It’s difficult to know what to make of only six of the 56 Super Bowl 2019 TV commercials being car ads and none from American car manufacturers. It’s not as if car companies don’t have much to say. As a Forbes magazine reviewer of this ad group wrote, what with “their utility or efficiency, … their tech chops, … the lifestyle quotient, … the wide variations between burly pickups and sleek electric sport sedans… carmakers have arguably far more arrows in their quivers than many other advertisers. And certainly, this quiver includes the ability to harness the best advertising minds on the planet with the talent to pack as much punch into a one-minute time slot as is humanly possible.
Toyota. Two cars, two ads
Toyota had two ads. The first, a 1.10-minute ad for the relaunch of its Supra 335 horsepower sports coupe, set to the soundtrack of The Who’s Pinball Wizard, propels driver and car through a giant pinball machine. Whether man or machine is ‘the wizard’ hardly matters. It is the usual celebration of speed, bright lights, and the big city atmosphere echoing the 1985 MR2 ad—same setting, same message “the fun is back” which added a cool historical perspective, perhaps lost on younger viewers.
The second, on the other hand, a 1.09-minute ad for the RAV4 Hybrid — “The hybrid that will shatter perceptions… all new… built for speed” is about looking forward. Its driver is real life Toni Harris, a ‘free safety’ for East Los Angeles College aiming to play in the NFL. Telling her story through re-enacted flashback using the spoken word and a thumping modern orchestral soundtrack — not too small, not too weak, will get to the next level, will inspire the next generation — the message is to challenge assumptions that are not always true; in short “boldly embrace this new model with its new technologies.”
Kia’s 1.40-minute ad for its new Telluride SUV celebrates workmanship and dedication to quality exemplified by the employees in its West Point, Georgia facility. While portraits of some of these employees are shown, the narrator advancing the ‘greatness’ beneath their ‘ordinariness’ is a young boy, a classic ‘old soul’ offering wisdom far beyond his years. While it may be — as one reviewer put it — “a little sappy”, it subtly reinforces its message on numerous levels.
In its 1.15-minute slot, Hyundai promotes its ‘Shopper Assurance’ program using humour and the percussive beat of an elevator ‘ding’ as a car-shopping couple interact with a smart-talking elevator operator played by Jason Bateman. The elevator is headed down through various levels of the underworld of car shopping at one of the lowest levels until they show him the app, at which point he changes direction with a brisk “Going up!” This ad begs asking whether or not the car shopping experience is enough to promote one manufacturer over its competitors although, clearly, Hyundai seems to think it is.
Like the second Toyota ad, Audi devotes its 1.13-minute ad to promoting its new technologies, namely its upcoming electric-car rollout by showcasing its E-Tron GT sport sedan due in early 2020. The story line involves a young man who, just as he gets behind the wheel is Heimlich-maneuvered out of this dream world back to his office cube. He is less than thankful for being rescued. It’s a Back-to-the-Future knock-off set to the soundtrack of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky — according to Greenbaum — the “second-most-requested song … at memorial services, next to Danny Boy”, which adds an odd perspective on the comparative risks from normal day-to-day activities such as eating cashews at your desk versus driving an alluring (albeit electric-powered) sport sedan to a rocking beat.
The Mercedes Benz ad is also forward-looking, promoting its new A Class by focusing on its new AI-enhanced Infotainment system, MBUX, addressed in a previous Road Rules article. The message: with MBUX you will feel powerful or you will feel that your car is. The storyline follows a young man walking through a city to his parked A Class, controlling his surroundings by commands he delivers in his natural voice: change the colour (to a pedestrian crossing light), change the music (opera for Ludacris’s Stand Up), and then, while watching TV: ‘Use the rocket’ (to Wile E Coyote chasing Road Runner) to mention only a few.
The Mercedes ad goes on with the actor finally, approaching his A Class the voice-over says, “If only everything in life listened to you like your new A Class” which, once prompted proceeds to actually heed his commands: ‘Change colour’, ‘Make it cooler’, ‘Play my music’. At the end, while driving down the road his command, ‘Cue logo’ launches Wile E Coyote through the Mercedes Benz three-pointed star logo causing it to spin on its vertical axis. The soundtrack consisting of the lyrics to Stand Up echo the point: When I move, you move, just like that? And, likewise, the showcased cartoon characters remind the viewer that there can be never-ending fun on the road, though in the form of a coyote chasing and never catching an invisible roadrunner.
Road Rules by Cedric Hughes