who come along for the family's ride and play an original song written for the commercial, and you've got a winning Super Bowl formula.
SO-SO Audi "Prom"
The story of the insecure teenager who overcomes his fears at the high school prom is a familiar one, but Audi's take on the tale works. It's tight, well-composed and hits on themes of awkward adolescence, overcoming ones fears and automotive allure that should resonate with viewers -- and potential buyers -- young and old. The trouble is that in the Super Bowl, a solid story might not be enough to cut through the clutter.
SO-SO Hyundai "Team"
Rounding up a posse of hard-bitten kids to take on neighborhood ruffians in a football game is a fun way to show that mom's Santa Fe can seat seven. Collecting the grade school team in question -- including a bear wrestler and a boy strong enough a full grown man out of a building fire -- is also a nice ode to old school action movies. Throw in the song "Bang Your Head" from 1980's metal band Quiet Riot, and you've got a spot tailor made for Gen X consumers. Overall, though, the ad won't be remembered after this week.
HIT Toyota "Wish Granted"
Happy dialogue, clever takes on familiar wishes and the killer comedic timing of Kaley Cuoco helps to make Toyota's RAV4 commercial a winner. The spot stars Cuoco, an actress in TV sitcom "The Big Bang Theory," as a genie who grants the wishes of each member of a RAV-owning family in her own way, like granting the daughter's wish to be a princess by turning her into Joan of Arc. The gags create laughs.
MISS Cars.com "Why Drama"
This one misses the mark. The spot shows a couple buying a new car after using Cars.com's shopping tools. The buying process is so easy, they say, after using cars.com that they miss the drama of car buying. The salesman's solution is to pull a wolf pup out of his drawer, and point out the pup's snarling momma wolf standing in the hall.
Buying a car can be full of drama, none of it animal related. The wolf bit seems a little out of left field, which makes the whole thing feel contrived, even for a commercial.
HIT Hyundai Stuck
This was simplicity at its best. The spot shows how a Sonata Turbo's engine helps a couple get around hazardous cargo, like a truck full of missiles, a nuclear waste hauler and some slobbering dogs sticking their mugs out of a camper. It doesn't just tell you that the Sonata Turbo lets you pass more easily -- it shows you while having a little fun at the same time.
MISS Volkswagen Get Happy
Has Volkswagen lost its Super Bowl mojo? The company was clearly going for an ad to strike a similarly humorous chord that its Darth Vader kid spot two years ago so definitively did.
This new spot, where an office worker speaking in a Jamaican accent tries to cheer up his co-workers, falls flat. Maybe it's because the premise is off, or maybe the ad has been tainted by cries that the ad was racist that followed its early release the Monday before the Super Bowl. Either way, the force was not with this Super Bowl commercial.
MISS Lincoln "Phoenix"
A Lincoln MKX emerges from the flames of a Lincoln Town Car. A montage showing Lincoln's new technologies follows. The visuals are striking but this is pretty standard stuff and more akin to luxury car ads we're used to seeing during any regular season NBA game, not the year's biggest night for football and advertising.
HIT Jeep "Whole Again"
Chrysler pulled the heartstrings of a war-weary nation and didn't let go with its Jeep commercial. Chrysler tapped Oprah Winfrey to narrate the spot, which both beckoned home service members and voiced the experiences of the scores of military families with loved ones serving overseas. The ad's themes of patriotism and service, and the sacrifices made by military families at home make help make the ad more ambitious and complicated than Chrysler's earlier "Born of Fire" and "It's Halftime in America" spots.
But where military-themed corporate marketing efforts use soldiers and their families as props (a crass phenomenon that this reporter finds to be the case more often than not in such campaigns), the important part of Jeep's ad is not the messenger, but the message: "When you are home, we are more than a family. We are a nation that is made whole, again."
MISS Kia "Hot Bots"
Kia's tagline is "Respect the Tech." The poor sap on the receiving end of an atomic wedgie before being kung fu-kicked across a room by a sexy robot, apparently, did not do that. But what "tech" did he not respect? The ad shows, aside from the Forte's sharp new looks, little unique technology in the car. It has a wheel, an instrument panel, some buttons, and four wheels. The sad part is that the Forte will have Kia's second-generation infotainment and telematics system. Too bad the ad didn't show that.
MISS Lincoln "Steer the Script"
Lincoln wants to talk to new customers. We get it. Trouble is, this spot doesn't give much of a reason to keep listening, and it should be an example of how not to crowd-source.
Creating a Super Bowl ad from ideas submitted by Twitter users probably sounded like a great idea in a pitch meeting. The spot's Twitter-sourced road trip gives no sense of a cogent story about the Lincoln brand or about luxury. It's only from the narrator's explanation of the ad's origins that we can only begin to understand what a low-budget science fiction film shoot, a wedding officiated by Reverend Run from Run DMC and an alpaca farmer shouting "it's an alpacalypse" could possibly have to do with Lincoln.
This ad shows why the Creative Department at ad agencies -- you know, the folks who get paid to create commercials -- should be the ones creating Lincoln's commercials.
HIT Ram "Farmer"
This was the one that will have people talking this week. Chrysler crafted another memorable, two-minute mini-film for its Ram truck brand to pay homage to the American farmer. Gritty still images of the American heartland seen as the comforting voice of radio personality Paul Harvey reads his "God Made a Farmer" speech leaves a powerful, memorable impression.
HIT Kia "Space Babies"
Kia has some fun with the age old question of "where do babies come from?" that the viewer can enjoy. A dad asked the question by his young son as the family rides in their Sorento says that babies of all kinds -- human, penguin, whale and canine alike -- come from the far away planet before blasting off on rocket ships to meet their families. When the son begins to suggest otherwise, the dad uses the Kia Sorento's voice-activated stereo system to cut him by playing "The Wheels on the Bus" in a funny kicker showing the car's technology.
SO-SO Mercedes-Benz "Soul"
Mercedes tells viewers they can now own a new Benz for less than $30,000. But the only thing that makes this ad's protagonist – a late-20's or early-30's male who looks like he was engineered by Mercedes-Benz's marketing department – say no to a deal with the Devil (played perfectly by actor Willem Dafoe) is the CLA's sub-$30,000 sticker. Part of the allure of luxury cars isn't just the badge. Their price tag is also a symbol of success. Does Mercedes really want this car to be known as the cheap Benz?
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