Best Car Adverts of the Noughties

citroen c5 car advert

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.

Audi RS4 car advert

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.

Honda Cog car advert

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.

VW Golf GTI car advert

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.

citroen c4 car advert

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.

Skoda Fabia Cake car advert

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…

Best and Worst Car Adverts of the 1980s

best car adverts of the 1980s

The 80s: a time of astonishing excess. Subtlety, suggestion and understatement went out of the window. That meant some of the most visually exciting, baffling and downright boring adverts in televisual history, and since the car industry tends to flash more cash when it comes to commercials, this phenomenon is seen most clearly in TV car adverts of the 80s – a decade of big suits, lager and massive cuntery.

Cast your nostalgic mind back to the Castrol GTX ads of the time; boggle at the baffling wonderment of Grace Jones advertising the Citroen CX; shake your head at the pride-before-a-fall braggadocio of the Rover 800 ad; shake your fist at Noel Edmonds; doze off to Ford’s neverending snoozefests.

These are the best and worst car adverts of the 1980s.

Best and Worst Car Adverts of the 1980s

Land Rover Advert

All Land Rover ads seem to portray their owners as inveterate show-offs. If they’re not charging to the top of a mountain in their Rangeys – what do they do when they get there? – they’re scaling dams for the sheer hell of it.

Still, this one’s a good effort and features a bit of slightly dubious music to boot. Nowadays Land Rover has gone the whole hog and admitted their adverts are aimed at snobs.

Volkswagen Jetta Advert

Painfully British, painfully 80s, but a neat and simple idea well-executed. This ad shows a parade of German and British luxury cars being gently dissed. You see the new Jetta is wider, has more legroom and a bigger boot than, er, one of those.

The bearded chap in the ad does miss out when not pointing out that, er, any of those have about a thousand times more character.

The Jetta remains one of the lesser-spotted cars on British roads, filing a niche that has all but died out – the ‘shatchback’, as coined by PetrolBlog.

Saab 900 Advert

Saab still relied on this trick of pushing its aerospace heritage – right up to the point where it finally succumbed to bankruptcy anyway – as if the idea that aeroplane manufacturers should automatically be good at building cars was unquestionable. Still, the 900 does look great blasting up a quarry at night.

Understandably the company was less keen on extolling the range of devastating weaponry its erstwhile sister company sold, though an advert showing a crazed exec in his 9-5 blowing the living daylights out of his office block with a Saab-built anti-tank gun would be amusing.

Audi Advert

It’s a sign of how slowly reputations change in the automotive industry when Audi has only very recently achieved parity with BMW and Mercedes – for decades itplayed catch-up with the premium Germans and Jaguar – much as they were when this ad was made in 1987.

The message here seems to be that if you’re ready to drive like a madman it’s time to buy an Audi. Although driving an Audi seems to guarantee a reputation as an undercutting tailgater, appealing directly to crazed lunatics may not be de rigeur these days, but this is the 80s after all.

Ford Orion Advert

Utterly lacking in humour and self-awareness, Ford’s adverts in the 80s really were the nadir.

Despite showing anyone driving a Ford to be living in some sort of Thatcherite nouveau riche fantasy world, complete with misty country estates and assorted Victoriana, the subtext for this Orion advert – the Escort with a boot – seems to be ‘it’s not as a bad as you think it is’.

Which it almost certainly was.

Honda Advert

As Bird’s Eye will attest to in 2008, stick Suggs in your ad and people will buy your product. This trend was started by Honda in the early 80s with this advert featuring Madness flogging the City, er, city car.

This is a stroke of genius. Unable to compete with the more established manufacturers of the time – the British Leyland group, Ford, Vauxhall, Renault, VW, Audi, BMW and Mercedes – Honda could only take them on on price.

Establishing yourself as cheap and cheerful does little harm to brand new budget manufacturers – undercutting the rest of the pack with an advert emphasising your innate loveability really can’t do any harm at all. Skip forward 30 years and look how Honda does it now – it’s a fascinating exploration of how brand equity and image changes over the decades.

Citroen CX Advert

Truly the most bonkers advert ever produced – and I include Tony Kaye’s Dunlop acid trip in that too. I have no idea why a Citroen CX is coming out of a giant Grace Jones head, and why anyone thought that would make people buy it.

‘La Beauté Sauvage,’ says Grace at the end, although at first I heard ‘A Bout de Fromage’, which means ‘A cheesy end’ rather than ‘Savage Beauty’.

Renault 5 Advert

We can only assume that the makers of Ford’s adverts would all have immediately suffered heart attacks if they’d seen this early-80s effort advertising the Renault Five.

It’s an advert so garish, childish and ingenuous it rather defies critical description. All we know is they don’t make them like this anymore, which is probably good news for epileptics.

Rover 800 Fastback Advert

An advert of such bafflingly undeserved hubris, it’s impossible to believe it ever got off the drawing board.

This advert for the Rover 800 Fastback tilts the executive saloon of the likes of BMW and Mercedes by having Germans in awe of its capabilities. Rather oddly, Citroen tried to do the same thing for the 2008 C5 (Reassuringly German), probably with more success.

