On the right road

When it comes to car ads, marketers seem to have stumbled on a roadblock - most TV spots convey the same, tired images of slick vehicles maneuvering through backcountry roads. Still, there are a few campaigns that stand out amid the...

When it comes to car ads, marketers seem to have stumbled on a roadblock – most TV spots convey the same, tired images of slick vehicles maneuvering through backcountry roads. Still, there are a few campaigns that stand out amid the heavy traffic. Strategy asked seven creative types to discuss which ones work for them and which ones don’t.

Bob Shanks, president

Roche Macaulay & Partners Advertising, Toronto

The Porsche 911 spot, created by Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, where a young girl pretends to miss the school bus so she can get a ride from her dad:

‘This one is really near and dear to my heart… It’s on the mark. I’m the target and I happen to have a little (Porsche) Boxster. My kids, in fact, tried to pull that this morning. It’s just incredibly insightful. It really connected with me.’.

Tony Miller, CD

Sharpe Blackmore Euro RSCG, Toronto

The Volkswagen GTI and Passat spots, created by Arnold Worldwide, Boston:

‘Volkswagen has two spots that spring to mind. One where two guys stand under a tree and throw items into the branches to get something down. Finally, on the last throw, a Golf GTI falls at their feet. The tagline is ‘Next time, let out the clutch a bit.’ A great spot with a nice surprise. The best part is that the message says powerful car without having to show the Golf racing around a winding road. The Passat spot shows a Volkswagen driver getting out of his car. He’s just locked it, when a van pulls up, grabs him and speeds off. Then, about 10 seconds later, the van speeds back and drops him off. The guys in the van are heard to say, ‘Sorry’ and ‘Our mistake.’ The Volkswagen driver is standing there, befuddled. The announcer says, ‘The new Passat. It only looks like a million bucks.’ Again, an out-of-the-box way of saying that this is a great looking car, without the hackneyed car imagery offering Batman camera angles of leather and chrome.’

Andy Macaulay, founding partner

Zig, Toronto

The Volkswagen Jetta spot, created by Arnold, where a man tackles a grocery cart headed for his car:

‘That spot cracks me up every time I see it… Here’s a guy who is so excited about his car, he is not going to let a slow moving shopping cart touch it. That’s completely consistent with the ‘Drivers Wanted’ psyche.’

The Volkswagen GTI spot:

‘It is another imaginative piece of advertising. While consistent with the strategy, it dimensionalizes it. It’s smart because it gives me room to interpret a little bit, but the message is still pretty clear: This is one hot little car. It has real attitude.’

The Porsche Boxster spot, where two elderly Scottish gentlemen debate who will be the designated driver:

‘I’m a big fan of this spot… [It] says this is one hot-assed car to drive, but it’s finding an imaginative way to say it. Here are two people you would not picture as Porsche drivers… And it’s just a fun idea, fighting over who will be the designated driver…it reinforces while it breaks stereotype for Porsche.’

The Hyundai Elantra spot, created by Irvine, Calif.-based Bates USA West, where sheet metal takes the form of a sedan:

‘The copy line is delivered by a soppy voice over: ‘Now there’s a sedan that makes all other sedans feel nervous’ or something like that. No, it doesn’t. For God’s sake, it’s a Hyundai. The other sedans are not people. They don’t have feelings. It’s like bad, ’60s-style, insulting advertising… The best stuff acknowledges where a brand already sits in the consumer’s mind.’

Dan Scherk, co-creative director

Bryant, Fulton & Shee, Vancouver

The Volkswagen spots:

‘These days, cars all look the same, they’re all made out of plastic… I don’t think there is really that much to talk about anymore . . . It’s almost as though the advertising is just going to be pure brand image. The VW stuff is probably the best example of that. Forget about the features because they’re all the same anyway – this is the kind of person that drives Volkswagen.’

The Saturn spot, created by Cossette Communication-Marketing in Toronto, where a young woman returns her car to take advantage of a 30-day money-back guarantee:

‘It doesn’t make me want to go out and buy a car. It makes me think twice about buying anything. I don’t know if that is the right message. What they’re trying to say is nice, but you get a feeling that a month later she’s just going to bring the car back again. There’s kind of a victim thing going on. . . It’s a really cool program, but it seems to play on your fears to get across a sell feature. They probably could have found a more positive way to let you know [about it].’

