Type ‘city cars, fun’ into Google and you get 210m results. That’s because – in the absence of powerful engines, taut handling, luxurious refinement, big interior space and hi-tech gadgets – there’s not a huge amount else to trump when you’re selling these little cars, other than their price.
Hence, in these three adverts for the Toyota Aygo, Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108 there’s one theme reinfored again and again: fun. Toyota has even gone so far as to suggest you ‘go fun yourself’, which is a bit much. Peugeot reinforces the idea that you can personalise the 108 to your heart’s content.
Citroen, interestingly, has a young man in its advert – a rare departure for these cars that tend to be aimed at women. It’s also ‘naturally urban’ – and to prove it, here’s a picture I took of it on the recent launch in Coventry.
What’s interesting about these cars is that they are essentially, despite what manufacturers say, the same car so we have a rare opportunity to see how three different brands are represented by three different agencies given the same product to market.
That they have managed to create three fairly separate identities for them – with three clear messages – is pretty clever. That they’re decent ads is all the more impressive.
My tip? Avoid the 1.0-litre engine and go for the 1.2. That rules out the Aygo but, frankly, if you like the colours who am I to argue? Let me know which one you like best.
Citroen C1 – Naturally Urban
Harry Potter goes hipster in Breaking Bad car-park.
Peugeot 108 – This Time It’s Personal
Androgynous robots stalk through JG Ballard landscapes.
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.