By James Helliwell on Monday, November 07, 2016

I am a sucker for TV commercials, and my big pastime is cars.


I love to watch the 360 angular shots, listen to the grim voice-over narration, and the features focus all merging to become one interesting story. Unfortunately, car ads have changed so much over the years. I don't even want to start about the print ads, it's silly. Where did all the creativity go?

Brian Hong at auto insurance company believes it is because many ad execs from other sectors such as FMCGs are entering into the auto scene. "You know, advertising cars is quite different from selling soap", he says.


I long for more interesting car commercials. Here's an ode to my 5 favourites of all time.


1. Think Small, Volkswagen
The Think Small campaign is going to hold a special spot in my heart for eternity. At the close of the 1950s, a time when cars were no longer just a means of transport but fashion statements, the guys at DDB shattered the status quo.

The Think Small campaign focused on the beauty of minimality; and listed the different ways a small inexpensive automobile could change your life. In one print ad, they described how a Beetle's fender bender was no problem was a Beetle. For its time, the campaign was both bold and brilliant. It also set the bar for many car commercials after that.

2. Cog, Honda
If you haven't seen this ad, I suggest you go to YouTube next. "Cog" which was made in 2003 by Wieden + Kennedy is one of the most famous car ads of all time. The beauty of this spot is the dynamism of Honda. In a Rube Goldberg style, this ad shows us a chain reaction of car parts linking to each other and culminating in a finished Honda.


The car ad has been described by some as the first automotive YouTube video to go viral. According to the guys at W+K, it took four months and 70 takes to finish it. I'll say it was worth it.

3. The Hire, BMW
Before YouTube became a thing, BMW was already making great branded content. We all know BMW for its crazy style and bold features in movies, so it wasn't surprising to see its series of eight film shorts directed by renowned film makers.


The Hire showcases the adventures of a savvy driver, played by Clive Owen. Each film depicts the performance and engineering prowess of BMW cars as we know them. Do yourself a solid and watch all of them if you haven't.

4. The Force, Volkswagen
It's Volkswagen again. It seems the guys there know how to pick ‘em. This 2011 spot combines two popular ad themes to make a winner; kids and Star Wars. The good thing is you don't even have to be a Star Wars fan to love it.

In the commercial, a kid dressed as Darth Vader tries to move various household items with his mind (the Force), but is unsuccessful. Until Dad comes back from work with his Volkswagen Passat. Without giving away any spoilers, you should see it. Humour level: 100%.

5. Champagne Glass, Lexus
In 1989, Lexus revved car lovers with its iconic champagne glass ad. The spot which had its message centred on balance, showcases a Lexus on rollers with a stack of champagne glasses arranged on its bonnet, pyramid-style. Then someone starts the engine and revs it to 140mph without so much as spilling a drop from any of the glasses.

If you were looking for a quiet, smooth car that kept you stable even at maximum speed, you arguably couldn't find any better than the 1990 Lexus LS400.

If you could add more to this list, what would they be?