Joe Camilleri, CD

Griffin Bacal Volny, Toronto

The Volkswagen Passat spot:

‘The spot is simple because it has one point to make. It manages to create this feeling that you’re part of a club when you buy a Volkswagen. It’s cool without trying too hard. The point is it looks more expensive than it really is. So it’s a case of mistaken identity where these guys think the driver is better off than he really is. It’s a simple premise.’

The Volkswagen GTI spot:

‘For GTI it’s all about performance. ‘Next time let the clutch out more easily.’ It’s one point. They know the target group. You remember losing your Frisbee up in a tree and having to throw sticks at it to get it down. It’s something that everyone can relate to. And it’s done in a cinematic style where you’re wondering what these guys are doing for 15 seconds.’

The Mazda Miata spot, created by Doner Canada, Toronto, where several cars are driving through the desert to the ‘Zoom, Zoom, Zoom’ soundtrack:

‘It’s interesting because we try not to do regular beautiful-car-running footage over hill and dale. When you pick that [spot] apart, that’s what it is with a funky soundtrack. It seems to be working for them. Mazda’s doing really well these days… Basically Mazda is trying to position itself as fun to drive – cars that are spirited for people who are spirited. Personally I find the ‘Zoom, Zoom, Zoom’ thing kind of annoying… but at least it stands out. At least it hangs together as a campaign, which helps the overall positioning of Mazda.’

The Pontiac Montana spot, by MacLaren McCann, Toronto, portrays a The Pontiac Montana spot, by MacLaren McCann, Toronto, portrays a family travelling through rough terrain in a dirty minivan. Dad contacts OnStar Technology for directions to ‘Milos Falls,’ and it ends with them driving through a waterfall for a spontaneous carwash:

‘It’s basically a minivan. It’s the Pontiac version of the [Chevrolet] Venture. GM has managed to position the two totally differently. The Venture is a regular minivan but they’ve somehow managed to wrap up the Montana as this kind of sport utility minivan. They portray it in very adventurous situations and don’t play up its ‘minivan-ess.’

There’s this whole debate in the car industry about minivans versus sports utilities and whether people are sick of SUVs. Do they buy SUVs because they don’t want to be seen driving a minivan? There is discussion about what the crossover vehicle is going to be. Basically through marketing and positioning, GM has managed to move the Montana in that direction seemingly quite successfully.’

Frank Palmer, president

Palmer Jarvis DDB, Vancouver

The Volkswagen GTI spot:

‘I thought that ad was quite innovative and more true to life than a lot of things. If you’ve got a kite and you’re a kid and it gets caught up in a tree, it’s very precious to you. I thought that was very fresh and you get a real chuckle out of it… It’s a surprise. The first time I saw the commercial I didn’t know what it was about.

Most, if not all, car [spots] are always doing something on a very slick beach or an airfield where the car can make a turn on water and it slides for about 150 feet… Never in life could you ever do that. I don’t know why everybody does the same thing.’

The Volvo S60 spot, created by New York-based Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, where the car drives forward as other images, such as oarsmen in a boat and a wedding party, fly by backwards:

‘I quite enjoy the Volvo commercial voiced by Donald Sutherland, where the Volvo is going forward around the bend and you’ve got the oarsmen in the boat, but everything is going backwards… You see so many commercials and the whole purpose is to catch your attention.

It’s so easy today to click the channel when there’s an ad on that you don’t like… It mostly relates to creative. You know car ads. You can exchange the car for another car, and you’ve got 0.9% financing. There are not a lot [of companies] doing anything different. I think Volvo and Volkswagen [have] come up with good work.’

Jacques Labelle, CD

Cossette Communication-Marketing, Montreal

The Volkswagen Beetle print ad, created by Arnold Communications, where a model is posing for a mock photo shoot, with a yellow Beetle in the background:

‘There’s an almost naked model wearing nothing but lettuce leaves, and there’s a yellow Beetle deep in the background, and the line is ‘There’s a yellow one.’ I like it because it points to a simple truth, which is that when we first saw the Beetles we pointed them out to each other on the street.

It’s hard because [car ads] are all pretty bad. The car category is terrible as far as originality is concerned. You know the famous car commercial where you see the car; it turns then speeds up and then slows down as it winds around a road. That one.’