Game-day gridlock: Car ads of the Super Bowl

Super Bowl XLVIII, in which the Denver Broncos will meet the Seattle Seahawks on 2 February, will be treated as leisure time by most viewers. For advertisers, it will be one of the most pivotal work days of the year.

The hours-long American football championship commands the attention of hundreds of millions of eyeballs. The big-game advert, then, is the paean par excellence for companies willing to hand over mounds of cash to spread their unique gospels.

Playing to type, carmakers have spent lavishly on their game-day footprints, paying seven-figure sums for as little as 30 seconds of airtime. As of publish time, Chrysler is remaining mum on its potential offerings until the game airs. Chevrolet will release two ads this year, and has previewed only one. Ford will pre-empt kick-off with an ad scheduled to run just after the ceremonial coin toss.

Most brands, however, have already lofted their Hail Mary passes through social media channels, some of which are discussed and dissected here.

Jaguar F-type Coupe

The story: British actors Sir Ben Kingsley, Tom Hiddleston and Mark Strong animate a public service announcement starring the coming F-type Coupe, in which they make a case for why British actors are so often cast as baddies. The signature snarl and growl that make the convertible F-type so distinctive is amplified in this ad, which functions as much as a dedication to British cinematic villainy as to the heady burble of Jaguar’s supercharged 5-litre V8 engine.

Pub fact: The ad was directed by Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winning auteur who helmed The King’s Speech.

Hashtag: #goodtobebad

Chevrolet Silverado HD

The story: An enterprising ranchman introduces his prized steer to a herd of eligible bachelorettes – a meeting facilitated in no small part by the rancher’s Chevrolet Silverado HD pickup. (Side note: the Silverado HD can tow nearly 20,000lbs with a factory hitch. That’s a lot of beef.) While not as brazenly sexualised as, say, Kate Upton soaping up a Mercedes-Benz, the advert plays into the Super Bowl trope that sex sells – even if the product is a boxy, utilitarian truck.

Pub fact: This year marks General Motors’ return to the Super Bowl after an absence in 2013.

Hashtag: #silveradostrong

Audi A3

The story: Audi devises a new breed of hybrid in its Super Bowl spot. The resulting Doberhuahua (that’s a Doberman and a Chihuahua) is too powerful for its size, causing panic in a fictionalised California community. The ad serves as a counterpoint to Mercedes-Benz’s 2013 ad for the CLA250 sedan. Unlike that spot, which emphasised  the CLA’s affordability, Audi makes no mention of the A3’s sub-$30,000 price. This year marks Audi’s seventh consecutive appearance at the big game, following a social media push that helped make 2013’s prom-hero ad so well received.

Pub fact: Parodying her real-life efforts on behalf of furry friends, singer Sarah McLachlan makes a cameo as a Doberhuahua rights activist.

Hashtag: #stayuncompromised

Hyundai Elantra and Genesis

The story: Hyundai follows Super Bowl XLVII’s four-spot blitz with just two ads. This year, the focus is on the 2015 Genesis luxury sedan, depicted saving the day from a young driver’s wayward eye with active braking. A second ad uses the star power of US sitcom actor Johnny Galecki and neurotic comedian Richard Lewis to note that the Elantra has been updated for 2014, but lampoons the ubiquity of the compact sedan and its purported inability to attract the attention of the fairer sex.

Pub fact: A disclaimer in the stunt-heavy, outlandish Elantra ad reminds viewers: “Cars can’t jump over buses.”

Hashtag: N/A

Kia K900

The story: Deviating from standard valet-attendant operating procedure, actor Laurence Fishburne, reprising his role as Morpheus from the Matrix film trilogy, offers a couple the opportunity to take home a car they do not own. That car is the Kia K900, to which Fishburne ascribes the word “luxury” no fewer than four times. The advert develops with a stirring rendition of Nessun Dorma, an aria from the Puccini opera Turandot, as the passing K900 shatters windows and blows by its competition (although not quite as spectacularly as some competitors have). Would you buy a car from this man?

Pub fact: The “blue” key fob, whether intentionally or not, mimics the shape of those from some General Motors products.

Hashtag: N/A


The story: As the odometer rolls over to the six-digit mark in a Volkswagen Passat passing through a suburban neighbourhood, a proud father explores a myth that likens German engineers to angels. His daughter, notably sceptical, responds with an equally absurd conceit. The placement of the Passat – and, indeed, the money spent on a Super Bowl advert – is intriguing, as Volkswagen of America has a nearly bare product pipeline for the next six months or so, until the 2015 Golf makes its long-anticipated arrival.

Pub fact: Volkswagen’s new-vehicle warranty only covers wiper blades for the first six months or 6,000 miles. Tip: buy in summer, replace blades after winter.

Hashtag: #VW

Toyota Highlander

The story: An unsuspecting driver stops by the side of the road to assist a stranded bus. Within seconds, his Highlander is infiltrated and possessed by a band of singing Muppets, and he is taken for a ride to a bingo tournament, a winery, a barn and a lively street parade. While the ad shows off the Highlander’s ability to accommodate the whole gang, it is more of a Partridge Family-esque short than a product infomercial.

Pub fact: Terry Crews, the non-Muppet in the advert, is a Bronco of a different kind. The football player-turned-actor was a decorated defensive end at Western Michigan University, whose mascot is the Bronco.

Hashtag: N/A