Time For Car Ads To Do A U-Turn

Let's bring back the emotion - the love for brands.

2022’s car ads were at best modestly effective, most failing to spark much emotional response in viewers. This has been a problem for quite a while…

From VW’s ‘Small is Beautiful’ campaign to Renault’s ‘Papa and Nicole’ from the ‘90s, car ads have often been held up as great examples of memorable brand cut-through. Sadly, their modern equivalents aren’t even in the same lane. One of the only recent car ads to score four stars or more is a remake – yes remake – of Honda’s classic ‘Cog’. Created at home during the pandemic, it’s a lovely piece of work – but how damning is it that almost no modern car ads can touch an amateur remake of one of the greats?

There are three main problems with modern car ads:
  1. There’s too much caution. A risk-averse mentality leads to conservative ads. Tons of innovation has taken place at the sales end of the pipeline with digital showrooms, customisation apps and virtual test drives, but almost no progress has been made at the brand-building stage.
  2. Automotive ads have very strong category codes. We can all imagine a generic car ad – rainy night drives, top-down shots of mountain roads, close-ups of spinning wheels, etc. So many cliches in fact, and marketers rarely bother to break the mould. Risk-aversion combined with rigid category codes are a recipe for generic-ness, and that’s what we usually get.
  3. The third issue is that car brand ads are often very feature-led: on-board driver assistance and other technological advances. Ads that focus solely on features leave no room for storytelling and emotional connection.

The good news is that with creativity, we can do a u-turn and get back to the emotion – the love for brands – whilst still showing all-important features. Here are some examples:

Volkswagen’s commercial for its Tiguan brand focused on its automatic parking capabilities. Pretty boring you might think; not a bit of it…

The ‘Cake’ ad from Skoda breaks every car ad convention. People loved it – it got five stars in testing, its quirky approach sparking real joy. Who needs rigid category codes?

Let’s get back to that!

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