How to pick the best car adverts ever? As any fool know, car adverts tend to be the best during the commercial break. More cash to splash, more cool to sell; more creative licence, more humour, better visuals.
So car ads tend to look better and be more engaging than any others. Many of them are little art forms in their own right: expounding on the car as expression of freedom; pushing that emotional connection; as a driver of industry and innovation and – sometimes – as an excuse to go totally batshit crazy.
Ford, Volkswagen, Audi and Honda have taken most of the plaudits over the last 15 years but I’ve delved deeper into the archives – you can see the best car adverts of the 80s and best cars adverts of the 90s here – to find car adverts that defined their sector, their generation or a paradigm in car design and technology.
Not all of the cars are great – the Honda adverts don’t even try to sell a specific model in some cases – and some reside more in the automotive sector as a whole. But there’s something fascinating, meaningful or simply brilliant here. You can put your mark next yo your favourite or suggest your own at the bottom. But for my money these are the best car adverts ever.
The Best Car Adverts Ever
Ford Fiesta – This Is Now
A great combination of visuals and audio for a genuinely brilliant car. The way that cars – and people’s attitudes towards them – a lifestyle choice, a statement, a gadget – started to change in the mid-200s is perfectly realised here.
Peugeot 206 – Sculptor
A great soundtrack and nice idea for the 206, a car with the impossible task of replacing the Peugeot 205. Would have been even better if the result had been an Austin Ambassador.
Citroen C5 – Unmistakeably German
This Citroen C5 advert is beautifully witty and so well executed, even down the phenomenally German-looking bloke in the ad. It was part of a push in the mid-Noughties from virtually all volume manufacturers to take their cars upmarket towards BMW, Mercedes and the like. Because of adverts like this it worked a little bit. But you’ll be hard pushed to find many C5 on the road. See also: Renault Vel Satis, Renault Laguna, Peugeot 607, Seat Exeo, Volkswagen Phaeton.
Honda – Impossible Dream
This generic Honda advert looks great and it’s quite affecting. But its actually telling the story of Honda through various semi-hidden details and references. As such it’s kind of a piece of corporate art, but it looks great so what the hell?
Volkswagen Golf – Night Driving
When was the last time you simply went for a drive? Ages ago, in all likeihood. Our crowded island with its choked-up arteries mitigates against driving for pleasure yet, if you’re into cars, there’s so much fun to be had. For me driving can be peaceful, energising; time to think or simply indulge the senses. With a car that is responsive, taut, comfortable, planted, engaged it’s still possible to simply go out for a drive and enjoy your car, rather than hate your time in it. To connect with that elusive emotion is quite something.
This VW Golf car advert is simply one of my favourite things ever. Richard Burton reads Dylan Thomas over Cliff Martinez. Stunning. Beautiful. Moving. Simply incredible.
Citroen C4 – Transformer
Wonderful bonkers stuff from Citroen, with two car adverts that suit its leftfield, quirky brand image superbly. Pity they’re for the C4, probably one of the more boring cars on the road. But these advert firmly align Citroen with cutting-edge technology, which is never a bad idea when you’re selling cars. Increasingly they’re gadgets on wheels, after all.
Honda Civic – Choir
Clever, clever, clever. Honda’s adverts from the Noughties really captured that emotional connection people form with cars. The way they can thrill, open up possibilities and stir the senses. It’s what Clarkson has built a whole career on and Honda absolutely nails it in this advert for the wonderful Civic.
Car adverts can be funny too. Here’s Mark Heap demonstrating that emotional connection – the reason people spend such huge amounts of cash on things that depreciate like a concrete narwhal.
Volkswagen Golf GTi – Singin In The Rain
Lovely stuff in the VW car advert from the mid-Noughties. Well conceived and executed by David Elsewhere, who won a lot of praise from Gene Kelly’s family for his take on Singin’ In The Rain.
Audi RS4 – Spider
Making your car appear genuinely terrifying is a brave move, but a kinda obvious one for performance saloons like the fearsome RS4 when you consider the kind of people likely to buy one.
Honda Accord – Cog
All-time stone-cold classic and probably the best car adverts of all time.
