Stars and cars, Jeeps and sheep: Super Bowl auto ad roundup

From Mini’s not-so-mini Clubman to the speedy Audi R8 and Acura NSX, brands hope to score with viewers

From Mini’s not-so-mini Clubman to the speedy Audi R8 and Acura NSX, brands hope to score with viewers

Jeep’s “4x4ever” ad, styled like a music video, is the brand’s “battle cry meant to bind its global community and drive Jeep brand followers toward the future.”

Beneath the glamour of 2016’s star-filled auto Super Bowl ads sat a group of vehicles that will be pawns crucial to each brand’s product lineup.

Toyota’s redesigned and re-engineered 2016 Prius plug-in hybrid made a Super Bowl appearance for the first time since 2005, sporting a more stylish look.

Acura’s long-awaited NSX supercar, which will serve as a halo for a brand recharting its marketing direction, has battled through delays and fiery test runs since it last appeared in the game in 2012 with Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno.

Another supercar, the Audi R8, made an appearance as well. Audi credits the first-generation R8 with starting the brand’s upward trajectory in the U.S.

Honda is diving hood-first into the competitive pickup market with the revamped Ridgeline, while Buick is preparing to test out new markets with the Cascada convertible. Then there’s the 2016 Kia Optima sedan — a vehicle that could use some momentum after a redesign — and the techie Hyundai Elantra and Genesis luxury sedan.

Meanwhile, the smallest product of the bunch — the Mini Cooper Clubman — made a play on the big stage with the brand’s largest model yet.

“We in Detroit, especially, appreciate the fact that at the end of the day, there are two auto shows. One is the North American International [Auto Show] and the other is called the Super Bowl,” said Mike Bernacchi, a marketing professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, in an interview. “The expenditure by the auto companies is otherworldly.”

The products were weaved into storylines filled with famous faces, sheep, bears and the sounds of Van Halen.

And Super Bowl 50, the actual game? The Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers 24-10 in a game dominated by defense.


Acura wants the world to know that “Precision Crafted Performance” is back.

Acura’s 30-second NSX spot, which aired in the first quarter, channels the energy of legendary rock band Van Halen as David Lee Roth’s fiery vocals set the tone.

“I love that it’s lots of car beauty shots, which you tend not to see as much anymore,” said Devra Prywes, vice president of insights for ad tech company Unruly, in an interview. “It has the music. It gives you exhilaration, which I think is exactly what they’re trying to connote.”

Ad agency MullenLowe pored through an array of songs before settling on Van Halen’s classic “Runnin’ with the Devil” — a track that had never been released for advertising use. The song search took the brand around four to six weeks.

After viewing the ad, the agency hopes the public will feel that Acura is back.

“The ultimate expression of ‘Precision Crafted Performance’ is here. It’s a proud moment for Acura,” said Mark Wenneker, chief creative officer of MullenLowe, in an interview.


Audi reached for the moon in its R8 spot, but left its “Truth in Engineering” slogan back on Earth amid Volkswagen Group’s diesel-emissions scandal.

The 60-second first-quarter ad, “The Commander,” told the story of a retired astronaut who rediscovers his lust for life with the help of the R8 V-10-plus supercar.

Audi didn’t feel it was the right time to use its “Truth in Engineering” tagline.

“Given some of the current sentiment surrounding the TDI emissions issues, we have suspended it in certain marketing materials,” an Audi spokesman said in an email to Advertising Age, a sister publication of Automotive News.

“The Commander” is Audi’s eighth Super Bowl spot. San Francisco-based agency Venables Bell & Partners created the ad.


Buick aligned the Cascada convertible with New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and actress/model Emily Ratajkowski in its 30-second ad.

The brand says Beckham’s “unique talent” and “commitment to excellence” is representative of Buick’s dedication to performance. Buick thinks Ratajkowski, on the other hand, has a style that “aligns with the Cascada’s design and adventurous spirit.”

The Beckham pick should work for Buick despite his recent one-game suspension in December, said Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Q Scores.

Beckham was flagged three times against the Carolina Panthers for unnecessary roughness. Schafer doesn’t expect any carryover from the controversy that surrounded Beckham after the suspension to detract from the ad.

Q Scores, which helps brands find celebrity matches for endorsements, researches and measures the consumer appeal of more than 20,000 celebrities.

“He’s a new, emerging star on the media landscape,” Schafer said in an interview. “[He’s] a good fit with the repositioning of the Buick brand.”

The spot continues the brand’s popular “Experience the New Buick” campaign that began in 2014.

Tony DiSalle, U.S. vice president of Buick and GMC marketing, told Automotive News in August that Buick is ready to position the Cascada as a brand halo that could draw attention in “smile states” such as California and Florida.


Honda went to the pastures to pitch the new Ridgeline.

The automaker used a group of singing sheep to put the spotlight on the Ridgeline’s truck bed audio system.

After getting a dose of music from a man’s Ridgeline, the sheep pick up on it and unleash a melody for the ages.

The 60-second ad was a good length to properly tell the story, said the University of Detroit Mercy’s Bernacchi.

