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This is a self-funded case study using our Ad Testing solution.
In the last of our four-part category deep-dives looking at all the winners and losers from the 2022 Super Bowl, today we’re reviewing the automotive category. While we’ve spoken at length in the past about the often dry and cliché-ridden communications approach holding back the category, we’ve also seen brands rise to the top by breaking the mold and investing in emotion and storytelling.
Super Bowl is the one time of the year auto advertisers seemingly let their hair down and go all-out in an attempt to entertain. The result? Considerably more effective advertising than is typically produced throughout the year.
So, what can auto advertisers take from these learnings to build the case for investing in creativity all-year round? We used our 3Cs framework to break down the effectiveness of all the major campaigns.
Toyota released two ads for the Big Game, launching the brand-new Tundra with a spot titled “The Joneses”. It featured three famous Jones actors — Tommy Lee, Leslie, and Rashida — in a humorous race through rough terrain. The trio puts the Tundra through its paces with a surprise visit from Nick Jonas, who shares a similar-enough surname. Fittingly, “It’s Not Unusual,” by Tom Jones, is the soundtrack playing throughout.
The spot was the most effective of all automotive Super Bowl ads, utilizing celebrity pulling power to drive the narrative, rather than the narrative just being about them. Giving the product (i.e. the vehicle) a starring role in the story and depicting its off-road capabilities simultaneously kept the brand front-of-mind while communicating key proof points.
In contrast, “Start Your Impossible” went down a deeply emotive route, telling the touching story of Brian and Robin McKeever who were world-class skiers as youngsters. Disaster struck when at the age of 18 Brian found out he had the same degenerative eye condition as his father, dashing his Olympic dreams. However, tragedy was quickly replaced with a story of perseverance, with Brian and Robin teaming up to achieve the ultimate success at the Paralympics.
While the story struck an emotional chord and elicited strong feelings of inspiration, this also came to its detriment from an effectiveness standpoint — with viewers mesmerized by the story of the two brothers, little about it connected back to Toyota in a meaningful way. Consequently, while the spot was just as ‘Captivating’ and ‘Compelling’ as “The Joneses”, a much weaker ‘Connect’ score saw it fall considerably behind.
Kia’s Super Bowl spot featured “Robo Dog”, a robot dog who yearns for the love he sees real dogs being given from humans. After seeing a man (actor Sam Page) charging his electric vehicle, he’s overcome with excitement at the realization there might actually be someone out there for him. A dramatic chase ensues — set to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” — reaching a dramatic conclusion when he finally catches up but his battery dies moments before. Thankfully, Sam finds him and uses power from the car to charge the dog’s battery, highlighting the EV6’s output power capabilities.
The cute and lovable Robo Dog melted viewers’ hearts while also shining light on Kia's partnership with Petfinder, a foundation which helps animals find permanent homes. The approach was successful at distinguishing Kia from competitors and positioning the brand as modern, technologically-advanced, and “future focused” — continuing the brand’s journey toward erasing negative stigmas associated with it.
Nissan produced a mini action movie for their Super Bowl commercial this year. The spot titled “Thrill Driver” turned actor/comedian Eugene Levy into an action hero, featuring the Nissan Z and all-electric Nissan Ariya. The action-packed story, celebrity cameos, visual effects, and humor all worked together to retain viewer engagement at a high level throughout.
The cinematic production showcased the performance capabilities of the Nissan Z, with Levy driving off exploding buildings and escaping from his adversaries. This left people feeling more positive toward the Nissan brand, and as though it offered something different to other manufacturers.
Arnold Schwarzenegger starred as Zeus and Salma Hayek as his wife, Hera, in BMW’s Super Bowl spot for their all-new electric vehicle — the iX. The spot sees Schwarzenegger adjusting to life in retirement in Palm Springs, which includes getting used to all the various electric powered objects he now needs to use rather than relying on his own superpowers.
Seeing Zeus fail in his attempts to adjust to life in retirement — and growing increasingly frustrated by the day — put a smile on viewers’ faces. This culminated in a scene where he caused the entire city to lose power as he attempted to operate a light switch. The approach helped convey the message that BMW’s are “The Ultimate Electric Driving Machine”, consequently differentiating the brand from competitors.
Polestar, the sister company of Volvo, took a not-so-subtle potshot at competitors and broader hypocrisy in the auto industry. The brand’s Super Bowl spot centered around "nos" — including "no dieselgate" (VW), "no conquering Mars" (Tesla), and "no greenwashing" (oil companies?). The aim was to demonstrate that Polestar offer a fresh, all-electric change, and are free from auto industry spin.
The ad stood out versus other EV Super Bowl ads, helping position Polestar as offering stylish and sophisticated vehicles, along with the brand being progressive and ethical. However, it also left many viewers feeling bored and wondering who Polestar was. Perhaps Polestar was a little too “blah blah blah” and should’ve instead focused more on what it is than what it’s not — which is particularly important for a brand which most people in the U.S. have little familiarity with.
GM reunited the cast of the 1997 smash hit Austin Powers for its Super Bowl extravaganza, with the aim of getting people thinking more about cars that are better for the environment. In the spot, Dr. Evil, played by Mike Myers, realizes he needs to help keep the world from destruction if he’s to have a society to control. And so, he takes over GM.
Transforming Dr. Evil into “Dr. EV-il” was a masterstroke, entertaining and delighting viewers. However, the story overshadowed the message, with the pledge to go all-electric not coming through as clearly as hoped. This was exacerbated by the creative style lacking synergy with GM’s typical communications approach, hindering how good it fit with people’s expectations.
Jamie-Lynn Sigler reprised her role as Meadow Soprano from The Sopranos in Chevy’s spot for their all-new electric truck, recreating her fictional father’s (mob boss Tony) iconic Manhattan-to-New Jersey commute to the theme song during the show’s opening credits. For fans of the program it was almost enough to bring a tear to the eye, especially given the family’s uncertain fate following the show’s suspenseful conclusion in 2007.
While there was enthusiasm toward Chevy’s electric shift, not enough people were seemingly familiar with The Sopranos to connect all the dots together with a grown-up Meadow mimicking her father’s mannerisms. The message of “A whole new truck for a whole new generation” was subsequently missed, leaving many people instead feeling bored.