As highly as we might think of the Web, there's nothing quite as powerful as a television commercial. It takes millions of ad budget dollars and the perfect slot during the most widely watched show of the week. When it's done correctly, a great car commercial doesn't just capture eyeballs, it rivets us, and makes us consider something we may never have imagined ourselves driving.
Whether they were funny, sexy, ironic, or just plain weird, this year's best car ads showed off the power of the TV spot. And they weren't confined to television: since Web streaming's become ubiquitous, those clever TV ads went long-form on the Internet, in some cases finally making more sense than in their brief 15- or 30-second televised form.
With 2011 coming to a close, it's the time to take a look back at some of the best car commercials from the past year. Plug in your earbuds, and see if your favorites make it to the top of this list. The first batch takes us from the controversial, to the lighthearted, to the purely puzzling:
15) First up is Ford's controversial "press conference" F-150 commercial. This controversial ad put GM and Chrysler on notice that their bankruptcies weren't sacred cows when it came to selling cars. Ford pulled the ad down for a brief period, but posted it again when it was clear the ad resonated with lots of viewers.
14) Not everyone deserves a parade, but driving the 40-mpg Ford Fiesta earns one in this clever ad. The Fiesta's a pretty big deal for Ford, and this car ad won the Best Green Ad award from the 5th Annual Nielsen Automotive Ad of the Year Awards, so it sneaks into the 2011 consideration.
13) How do you promote a minivan to guys? Loud rock music, fireworks, and panthers. Panthers, of course! Honda conned us into loving the new Odyssey van with this ad and with one that showed today's kids aren't all awful, since at least some of them know vintage Ozzy.
12) It's a good thing when automakers thrash their own cars in their ads. Earlier this year Chevrolet called out the competition directly when it claimed it had to detune the Corvette to meet racing standards. That's a stretch if you know enough about the race cars versus the roadgoing cars, but it made for great ad copy, and for an entertaining commercial.
11) Lexus worked hard to get the word out when it came to the new CT 200h hybrid. We like this Euro-market commercial because of Ben, who clearly is a brilliant kid, since he knows the sound a hybrid makes, though we don't quite understand how it fits into Lexus' message of "The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection."
10) Earlier this year Infiniti launched its first hybrid, and it's being marketed as a performance model. If you buy into that, you'll buy into the commercials--especially the one M35h hybrid ad that uses Lexus' tag line against them.
The next group of videos leverages two very powerful media outlets to create buzz. The NFL's Super Bowl reaches more viewers than just about anything else save for Formula 1 or the Academy Awards. The other channel? The one in your head that's mostly for adults only.
9) BMW spent big dollars during the Super Bowl earlier this year to promote the new made-in-America 2011 X3. While the commercial isn't groundbreaking or hilarious, it shows the company's pride in its South Carolina operations, and that we can appreciate.
8) Another Super Bowl ad we enjoyed this year was Meredes-Benz's cinematic full-line ad. With P. Diddy and quite a few hot classic models, the commercial had fans of the pointed star salivating.7) Another Chevrolet commercial that caught our attention was the Camaro's Super Bowl spot. Who hasn't been hot for teacher?
6b) What to make of Jennifer Lopez' ads for the new Fiat 500? Her commercial for the 500c left many puzzled. The version that aired on TV was confusing and short, and the long-form ad elaborated on the storyline. We say elaborated, because "explained" may be too strong a word.
6a) The J-Lo ads actually began with the Fiat 500 Gucci edition, and a brief spot that highlighted her new track "My World" as much or more so than the car. Later, we learned Lopez wasn't actually Jenny from the block in any scene in the ads, either--so much for street cred. Chrysler's been down this road before with Celine Dion, and it ended badly. So why include these ads among the very best of the year? Lopez' star power alone.
Now we're down to the very best car ads we've seen this year. In all of these, the ad crafters found a way to meld the perfect message with the hallmark of the car--whether it's a calling-card set of doors, a funky freshness, a gritty revival, science fiction or pure hormonal appeal.
5) Everyone loves a triumph, including Mercedes-Benz. We love how Benz' ad crew integrated the new SLS and its hallmark gullwing doors into the commercial so seamlessly, and put them in perfect context.
4) The hamster-riffic Kia Soul commercials have been a huge hit, and our list wouldn't be complete without them. This year the hamsters won over bad-ass, butt-shaking aliens on a desolate planet populated only by charcoal, smoke, and LMFAO's ubiquitous and maddeningly catchy "Party Rock Anthem"--the soundtrack to holiday houses everywhere.
3) One of the two most talked-about commercials during this year's Super Bowl was the Volkswagen's ad, dubbed "The Force", which featured the new 2012 Passat. Cute, funny, and warm-hearted, the ad hits all the right notes, especially for Gen Xers raised on Star Wars.
2) VW's ad felt right, but Chrysler's 200 ad blew a hole in the game telecast with a darkly cinematic tone and its bracing gospel take on Eminem's Lose Yourself. At a little over 2 minutes long, the ad lured in viewers just by being on screen so long. With Eminem as the star of the commercial, Chrysler drummed up quite a bit of buzz, even though the 200 sedan wasn't its best foot forward, and despite the semantic issues with its "Imported From Detroit" tagline. Hate it or love it, it's still a hot topic on YouTube to this day.
1) Our single favorite car ad of the year? The new 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth commercial. Hilarious, sexy, and aggressive, the ad somehow finds a way to play the usual car-ad sexism for maximum fun, and impact. We could get used to car ads with a brain and a body--car ads like this one.