Grading all the car ads that appeared during Super Bowl 50

Automakers have always looked at the Super Bowl as the perfect platform to showcase new models, change their image, or, in some cases, remind everyone that they’re still around. Super Bowl 50 saw all three objectives in full display as a total of nine car brands released 11 minutes worth of ads, spending around $96.8 million for the precious real estate. These numbers are actually down from Super Bowl XLIX when nine automakers spent $113.4 million on 13.5 minutes worth of commercials.

Regardless of how many brands released commercials in this year’s Super Bowl, what’s important is that the appeal of doing so remains there. Of the seven automakers, Hyundai had the most ads with four, including Kevin Hart’s “First Date” commercial that won USA Today’s Ad Meter, becoming the first automaker in 28 years to score top honors.

The commercials also saw a steady balance of American brands and their European and Asian counterparts. Jeep and Buick represented the USA with the former releasing two ads to celebrate its 75th anniversary and the latter releasing one commercial to promote the new Buick Cascada.

Mini and Audi also had some air time and the latter’s ad for the new R8 V10 Plus attracting the most searches, as per Kelley’s Blue Book. According to KBB, searches on its website for the R8 model rose 7,780 percent after the “Commander” commercial aired while searches for Audi spiked by 448 percent.

Overall, the auto industry scored big as most of its commercials were regarded as some of the best of the night. But, which one took home top honors in my mind? Read on and find out.

Continue after the jump to watch all the car commercials from Super Bowl 50.

Acura

What He Said


The Acura NSX finally got its long overdue exposure in the Super Bowl with this 30-second spot that’s loaded with subtle references to its highly anticipated return. The red, white, and blue lighting feels like it’s trying a little too hard to ingratiate itself to the American viewing audience, but the soundtrack of Van Halen’s Runnin’ with the Devil definitely gives it a genuine amount of edginess. Oh, and the tag line “What He Said” is a nice way to tie up the ad with the excitable lyrics of the song.

Grade: B

Audi

“Commander”


Comedy was the predominant theme of this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials, so it was nice to see Audi go against the grain with its “Commander” ad for the new Audi R8 V10 Plus. The German automaker has a fondness for releasing commercials that tug at the heartstrings and this is a good example of that. The message is clear: no matter what you’ve seen or been through, there’s nothing quite like seeing and driving a car like the R8 V10 Plus for the first time. Some of us have found ourselves in a similar situation, which is probably why the adage “nothing quite like the first time” applies here.

Grade: B+

Buick

The Big Game Meets The Big Day


Buick arguably had the most to gain with having a Super Bowl commercial for the simple reason that not everyone knows that the company is still around. Having Odell Beckham Jr. and Emily Ratajkowski in the commercial was also a smart move and Buick played its cards right by not giving the two too much air time that could’ve threatened to overshadow the Cascada convertible. My only gripe is the groomsman’s line “I can’t believe that convertible’s a Buick.” I get that it plays into the company’s “That’s not a Buick!” ad campaign, but the line was delivered with such astonishment that it felt like it undermined the car a little bit.

Grade: C+

Honda

A New Truck To Love


This was a huge gamble for Honda because the company could’ve taken the safer route and promoted higher profile models like the Civic or the Pilot. Instead, it went with the Ridgeline pick-up truck, a model that it really isn’t known for. I’m not sure how the ad itself can help the Ridgeline make a dent in one of the most competitive segments in America, but at least give some credit to Honda for not sitting on its strengths. The ad itself is pretty weird, unless you count a flock of singing sheep belting lines to Queen’s “Somebody to Love” as an everyday occurrence. And, of all the things to promote with the Ridgeline, I don’t know if was a good idea to focus solely on that audio system in the truck bed. That’s more of a novelty than anything else.

Grade: C

Hyundai

Ryanville


Two distracted girls get saved by the Hyundai Elantra’s auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection from running over Ryan Reynolds because they were staring at another Ryan Reynolds. It’s a nice hook for a commercial, but the way it got there left a lot to be desired. I’ve watched this ad a handful of times and the more I see it, the more I think that this ad looks more like a commercial for Ryan Reynolds than it is for the Elantra. For one, he get exponentially got more airtime than the Elantra and if it wasn’t for the mention of the car’s name in the end, some people might have confused it for another model entirely. I think it’s safe to say that Reynolds, whose movie Deadpool is coming out this weekend, benefited from this more than the Elantra did.

Grade: C

The Chase


This ad felt more organic than Ryanville, at least when you take out the talking bears at the end. But, for what it’s worth, the ad managed to capture the importance of the Elantra’s remote start feature. I’m sure it’s not going to come to the point where something like this happens in the real world, but the effectiveness of starting a car by talking directly to a smart watch is clearly evident in the ad. Oh, and those glam shots are pretty important too. I’m glad this ad gave the Elantra the time to introduce itself to the Super Bowl-viewing audience. In some ways, this ad accomplished its objective of promoting the Elantra in 30 seconds more than Ryanville did in twice the time.

Grade: B-

First Date


I’m going to echo what I said when I first saw the ad before the Super Bowl. First, Kevin Hart was a more effective endorser than Ryan Reynolds for the simple fact that Hart was able to get involved in the ad while not taking too much away from the Genesis. It had a synergy that the Reynolds commercial egregiously lacked. I also liked how it played to Hart’s comedic strengths even though the way it was executed - spying on your daughter’s first date - is kind of weird. But, my biggest disappointment with this ad is the absence of any mention to Genesis as Hyundai’s new sub-brand. Maybe Hyundai thought it was too soon to announce it, but then again, if there was ever a place to squeeze in that mention inside a commercial, it wold’ve been a Super Bowl ad.

