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Super Bowl ads point way to creative times

For most fans, the Super Bowl is a giant football party, but it’s also a time for the automakers to get very creative with their TV spots. It’s the perfect time to get the message across since much of the country is watching, to the tune of 110 million sets of eyeballs.

In case you weren’t paying attention last year, there were actually very few automobile commercials. This year, however, there were plenty as the major car makers seemed willing to get back in “the game.”

The fact that they’re advertising at all during the Super Bowl sends the message that the economy is beginning to recover, however slowly the process and progress. The simple fact is that automakers are in business to sell product and they need to advertise to make us aware of what they’re up to. If they’re advertising, they’ve got merchandise to move.

Let me first say that when it comes to Super Bowl Sunday, I live for the commercials. After returning home to Los Angeles, Calif., from a work trip, I raced to the TV not as much excited by the actual game as by the breaks during it. I didn’t even have a team to root for: I was cheering for the automotive commercials. And, man, it was exciting to see the plethora of creative auto ads this year.

Aside from Kim Kardashian’s Sketcher’s commercial, all the commercials that left an impression were auto related. This is great news for the car industry because it means dollars are being spent, and because there is obviously great strategy behind this kind of spending. Car companies are really re-establishing themselves, investing in their initiatives in a major way again, after a long lull, and consequently, invigorating everyone from the mainstream consumer to the ultimate car enthusiasts. This came across loud and clear when talking with friends and after starting threads on Twitter and Facebook after the Super Bowl game that garnered a lot of feedback.

So, what are the automakers up to, if the commercials are any indication?

The focus was definitely on hybrids and smaller rides. When in years past we saw the spotlight shine on the latest sport utility vehicles and trucks, this year’s energy was directed toward cars such as the Mini Countryman, Hyundai’s hybrid efforts, the Volkswagen Beetle and the Chevrolet Cruze. The manufacturers created catchy ads to make the smallest vehicles appear sexy and alluring. The Hyundai commercial was psychedelic and funky, captivating me visually and with its message to battle your inner spirit animal. The Mini Countryman is a smaller vehicle, but Mini was projecting the message of a roomier car with more cargo space, showing that you get the best of both worlds with this ride. Hyundai had another ad with the message and tag line being that we have never settled for the first thing that came along, whether a bicycle, record player or cell phone, so why then settle for the first car? The implication was that we should embrace a gas-electric hybrid. The Beetle commercial showed a speedy beetle bug — with racing stripes — maneuvering along ahead of all those in the forest, showing that it’s fast, spunky, agile and cute. Even the spots showcasing midsize cars such as the Chrysler 200 highlighted the combination of speed and power, coupled with a fair price and decent fuel economy.

Aside from the content, there was the ever-important mood. The patriotic American theme was at the forefront, since during tough times one of the things that seems to help us cope is unity, or at least the spirit of it.

The Car Max ad was set at a quintessential 1950s gas station, reminiscent of good-old traditional American life. The much raved-about Camaro spot featured two guys narrating their ideal commercial for the American icon, changing themes and story lines at their whim. After heroics, acrobatics and a leap from a tall building, the Camaro lands in a school parking lot and out steps “Miss Evelyn.”

And the most talked about commercial, aside from Volkswagen’s ad with the adorable kid playing Darth Vader, was Chrysler’s spot with entertainer Eminem featuring the Chrysler 200 and the beloved Motor City. Eminem’s music was prominent as he drove into the city, a man narrating for two minutes (that is one expensive commercial) about Detroit, the unassuming city that has “been to hell and back” yet knows more than most about luxury and the finer things in life because of hard work and conviction. The ad ends with Eminem entering a church where a gospel choir is singing, to me symbolizing that cars are Detroit’s gospel, and they have again found the light. After years of huge losses, failure and bailouts, this portrayed a renewed strength in American manufacturing.

I took full advantage of the opportunity to rewind the DVR and enjoy my favorites a second and third time. I heard people were cheering loudly in Los Angeles bars while these standout ads played. The themes mean that the carmakers are being innovative, meeting buyer needs and most importantly, setting the tone for the resurrection of the car industry — perhaps a different car industry — in America. I’ve assembled some YouTube links to the commercials at www.shiftweekly.com (click the Courtney Hansen link at the right).

Among her numerous accomplishments, Courtney Hansen is the author of “Garage Girl’s Guide to Everything You Need to Know About Your Car,” the host of Spike TV’s “Power Block,” the former host of TLC’s Overhaulin’ program and a writer with Wheelbase Media and Auto Shift Weekly magazine. You can e-mail her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/media and using the contact link.

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