Vauxhall – Sledgehammer
One of my favourites advert ever; a great mix of visuals and music and so memorable. Pity it ruins it with that awful Clapton riff that was Vauxhall’s corporate jingle for years.
Ford Puma – Bullitt
Tricky to reference something so iconic, but great CGI and the best car of all time – the Ford Puma of course – make it work. Awkward CGI in many ads since have shown the dangers of such an ad.
Dunlop – Tested for the Unexpected
Fucking insane. Tony Kaye genius. It’s advertising tyres! One of the best adverts of all time – nevermind car adverts.
Citroen CX – Le Beaute Sauvage
A giant Grace Jones head in the desert burps out a Citroen CX, also driven by Grace Jones. She shouts and drives back into her own head. Presumably it’s all meant to evoke savage beauty, rather than ungainly French rust-bucket. Fucking mental, as Citroen adverts should be.
Simplicity itself – ensuring that this iconic spot for Castrol is one of the most memorable car adverts ever.
Genuinely driving a car onto a genuine airbag? Could there be a better way of embedding your brand with the fundamental concept of safety? Works for Volvo.
We’ve become so saturated with advertising, marketing and branding that it’s often hard to take a step back and appreciate what a creative, unique, amusing and occasionally beautiful little art form advertising can be. Nowhere is this more obvious than car adverts.
Take a well-loved brand, an exciting or sexy model, a clever gadget, or an aspirational lifestyle portrayed in a well-conceived and well-executed ad and the results can be spectacular. The Noughties was the decade that car advertising finally became unisex, metrosexual and democratised.
Gone are the nuclear families, the patronising ‘independent woman’ pitches, the conservative pomposity of family-car ads and the jingoistic ‘built in Britain’ car ads. Car adverts between 2000–2009 are about buying into a brand, buying into a lifestyle and being moved by a car on an emotional level.
Witness the horrifying Audi Black Widow RS4 advert – an advert that portrays its subject as a monstrous creature that literally preys on other cars. Or what about Volkswagen’s Night Driving ad, a car advert that fuses Under Milk Wood, Richard Burton and Cliff Martinez in possibly the most beautiful advert of all time? It barely features a VW car – it’s all about the feels.
Then there’s another effort from VW for the Golf GTI that has Gene Kelly singin’ in the rain and twitching with the futuristic dance moves of David Elsewhere. Glorious, affirming and rather lovely.
Honda’s advertising barely features its models. The likes of Cog and Impossible Dream are all about pushing the brand; its abilities, history and technology. You may not even notice that they’re car adverts. They’re high-concept mini films that align Honda with various forms of abstract excellence.
Car adverts in the noughties almost left the car behind. They became 60- and 90-second mini masterpieces, bursting with wit and creativity and all about that emotional connection – a connection made explicit by the Seat range commercial featuring Mark Heap describing the cars via the medium of onomatopoeia and facial expressions.
In a morass of irritating, predictable and intrusive marketing at every turn – on every channel, every platform, every bit of real estate – the car advert became a little oasis of brilliance, ready to surprise, entertain and amuse.
They were events in themselves, worth watching whether you wanted to buy a car not. How many adverts can you say that about? I tried, I really did. I wanted to do a top ten car adverts for the noughties article. But you try narrowing this lot down to ten.
Even if you hate cars, you’ve got to love these ads. They’re beautiful, funny. Heck, they’re life-affirming. I know this is a blog all about adverts I hate – but for me these car adverts are among some of the most beautiful spots you will ever see. Citizen Kane and The Godfather might take all the plaudits; your Sopranos, Wires and West Wings; White Albums and Pet Sounds.
But advertising – as a medium in itself – is all of these things. The brilliance of dozens of people concentrated down into 30 seconds. When they’re done right, when they aim high they’re divine. They’re distillations of brilliance – how could they not be?
Watch – Top Car Adverts of the Noughties
Volkswagen Golf – Night Driving
Possibly the most beautiful advert ever filmed in a wonderful confluence of Richard Burton, Dylan Thomas and Cliff Martinez, the Volkswagen Golf Night Driving ad campaign has hit British screens.