“When you hear the sheep singing, immediately you ask, ‘What the heck is this?’ They couldn’t have done this in 30 seconds. It would’ve been impossible because it takes you a little while to figure it out,” he said. “At the end of it, it’s very clear what they’re doing.”


Hyundai made a statement in its first Super Bowl as the NFL’s automotive sponsor with two in-game ads along with two more spots that ran during the pre-game show and just before kickoff.

The brand called on comedian Kevin Hart and actor Ryan Reynolds to anchor two of the spots. Their star power is paying dividends.

Hart’s pre-kickoff spot, “First Date,” crossed one million YouTube views within 24 hours of being posted on Feb. 3, while Reynolds’ “Ryanville” second-quarter ad was the most shared Super Bowl auto commercial online as of Feb. 4 with more than 49,000 shares, according to Unruly.

Hyundai’s talking-bear adventure, “The Chase,” drew more than 15 million views on YouTube in three days after hitting the site on Feb. 1. The ad touts the Elantra’s remote-start feature that lets people speak into their smart watches to start it.

As of Feb. 3, “The Chase” was YouTube’s most-viewed Super Bowl 50 ad in any industry.

“It’s humorous for sure,” Bernacchi said. “Cute animals, humor. These are Super Bowl staples.”


To commemorate its 75th year, Jeep used a series of portraits to pay tribute to the people and moments that helped shape its history.

The ad, aptly titled “Portraits,” used more than 60 images that included soldiers, actor Jeff Goldblum, blues musician B.B. King and singer Aretha Franklin.

The slideshow-style ad is accented with an original music score.

“From the brave soldiers of World War II, to boundary breaking mavericks of the past and the trailblazers of the present– every person has an incredible story to tell about how Jeep has enabled them to see, feel and do,” Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said in a statement.

FCA says Jeep’s second ad of the night, “4x4ever,” is a cornerstone of the brand that tells the “the formidable story of capability that has transcended time and designs.”

FCA said the ad, which also revisits the brand’s history, is “the battle cry meant to bind its global community and drive Jeep brand followers toward the future.”

The ad’s custom track was performed by Sony Music artist Morgan Dorr.


Kia unleashed the power of a colorful sock in its Optima ad starring actor Christopher Walken.

The premise wouldn’t have worked without him, said Michael Sprague, chief operating officer of Kia Motors America.

Using socks as a metaphor for the midsize sedan segment, Sprague said, was a fun way to tell the story.

Walken, while wearing a colorful sock on his hand, pops up in an unsuspecting man’s closet in the ad to warn him of going through life “uninspired” like a pair of beige socks.

The spot is about standing out from the pack as Kia hopes to do with the redesigned Optima in a car category that’s often been dubbed boring and uninspired, Sprague said.

“It was so dependent upon having Christopher Walken in the ad. Nobody else could play that role and deliver a message the way that he did,” Sprague said in an interview. “The whole play off words of ‘Walken Closet’ helped seal it all.”


Mini didn’t run from labels in its celebrity-infused spot starring the Clubman.

In fact, it tackled them head-on like celebs who read mean tweets on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

John Butler, chief creative officer of the ad agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners that produced the commercial, says the Mini spot reminds him of the popular Kimmel segments. The power is taken away from the unflattering words, Butler says, as famous people read them.

Mini used a similar approach where it directly takes on labels such as being a “chick car.” The ad stared tennis champ Serena Williams, skateboard legend Tony Hawk, Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson, singer T-Pain, retired soccer player Abby Wambach and actor Harvey Keitel.

The brand put out a series of candid interviews with the stars in the lead-up to the game where they talk about being labeled.

“There’s something about addressing a label straight on. There’s an honesty to that,” Butler said in an interview. “What brand is going to come out and say that kind of stuff? The norm is trying to hide it or counter it.”


The terms “high-speed chase” and “Prius” aren’t exactly synonymous with each other, so Toyota challenged a few perceptions with its adventurous 90-second spot in the second quarter.

The automaker highlighted the redesigned Prius’ fun-to-drive factor in “The Longest Chase,” a spot where every driving scene was real, said Jack Hollis, group vice president of marketing for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., in an interview last week.

Hollis said some viewers will probably doubt if the Prius can actually pull off such moves.

Toyota is using the Super Bowl to kick start its Prius launch campaign.

Hollis said the latest Prius is particularly important because it’s the first vehicle on the automaker’s new platform, the Toyota New Global Architecture. One of the perks of the platform, Hollis said, is that it makes the Prius more fun to drive.

“The vehicle for three generations has always been, ‘Oh yeah, great gas mileage. Oh yeah, great environmental,’” Hollis said. “The words, ‘Wow, that’s an awesome looking car,’ has never been used with a Prius.”

He added, “The media who has seen it. The public who has seen it and driven it are saying, ‘Wow, no way that’s a Prius.’”

Toyota also ran a 60-second spot during the post-game show that it sponsored. “Hunters” continues the car-chase storyline as the police draft the Prius themselves to continue the pursuit of the burglars from the first spot.

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