It was a global publicity blitz 50 years in the making. The unveiling of the 2015 Ford Mustang simultaneously in six cities -- New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Barcelona, Sydney and the home office in Dearborn, Mich. -- did more than celebrate an anniversary or launch a vehicle. It heralded a new course for the American icon, as a car with global ambitions. Half a century earlier, the first Mustang was shown on the opening weekend of the New York World's Fair, at the same time as introductions in 11 European capitals.
Marketing moments in 2013
What explains November's 36 percent surge in Dodge Durango SUV sales? Was it that 0.1-cubic-foot gumball machine of a glove compartment, crafted from "beautiful injection-molded thermoplastic olefin"? Or was it the marketing magic of local-TV standard-bearer Ron Burgundy, the devilishly dimwitted Anchorman character who wove that word picture into a car commercial/movie promo (or at least read it off the teleprompter)? The Burgundy series of about 70 Web videos and TV commercials, starring Will Ferrell, were a Super Bowl-caliber viral hit on YouTube, and a cheap one at that: Chrysler shared the development costs with producers of the film Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
While Cadillac's product engineers were working to erase the company's reputation for soft-riding luxury boats, its design and marketing wizards did a little erasing, too, rubbing out the laurel wreaths that surround the brand's insignia. The bolder, less fussy crest appeared on the grille of the Elmiraj, a concept coupe that GM exhibited at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance this year, and has popped up in TV commercials and print advertisements for the brand. "The wreath is seen as outdated and obsolete," said a Cadillac insider in July. But so far the badge that appears on Cadillac's production cars is unchanged.
Sterling Cooper, the fictional 1960s ad agency from TV's "Mad Men," traded in its Jaguar for a Chevrolet Vega. And as with the Jaguar story line from the previous season, the pursuit of the Chevy account roiled the agency, forging a crash merger of rival firms, a loose allusion to the real-life Commonwealth joint venture that handled Chevy's business until early this year. Unlike Jaguar (whose product had been depicted in the previous season as an ineffectual suicide aid), Chevy basked in the attention, sending out show-related messages on Twitter as a pivotal episode was broadcast and running a creative-ad contest on social media.
Running on fumes
Funny, isn't it, how a dramatic hook like suicide-by-tailpipe fails to work in comedy? Actually, it's not funny at all. In the spring, Hyundai apologized profusely for a Web ad, created by its ad agency's Innocean Europe arm for use in Britain, showing a man failing in his attempt to end his life because the vehicle, a Hyundai fuel cell crossover, did not produce any harmful emissions, only water vapor. Hyundai said it did not request or approve the ad, and it removed the video from YouTube quickly after criticism of it spread rapidly through social media. Jalopnik.com labeled it "the worst car ad in history."
If nothing else, the Hyundai furor helped deflect some heat from Ford, which had to apologize for a series of prospective ads showing scantily clad women bound and gagged in the back of a Ford Figo, with scandal-plagued Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi at the wheel. The images were created by an agency in India as award entries, not as part of any Ford campaign. The agency, WPP Group's JWT India, fired employees involved in creating the images. Ford officials in the United States said they were appalled.
This year's Super Bowl commercial from Mercedes-Benz offered the first public look at the CLA, a sport sedan that has gotten off to a fast start since its launch in September. The ads, featuring Willem Dafoe as the devil with a deal on the table for all of life's pleasures, also offered another rare sighting for a Mercedes TV commercial: a sticker price -- "Starting at $29,900." The pricing play, rare for such an upscale marque, is central to Mercedes' hopes of positioning the CLA as an attainable luxury and winning the loyalties of a younger demographic.
Chrysler made a slideshow -- not of dancing hamsters or exploding soda cans, but of simple images from the heartland: dirty fingernails, dusty barns, meticulously plowed fields, majestic tractors and, occasionally, a Ram pickup, all set to a speech by the late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey. The quiet minute-long tribute "to the farmer in all of us" was the top automotive spot in USA Today's Ad Meter, the granddaddy of Super Bowl commercial scoring, and continued Chrysler Group's streak of memorable big-game spots.
Honda dared to go where no man seems to go anymore: the drive-in movie theater. A Honda crowdsourcing campaign, run through social media and at dealerships, set out to save five drive-ins by raising the roughly $80,000 needed for each of them to convert to digital projection. By year end, nine were saved. "Cars and drive-in theaters go hand-in-hand, and it's our mission to save this decades-old slice of Americana that holds such nostalgia for so many of us," said Alicia Jones, manager of Honda and Acura social marketing at American Honda.
Year of the agency shuffle
A megamerger of global advertising agencies Publicis Groupe and Omnicom Group Inc. consolidated work under a single corporate umbrella for a long list of auto brands: Chevrolet, Toyota, Lexus, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac. But the impact of the deal paled in comparison to the broader tumult in the automotive ad world this year, with Acura leaving RPA for Mullen, Chevy shaking up its awkwardly assembled lead agency, Cadillac defecting from Fallon to a bespoke agency tied to Campbell Ewald, and Volvo quitting Havas for WPP's Grey.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.