VW has cleverly chosen not to give us a hard-sell on the Golf, instead focusing on the audio and visuals and making the idea of waiting until midnight to go for a drive suddenly seem like a beautifully simple notion.
Created by DBB London, the advert is on UK TV screens now, featuring the darkly seductive tones of Richard Burton reading an extract from Thomas´ Under Milk Wood over Cliff Martinez´s haunting Solaris soundtrack Don´t Blow It. Night Driving is simply the best advert seen on our screens since, oh, the last really good one.
Ford Focus – Beautifully Arranged
A revised version of Ford’s Beauifully Arranged advert for the Ford Focus. Musicians play a different piece of music on the musical car parts in this revised spot for 2009. New musicians and a new composer were apparently used to make this advert, which follows on from the original Ode to a Ford Beautifully Arranged advert from 2008. Just a lovely concept well executed.
Volkswagen Polo – Confidence
A dog whimpers in a public area, humming along to The Spencer Davis Group’s ‘I’m a man’. Later, in a Volkswagen Polo, the dog sings joyously – belting out the 60’s classic with gay abandon. What does a singing dog have to with the a VW Polo? Well, being in the Polo inspires confidence you see – hence this extraordinarily popular advert. Using an old tune can backfire badly but here it’s a wonderful synthesis of visuals and audio.
Peugeot 206 – Sculptor
Lovely thought, beautifully expressed. It´s self-effacing, charming and yet disingenuously smug but the casting, the track and everything else means that you just don´t care. Great soundtrack too.
Citroen C5 – Unmistakeable French
An unmistakably teutonic figure cuts a dash around Germany: fencing; eating bratwurst; and hitting the Autobahn in his silvery executive saloon – all accompanied by Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. His motor’s obviously German – or is it?
Of course it’s not – this is a Citroen advert! The French oddballs are making quite a claim here, and while the styling borrows a cue or two from the 3-Series it remains to be seen if the handling is up to par with the all-conquering Ultimate Driving Machine. Startlingly good facial expression too.
Volkswagen Golf GT – Singin’ In The Rain
What an astonishing piece of film. It´s 60 seconds you won´t forget, and will make you long for Christmas, so that you can watch Singin’ In The Rain all over again, whilst avoiding the standard familial bickering. Oh, apparently there´s a car in it, but I wouldn´t worry about that too much – just check out David Elsewhere bringing Gene kelly back to life in the most joyous way imaginable.
Audi RS4 – Black Widow
It takes some balls to suggest your cars are terrifying, carnivorous and might actually destroy other cars on the rod. Especially when you have a burgeoning reputation for being the automotive brand favoured by the biggest dickheads on the road.
Luckily for Audi there’s a wonderful atmosphere to this car advert – the wonderful grace notes such as the dying car radio playing a nursery rhyme and then the dread crescendo to a hideous black spider running at you. It’s almost enough to make you go out and buy an Audi.
Honda – Cog
Since 2004, it´s been illegal to think a Honda advert is anything other than ´awesome´, ´exceptional´, ´groundbreaking´ or (in exceptional cases) ´the best ad I´ve ever seen since the last one´. And this was the one that started it all off. And, fair play to Honda, it´s bloody good. Some people claimed they´d ripped off some Swedish film (I prefer to think it as a really big game of Mousetrap) but the rest of the world didn´t give a toss.
An infuriatingly watchable piece of film, it´s what great advertising should be: a simple and firmly branded thought – one that happens to be broadly honest too, given Honda’s incredible reliability – expressed in a manner that bears viewing time and time again. Impossible not to watch to the end.
Vauxhall Corsa – Hide And Seek
While the rest of Europe had to put up with Bon Jovi, people running on beaches and uber-cool twenty-somethings with sculpted facial hair executing slow motion power grabs on clifftops we got a bunch of Corsas pissing about in the city to The Fall. Cheeky, irreverent, assuredly urban. And isn´t that ultimately what small cars are for?
A car advert strong enough to change perceptions of Vauxhall as a brand, at least until Clarkson had another rant about how shit the old Vectra was and pushed one off a cliff. As a very different representation of the power of advertising, a shudder reportedly went through Vauxhall dealerships throughout the UK when that episode of Top Gear went out.
