Here’s What a Marketing Expert Thinks of This Year’s Super Bowl Car Commercials

Here’s What a Marketing Expert Thinks of This Year’s Super Bowl Car Commercials

The automotive sector led spending on Super Bowl commercials for the fourth year in a row, but not all the ads were winners.

For such a big-time event, the money spent on advertising is huge, so it needs to have a good return on investment. In total, $340 million was spent on Super Bowl commercials this year, with the automotive sector spending $90 million. A 30-second spot can cost around $5 million. So which automakers spent their money and time wisely?

“All the ads were well-produced,” said Roger Barnette, president of IgnitionOne, a marketing firm based in New York. “But they need to be relevant to the folks buying your cars or product. They need to elicit empathy and engagement.”

Barnette has clear favorites from the Super Bowl 50. Acura’s “What He Said” spot promoting the NSX isn’t one of them.

ALSO SEE: The Winners and Losers of Every Single Car Ad from the 2016 Super Bowl

“It was a neat piece of art, but it didn’t get people engaged,” he said. “You watched the commercial and asked ‘What was that about again?’ ” Barnette said the ad wasn’t effective because it was too nuanced, and that it took a few views to get the message across, so it was “very easy to get lost in the shuffle.”

Surprisingly, he liked Buick’s commercial, which was generally thought of as a flop.

“The Buick commercial was relevant,” he said. “I would say that it’s not my favourite car ad, but it came to mind because it’s amplifying a marketing message that’s already in play. It won’t win awards for being inventive for funny, but it might sell more cars.”


Jeep’s 4x4ever ad was also a strong showing, Barnette said, and it was one of his favorites.

“It evoked their brand, it evoked patriotism, and it told a story about two they were and who they aspire to be,” he said.

He also called Toyota’s “Heck on Wheels” and “The Longest Chase” spots a “home run” because it embraced their inner nerdiness and showed people that they’re not ashamed of their reputation. He also liked how both ads made mention of the Prius’ features, something he says is necessary to get people buying cars.

That was a point Barnette said Hyundai missed out on.

“They would fall in the category of well produced, funny commercials, but they didn’t really strike me as promoting the brand message,” he said. Speaking of the “Ryanville” spot, he added, “It was clever and well done, and it targeted the right female audience, but I don’t know why it would make them want to buy a Hyundai.”

Kia’s “Walken Closet” missed the mark even more, he said. Basically, if you don’t like Christopher Walken, you didn’t like the ad.

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“Some people just didn’t get it,” he said. “You’re missing the mark on the brand. It was more about the personality than the product. They were trying too hard to fit the narrative.”

Barnette did add that he was a “big fan” of MINI’s use of celebrity with its “#DefyLabels” ad.

“They did use personalities, but in a way that sucked you in and furthered the brand message,” he said, adding that it was so successful because the general feel-good message could be applied to both the brand as well as the people buying the cars and watching the commercial.

If there’s no celebrity to carry the commercial, Barnette said there has to be good character development, which is a hard thing to do in about 60 seconds. He thought Audi did a great job developing a character, eliciting empathy from the audience and selling the product with its “Commander” commercial.

And to answer a question that’s been asked a lot: Why do companies release ads before the actual Super Bowl?

“The shock and awe value [of a Superbowl ad] is largely over,” Barnette said. “Almost all the ads were available online before the actual game, and from a marketing perspective, that makes a lot of sense.”

He said that it’s more effective to generate buzz before the game and that the best Super Bowl ads are part of a larger ongoing campaign.

“Superbowl ads need to be part of a bigger campaign, or the kickoff of a new campaign,” he said.

Did you have a favorite automotive ad during Super Bowl 50? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Hoffman

    Did anyone actually see the Prius spot “Heck on Wheels” air? (Not to be confused with the Prius spot “The Longest Chase”)

  • smartacus

    At this point; i’m thoroughly convinced Super Bowl car commercials are not for targeting potential buyers, but for ALIENATING potential buyers.