It doesn’t matter how good a car is—if the public doesn’t know about it, it won’t sell, and if it doesn’t sell, it dies. So car makers go to great lengths to promote their shiny new steel boxes, permanently lodge its image in the viewers’ minds, and educate us about its merits (both real and imagined). Some of the commercials they create to achieve these goals are sexy, while some are hi-tech, and still others aggressive. Others, as you will see, are just downright weird.
Sometimes, a car maker chooses to focus their commercial not on the whole product, but on their favorite new feature. If that new gizmo is truly great, then the ad probably writes itself. Unfortunately, if this latest tweak is a bit weird, then they have to get “creative.” In the case of the Hyundai Veloster, whose big new feature was “no driver’s side rear passenger door,” it’s a wonder they decided to focus on it at all. It’s really just a poorly disguised cost-saving measure, which would explain why they doubled down by having the literal Grim Reaper kill anybody who opened the door of Hyundai’s competitors. At worst, this is the most macabre way to sell a car we’ve ever seen, and at best, it simply makes no sense whatsoever.
Metaphors are common in car ads, though their usual technique is to describe a feature of the new car, then riff on it. Toyota either didn’t get the memo, got completely distracted, or just handed the keys over to a high school English class — while the advert starts normally enough, with the car center-screen, it’s really just the jumping-off point for a bizarre creative writing exercise about reinventing everything in the most absurd ways possible. When this journey through weird (which includes couches “reinvented” as piles of sexy babes and hunks, babies reinvented as time machines that don’t poop, and DMVs reinvented as nice places that serve ice cream) finally circles back around to the product being sold, the only thing we’ve actually learned is that the Camry has been “reinvented,” and we don’t really know how. Whatever it is, we hope it includes a built-in Lionel Richie blender.
The Toyota Hilux is legendary for its toughness, and that’s clearly the message of this commercial. But while, for most companies, scenes showing the vehicle navigating crazy obstacles would be enough to get the point across, Toyota seems to believe no commercial is complete without a completely random departure from the norm. And so, not only do we have an unlikely series of environmental phenomenon occurring in a single day, we’re joined by a motorcycle-riding armored boar and its ice cream-loving monkey sidekick. Just when you have decided this isn’t real and you simply need some sleep, the monkey reappears with the coup de grace to the final shreds of your sanity: “Hokey pokey!” But then again, this is apparently all happening in New Zealand, which is famous for fantastical creatures, and who knows what a Kiwi considers normal. For all we know, cyclones, volcanoes, landslides, and floods might actually be the least remarkable things a New Zealander has seen all week.
1961 Ford Falcon
The celebrity endorsement is a classic advertising technique, but it only works if that celeb is capable of actually giving an endorsement. To promote the 1961 Falcon, Ford made the strange decision to use Linus, Pig-Pen, and Snoopy from the comic Peanuts, to provide celebrity approval. Air time must have cost a lot less in 1961, because this dose of weird and uncomfortable goes on way longer than it should. Targeting an advert at kids isn’t unheard of, but it helps if they can understand the dialog. Besides, Peanuts wasn’t old enough in 1961 to make nostalgia a productive target. It’s as if the script was written before a celebrity was found to read the lines, but when they settled on Charlie Brown’s buddies, they should have just got Charles Schultz to rewrite it. That way, the result would probably have been legendary … but they didn’t, and it’s dumb.
It might be possible to describe this advert as a celebrity endorsement, but only because there’s a celebrity in it. Grace Jones was hot property when this commercial was screened in 1985, having just starred as a Bond girl alongside Roger Moore in the movie A View To A KilI, and alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Destroyer the previous year. This may be the ultimate example of a celebrity becoming the “face” of a brand, because she’s certainly not talking it up much—unless her tuneful yell actually meant something in the ’80s. The truth is, Grace Jones looks so out of place driving a Citroen CX, the only way to make the commercial even remotely plausible was to go all-out banana splits-crazy. And so, we have a giant mechanical Grace Jones sandwich, filled with screaming Grace Joneses … and a Citroen CX.
Going even further off the celebrity endorsement path, we have a 2011 commercial for the Kia Soul. Kia probably couldn’t—or didn’t want to—pay for a cameo by LMFAO, so instead they just acquired a licence for one of their songs. And since everyone loves video games, there’s a bunch of those too, plus dancing hamsters. It doesn’t make any sense, none at all. NONE. And while the tune is quite catchy, and those hamsters show off some impressive dance moves for human-sized rodents, it all ends up just distracting us from the car—but considering it’s the Kia Soul, maybe that’s the point.
In one more example of a car commercial featuring more crazy than car, here’s Nissan promoting their strangely named beast, the Cashky … or is it Quashchai? It’s not an easy name to spell. And the name isn’t the only thing that’s hard to remember, because you’d be forgiven if you couldn’t pick the car out of a lineup after this advert, seeing as it barely appears at all. What we have instead is a kind of pseudo-documentary following the training of Joe Zakopane, a Polish stuntman who is preparing to compete in the Qashqai Car Games. This ad was a part of a wider promotional strategy that preceded the official UK car launch, and along with giving you a good reason never to drive a car with your teeth, it was intended to highlight the car’s “urban proof” design. It’s proof of something alright, but that something was simply, unfortunately, “don’t buy our car.”
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