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Automotive Icons— Car Commercials to Learn From

red toy car next to a bucket of popcorn with pale pink background
Article Highlights:

  • Add a bit of a personal touch to connect with your audience.
  • Your dealership doesn’t need to be the loudest to attract attention.

It makes sense why the automotive industry has tapped into television advertising for decades—video ads are a great way to generate interest, boost sales, and raise brand awareness. Add in some catchy jingles, humorous taglines, and unique characters, and commercials are the fun way to advertise.

A commercial can stick in your mind for years, even decades after it’s been taken off the air. We’ve gathered eight of the most iconic car commercials, complete with insights that you may be able to use in your own dealership’s marketing strategy.

From Far, Far Away

Watch the full commercial here

Buying a car is an emotional decision just as much as it is a logical one—after all, who wants to drive a car that they hate? This Volkswagen ad is a great example of how leveraging human emotions can captivate an audience. Thanks to the father’s remote start key feature, viewers get to experience a child’s astonishment, demonstrating how well a balance of logic and emotional appeal can increase the effectiveness of your messaging.

Tip: People like to see that businesses are made of individuals just like them. Think about the content that your dealership is sending to customers—does it feel generic or does it appeal to real emotions? Add a bit of a personal touch to connect with your audience.

 

Flipping the Script

Watch the full commercial here

Your messaging is extremely important, especially in an industry where your product doesn’t differentiate much from your competitor’s. This Toyota ad from the 80’s stands out not for its unique tagline or phrases, but by the way in which it demonstrates authenticity. By creating an entire neighborhood filled with upside down trucks, Toyota shows that their message of ‘turning the truck world upside down’ isn’t just an empty promise.

Tip: The marketing world is full of buzz words and clichés, most of which can make your marketing sound meaningless if you’re not careful. Instead of telling people why you’re the best (like all your competition does) show them.

 

As Good as Bold

Watch the full commercial here

Creativity can go a long way in establishing memorability, especially when you do your research. When Kia released the Soul, they got a little…funky? Their rapping hamsters cruising through the city (paired with clips of some less unique hamsters riding a common toaster) sent a very clear message—this was a car for the urban individualist.

Tip: Hip-Hop Hamsters might be a little bold for most situations, but don’t shy away from trying something that no other dealerships have. Keep your target audience in mind and remember that being bold can reap big rewards if done properly.

 

Selling (Toy) Stories

Watch the full commercial here

This Nissan commercial from the 90’s takes an interesting approach to storytelling. Instead of using real people (or even an actual car), the ad follows a GI Joe-like figure as he wins over the Barbie-girl of his dreams, thanks to the help of a slick remote-control car.

Tip: People like stories, even when they don’t necessarily apply to them in real life. Incorporating storytelling techniques into your dealership’s marketing is a great way to establish connections with potential customers and ultimately turn interest into action.

 

Fluff isn’t Your Friend

Watch the full commercial here

A clear and simple message is a great way to pack a punch—and this commercial from Audi proves that. It’s risky to make a car ad that doesn’t even contain a car, but the simplicity of the keys hung from a set of nails sends a clear message that’s easy for most viewers to understand.

Tip: Sometimes less is more. Your dealership doesn’t need to be the loudest to attract attention. Instead, keep it simple. Focus on talking to the right customers with the right message for them.

 

Directing Desire

Watch the full commercial here

There’s a ton of different reasons that a person might be motivated to buy a new car—for more reliability, enhanced technology, or even to reflect changes in one’s lifestyle such as getting a promotion or an addition to their family. This 1970 Pontiac commercial is a classic example of how products can be tied to personal desires and lifestyles. Viewers feel the main character’s pride as he turns the heads of everyone in the drive-thru with his car (specifically the exclusive vacuum operated exhaust feature).

Tip: Buyers may come to your dealership wanting a car with a lot of style points but needing something else. Capitalize on leads by utilizing demographic info, behavioral data, and past transactions with individuals to ensure that you’re recommending the right vehicle to the right person.

 

An Unexpected Gift

Watch the full commercial here

Humor is always a great tool to utilize in your marketing. This commercial is full of irony as it shows the difference between expectations and reality in the eyes of a recent graduate. And while the commercial is memorable enough for its wit, it’s also important to note that it was the winning submission to a Super Bowl ad contest created by Chevrolet. In other words, it’s customer-made.

Tip: Customers are the ones keeping the doors to your dealership opening—ask them what they want. Polls and contests are a great way to not only boost your customer interactions, but to gain a better understanding of what your customers are looking for from you.

 

Re(sound)ing Success

Watch the full commercial here

People care about a lot more than what their car will look like (after all that’s why test drives exist). It’s easy to fall back on the image of something when you consider your marketing materials, but this Ford ad demonstrates how rewarding it can be to engage other senses, such as sound.

Tip: Digital and print ads are great ways to get your message across to potential buyers, but consider adding video content, such as YouTube advertisements, to engage audience members who may be less interested in reading what you have to say.

 

If these car commercials (along with many others) prove anything to us, it’s that good content tends to stick. There’s a wide variety of tactics that marketers use to differentiate their product from the crowd, and one of the best ways to learn these tricks is by seeing instances where they’ve proven successful. These car commercials are iconic for a reason, and by incorporating some of their marketing tactics into your own strategy, your dealership might be able to become just as memorable.

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Mollie Swygart is a marketing communications professional at Reynolds and Reynolds. She is an expert on Reynolds’ suite of cutting-edge marketing products, their functionalities, and how they can be utilized to improve dealership success. Mollie received her Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art and English from Marietta College. She also obtained an Associate’s Degree in Marketing from Rhodes State College.

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