Grade: B

Better


Of Hyundai’s four Super Bowl commercials, this is the only one that didn’t promote a specific model and yet, it’s arguably the most poignant of them all. The ad revolves around a young Hyundai designer who was born with a Tony Stark-like V-8 engine poking from his chest. We then see him grow up with a penchant for designing cars, ultimately leading him to a job at Hyundai where he designs a car that appears to be the Vision G Concept. The hook “better is the engine that drives us” seems to point to the young man’s desire to be better, reflecting Hyundai’s relentless pursuit to be the same way. It doesn’t have star power or any talking bears, but the message of the ad is pretty clear and is delivered in an effective manner.

Grade: B

Jeep

Portraits


Jeep parent company Fiat-Chrysler has a reputation for delivering sentimental commercials, and Portraits delivered that. Essentially, the ad is all about Jeep pontificating about its history and the people that have helped turn it into the company that its become. Portraits of 20th century America are spliced with celebrities, pop culture references, and images of some of the most iconic Jeep models in history and, of course, the new Jeep Renegade. All the while, a narrator does his best Clint Eastwood impersonation and confidently delivers a thought-provoking monologue about how the company has lasted 75 years. It’s admittedly a little too formulaic given FCA’s recent history of Super Bowl ads, but the automaker found a way to still make it fresh and inspiring by tying it up to Jeep’s 75th anniversary and coming up with the hook of the night: "We don’t make Jeep, you do.”

Grade: A

4x4ever


Where “Portraits” succeeded in evoking the history of Jeep, “4x4ever” does the same by touting the future of the company in a more upbeat and millennial-focused manner. It’s a smart move to embrace the future and celebrate the free-wheeling lives of millennials. After all, Jeep is already entrenched in the older consumer segments of the industry, so it was nice to see the company show that the reputation it has built as an adventurous and sometimes rebellious brand is still intact. The ad is implying that there’s no place that you can’t take a Jeep, which is essentially music to the ears of all the young whippersnappers out there looking for their next adventure.

Grade: A-

Kia

Walken Closet


Kia’s “Walken Closet” ad starring Christopher Walken wasn’t the best car ad from the Super Bowl, but it also wasn’t the worst. It’s somewhere in the middle, effective enough to get your attention when it’s shown, but not enough for you to remember it long after the game has ended. It did accomplish a number of things, which is really what these ads are all about. First, it used Christopher Walken effectively by capitalizing on his trademark intensity to lecture Richard on the differences between living a bland and boring life and living an exciting one. As only he can, Walken effortlessly transitions his soliloquy to the new Kia Optima, describing the car as the “world’s most exciting pair of socks, except it’s a mid-size sedan.” It’s probably not the best comparison in the world, but for the purpose of the commercial, it did help highlight the Optima as a legitimate option in the mid-size segment.

Grade: C+

Mini

Defy Limits


Mini has been labeled a lot of things, but the one that has stuck the most is its propensity to rely on gimmicks. So, it wasn’t surprising to see the brand address that by revolving its Super Bowl commercial around some popular misconceptions people have of the company. To illustrate its point, Mini enlisted the help of a star-studded collection of celebrities, including Serena Williams, Abby Wambach, T-Pain, and Randy Johnson to explain the misconstrued labels they themselves have received throughout their careers and how they’ve managed to succeed despite having to consistently deal with not being taken as seriously as they’d hope. It’s a direct reflection of Mini as a brand and while it still has to deal with the shrinking sales market of small cars in the US, it used the Super Bowl to clear up its image and that of the car it was promoting, the Mini Clubman.

Grade: B+

Toyota

Heck on Wheels


I know Toyota’s trying really hard to change the perception of the Prius and make everyone believe that it’s a fun-loving car. I’m just not sure this advertisement was able to do that in any way. It’s basically a 90-second video of a Prius owner driving around town singing a song that was presumably made for the commercial. I don’t understand any of it, which some might construe as another measure of putting down one of Toyota’s most polarizing models. Listen, I like the new Prius and I think it has made leaps and bounds as far as its design is concerned. But, other than the clever and self-deprecating message of the song, I’m not quite sure what this ad accomplished.

Grade: C-

The Longest Chase


This is Toyota’s main Super Bowl commercial and if you go to Toyota USA’s YouTube page, you’re going to see why. In any event, this ad succeeds where “Heck on Wheels” fails. It was able to highlight the Prius as a car that’s more than its reputation. The example Toyota took - a group of bank robbers using a Prius as an accidental get-away car - has rubbed some people the wrong way for glorifying criminals and turning them into rebels with a cause of sorts. But, those who understand the real message of the ad know that the Prius is the real star of the commercial, tongue-in-cheek references to some preconceived perceptions notwithstanding.

Grade: B+

Top 3 Commercials

  • Jeep "Portraits"
  • Jeep "4x4ever"
  • Audi "Commander" / Mini "Defy Limits"

Bottom 3 Commercials

  • Hyundai "Ryanville"
  • Honda "A New Truck to Love"
  • Toyota "Heck on Wheels"
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