Simply clever? What makes a good car ad

Car advertising, it's a hit and miss affair. Here's how to do it right.

By Tim Kendall | 1st April 2013

I’m not sure why, but the advertising industry appears to harbour a massive disparity of talent. At one end of the spectrum, you’ve got the inspired and visually spectacular, if occasionally esoteric stuff from the likes of Guinness and Cadburys. The kind of adverts that command your attention during that thought vacuum between TV programmes called  the commercial break. Ads that plant the seed of brand awareness in your mind. You know they work because when it’s your round, you’ll order a pint of the black stuff even if you don’t like it.

At the other end is the contrived, toe-curling stuff, crafted without subtlety or depth of imagination. For some reason, lots of car ads fall into this category. Take the recent Skoda Rapid advert ominously dubbed ‘dad skills’. No seriously, take it. I don’t want it.

Now that the fatherland has lent it some chrome door handles and soft-touch interior plastics, Skoda as a brand has finally rid itself of the eastern bloc stigma. But are their ad men really trying to undo that by peddling the cool dad line? The strapline says ‘simply clever’. Our survey says ‘no’.

Then you’ve got car advertising’s equivalent of fingernails being dragged down a blackboard. The Aston Martin Rapide ad.

It’s definitely a hit and miss affair, car advertising. Some ad agencies are adept at capturing the zeitgeist like VW’s ad men did in the 80s with the Mk2 Golf GTI, Paula Hamilton and a fur coat. Meanwhile others are adept at squandering multi-million pound budgets on campaigns that land very wide of the mark.

But few have got it quite as spot on as BMW did with ‘The Hire’. A series of short films directed by the likes of Guy Ritchie and John Woo back in the early noughties, the films show the cars being properly driven – something you can’t really do on TV commercials. But put Clive Owen in an E39 M5 and get him to throw it sideways with a grumpy Madonna in the back and you’ve got something instantly cool, entertaining and memorable. A decade on, it still works. Which is why it’s a good advert.

The obvious limitation with creating ads like this is that the heads of Daily Mail readers would explode if an over-steering BMW filled their screens between episodes of Midsomer Murders. Just ask Toyota what happened when they dared show mild exuberance in the ad for its much-hyped GT86. A couple of joyless dullards complained so it was banned. Thankfully BMW’s campaign was internet-only, so no-one has managed to ban it. It’s a masterclass in how to do car advertising properly.



By Tim Kendall
1st April 2013

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