Honda – Power of Dreams
Honda’s Power of Dreams advertising campaign inspired this memorable advert, showing a man taking to a wide variety of bigger and better vehicles culminating in a Honda hot air balloon.
Andy Williams belts out The Impossible Dream as a series of Big H vehicles are glimpsed, with British actor Simon Day atop. Vehicles seen in the ad include a Super Cub scooter, an All-Terrain Vehicle, S500 sports car, Goldwing superbike, Fireblade racing bike, S2000, an F1 vintage car, an NSX sports car, a TT Bike, a 1980s Formula 1 racing car, a powerboat and finally a hot air balloon. That’s some journey right there. But it’s done with sufficient charm and irony that it’s somehow glorious and even self-effacing
The ad is supposedly a parable for the life of Soichiro Honda – the Japanese manufacturer’s founder and originator of the idea ‘Difficult Is Worth Doing’. According to Honda ‘By aiming for the impossible, Honda makes impossible dreams happen.’ We eagerly await the Honda Time Machine with relish.
Skoda Fabia – Cake
Skoda’s Fabia advert famously shows a team of master chocolatiers and bakers constructing a Fabia made of cake. As Skoda says, the cake is ‘as close to the real thing as it’s possible to get with sponge’. Well, quite. Sadly, although the the cakey Fabia may have looked good enough to eat, it wasn’t. I actually rang Skoda and asked them, believe it or not.
Apparently after several days under hot studio lights it was deemed that the risk of scores of children and hospital patients struck down by food poisoning brought on by eating a car cake may not represent the kind of publicity Skoda had hoped for. The car was been composted for use in gardens in Clapton afterwards, but the advert remains fondly remembered years later.
Renault Laguna – Cantona
Since growing a beard and a sense of his own ridiculousness, Eric Cantona has matured into an amusing self-parody, rather than the strutting cockerel of his Manchester United days. There’s something genuinely likeable and funny about the man.
So, like the Thierry Henry advert for the Clio, will this advert have car-buyers running out to buy a Laguna? No, because the Laguna isn’t innately likeable.
It’s always seemed dubious that funny adverts sell cars, and while Cantona manages to pack in a lot of information in this 90-second spot the honest truth is that he’s occasionally quite difficult to understand.
That, and the fact that Cantona swamps the advert. Instead of focussing on what he’s saying, people will look at the way he’s saying it. The Henry advert stressed how cool and sexy the Clio was. What does this one say about the Laguna? Pfft, who cares anyway? Look! Eric Cantona!
Audi R8 – The Slowest Car We’ve Ever Built
Accompanied by Simone White’s sublime The Beep Beep Song, which seems to have been composed simply to complement this rather lovely advert, Audi’s R8 advert is a confluence of beautiful sounds and images. The ad took eight days to film, with each frame requiring a minimum of 20 different shots and four layers to achieve the desired effect.
As a ‘halo’ car for Audi the R8 seems to be doing the business for the German manufacturer, with the supercar reportedly sold out for two years. I once had the chance to sling one around Estoril – and very nice it was too. As a lengthy and deliberate advert that was fairly ubiquitous throughout early 2008, the ad did wonders for the public’s perception of Audi.
Citroen C4 – Transformer
This original and best Citroen C4 Transformer advert was filmed using the combined might of Justin Timberlake’s choreographer, Marty Kudelka, a brand new laser-scanned Citroen C4 and two months of the latest film industry animation techniques.
This version of the ad shows the C4 robot warming up before strutting its stuff in a car-park, and transforming back into the C4 coupe. It’s fun, it’s clever, it’s funky and it looks great – basically a great car advert. The music is Jacques Your Body (Make me Sweat) by Les Rythmes Digitales if you feel like tracking it down.
The ad made plenty of people track down the C4 – an odd car destined to be remembered for two things. It’s unusual steering wheel was one. This wonderful car advert is likely to be the enduring one, however.
Vote – best car advert of the Noughties
Choose your favourite car ad from the list above – or suggest your own…