Advertisements have a funny way of becoming cultural touchstones. In many ways, they were early memes. You may not have been able to share them, but a really witty beer ad on Sunday might become the subject of water-cooler fodder on Monday (if that’s still a thing). A powerful car ad stays with you. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes they are serious, and other times they celebrate the sheer joy of driving. We’ve put together 10 of the most iconic car ads of all time, ranging from comedic to inspirational.
Nissan Frontier – Supercharged (Wicked Garden)
Ads don’t have to be overly complicated. Couple of glamor shots, slow motion, and a clever tagline. That’s really all that’s going on in this ad that introduced the 2001 Nissan Frontier during an ad-break for “Malcom in the Middle.” Perhaps what makes this ad stand out is the flying mud, power slides, and using the song “Wicked Garden” by Stone Temple Pilots.
Chevy- Like A Rock
There have been songs in ads and there have been ads for cars and trucks, but it’s hard to imagine a more iconic pairing than 1990s Chevy Trucks and Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock.” Seger once said in an interview that he was proud the 1986 ad was used from 1991 to 2013. In that time, the Silverado was one of the best-selling trucks on the market. It’s still a sales success, but its country music ads just don’t hit the same way as “Like A Rock.” For two decades the song and the truck came hand-in-hand.
BMW – The Hire
This is where an advertisement grows into something else. In TKTK, BMW produced a series of short films staring Clive Owen as an unnamed driver. He would be hired to do various jobs, and in each short story, he would be wielding a different BMW product. For our money, the best of them all is titled “Star,” in which he thrashes a BMW M5 around downtown Los Angeles, all the while an unnamed star, aka Madonna, is thrown around the back seat. The overhead shot of the gearshift as “Song 2” by Blur fires up is the kind of shot that inspires young enthusiasts into making videos about cars.
Nissan Z – Dolls
At first, this ad might seem targeted towards children. In fact, it was targeted at the adolescent that lives in all of us when we embrace the sensation of speed. There’s no information regarding the 1996 300ZX T-top, but we don’t care. This ad is just way too fun, and highlights Nissan’s great taste in music in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Saab – Born from Jets
Before he would go on to direct Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State, and Man on Fire, the late Tony Scott directed this Saab Ad. While his later films have more kinetic shooting and editing, this ad showcases the incredible magic-hour lighting that Scott wold use often in his early films. And what better way to showcase the connections between Saab’s parent company and its background in building jets like the Gripen. No wonder Scott would go on to direct Top Gun!
Ford Mustang – Steve McQueen
What do you get when you combine Bullitt and Field of Dreams? The mid-2000s were all about retro automotive styling. There were low points, like the PT Cruiser and Chevy HHR. But then we had icons like the Ford GT. For the 2005 Ford Mustang GT, Ford fully embraced the throwback notion by digitally resurrecting Steve McQueen, arguably the most famous on-screen Mustang driver to pilot the new Pony Car. Its styling drew upon classic Mustangs and the ad definitely induces chills.
Honda – Cogs
Honda is a brand built on its reputation for reliability, and the brand wanted to show of its precision, in style. This ad first aired in 2003 to introduce the redesigned 7th Generation Accord Wagon, which North America got as the Acura TSX Sport Wagon. With a Rube Goldberg-like cascade of TKTKT, the add was incredibly memorable. Honorable-Honda mention goes to its “Impossible Dream” ad.
Dodge has never been one to stray away from Patriotism, including some very powerful and moving Super Bowl ads. This one looks like it’s headed in that direction, until George Washington and his calvary of anachronistic Dodge Challengers appear. Just like the brand’s more serious ads (including the one featuring Paul Harvey’s 1978 speech “The Farmer), it’s hard not to feel patriotic after watching an ad like this.
Volkswagen – Un-Pimp My Ride
Whether it’s a nihilist in The Big Lebowski or a cosmonaut in Armageddon Peter Stormare (yeah, now you know that guy’s name) almost always plays strange characters. He’s a perfect fit as a German scientist enacting some automotive justice on poor automotive taste. This was before VW Group set its sights on become one of the largest automakers in the world, and in this process, buffing out most of what resembles any character. This ad was from back when Volkswagen was fun.
Shell – Ferrari
You may not know every single Ferrari race car in this ad, or any for that matter, but you understand. Shell’s message; “Ferrari IS Formula One, and Ferrari runs on Shell.” Today, Ferrari is a “shell” of its former self, mismanaging two gifted drivers and a fast car through its own hubris. But you can put all that out of your mind as you swoon over vintage Ferrari F1 cars bolting past the Coliseum, and the siren-sound of a V10 engine howling through city streets. Oh yeah…this is the good stuff…
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