The omens are not good for Citroen though. Six years after this advert was made Rover was sold to BMW, who struggled to make anything of the marque before offloading it to the Phoenix Consortium in 2000. MG Rover collapsed in 2005.

Austin Rover Advert

Noel Edmonds. The new Austin Maestro. Surely a marriage made in heaven. 30 years is a long time, but still not long enough to believe adverts like this – taking in a stultifyingly dull tour around some new Austin models, with Edmonds doing his best to appear as earnest as possible – ever passed muster.

According to Edmonds, who also talks about ‘the Magic of Metro’, the new MG Maestro ‘looks really terrific on the road’, while the bearded wonder thinks the Montego is ‘the most stylish estate car ever devised’. As if he gives a fuck!

Just before he delivers the coup de grace – ‘I’ve enjoyed finding all about the new cars’ – Edmonds packs his small children into a rear-facing shelf in the Montego’s boot, presumably to guarantee their instant deaths in the event of a rear-end shunt.

Really, all you need to know about the end of the British car industry in the 80’s is in this advert. While the rest of the pack were employing dry ice, explosions, animation and genuine celebrities, Austin went for Noel Edmonds walking around a factory in the Midlands.

Peugeot 309 Advert

A man dreams of exciting escapades in his Peugeot 309 – perhaps the least-exciting car ever made, and actually a Talbot reject from the mid-80s.

The 309 was a hodge-podge of Peugeot and Talbot bits’n’pieces and was designed in-house and built at the now-defunct Ryton plant. As such it didn’t get the Pininfarina styling that the rest of the Peugeot range did, and looked a bit crap.

There’s nothing too exciting about this ad, barring the fact that our hero is clearly shown to be bored of spending time relaxing with family, dreaming instead of spy adventures, and furtive sex with dangerous Russians.

Interesting pitch from Peugeot, that.

Austin Metro Advert

No-one does jingoism like the English, with this advert for the Metro urging you to send the invading visitors back where they came from, showing a bunch of Fiats, Nissans, Volkswagens and Renaults taking the ferry back to Johnny Foreignerland.

Accompanied by The British Grenadiers and Rule Britannia, the ad goes to great lengths to extol the Metro’s British roots and white-heat technology – split-folding rear seats, nearly 60mpg on the motorway and a 12-month service interval.

The Metro actually lasted longer than most Austin Rover models from the 80’s, but the lingering suspicion that the humble supermini was a little off the pace put paid to it by the time BMW came along. So much so, in fact, that it was the first car to be awarded just one star in NCAP safety tests.

Vauxhall Cavalier Advert

The car of the future: four-wheel drive, an onboard computer, ABS. The stuff of a madman’s dreams in the mid-80s, according to this Vauxhall advert anyway. Can you see where this is going? Yep, it’s the Vauxhall Cavalier, which has all of the above and more.

The car of the future indeed, if by that the advert meant car most likely to be used by taxi drivers in the future. If that kid in front of the telly had time travelled to the mid-80’s and found that the Cavalier was the height of mankind’s endeavours he’d have deleted himself from existence by going back in time and killing his own Granddad.

Still, all is not lost. A later advert for the Cavalier is one of the best car adverts ever.

Peugeot 405 Advert

Explosions, a soundtrack by Berlin, crashing waves, swirling vortices of downed leafs. If all of these make you think of the Peugeot 405, a French car manufacturer would like to talk to you.

Ignoring the sheer excess of this advert, it’s unclear why anyone thought of hawking a fairly boring mid-size saloon aimed at families using huge explosions and the biggest rock ballad ever made.

It’s all testament, surely, to the amount of cocaine being taken in the advertising industry in the 80’s. Obviously no-one in advertising takes cocaine these days though.

Ford Sierra Advert

Another incredibly conservative ad from Ford, but this one’s shilling the Sierra, a car that stirs up a surprising amount of nostalgia – not least because of its then-radical jelly-mould styling. The Sierra was everywhere when I as a nipper and when I got the chance to drive a vintage model courtesy of Ford I ignored all the other blue-oval exotica and went straight for the Sierra.

“It’s a hatchback, a saloon, an estate,” says the voice in this ad, belonging to the head of a local masonic lodge, over a Bontempi backing track.

Compare this effort with more recent Ford adverts for the Mondeo and you can see just how far cars – and car adverts – have come in 20 years. But there’s always the nagging doubt that the cars, and the adverts, of the past had more character than the new models ever will.

Esso Advert

Your kids need the toilet, you’re running low on petrol and you’re being stalked by a tiger. Time to stop at an Esso service station!

But hang on, the lavs aren’t slippy with unidentified liquids, the wares are surprisingly wallet-friendly and the cashier isn’t dead-eyed and sullen. It can only be an advert.

People stop at petrol stations because they absolutely have to, not because they’re warm, friendly oases of peace and welcoming smiles – so why advertise them at all? You’re not going to drive another 50 miles because the next circle of fuel-sale Hell has an Esso logo on it.

The idea that service stations are anything other than places of depressed and possibly dangerous loners, bafflingly expensive pasties and furtive purchases of pornography seems an especially strange one.

Austin Metro Clubman Advert

Oh dear, the curse of Austin strikes again. In this one Michael Barrymore takes us through the options in the new Metro range, and to be fair it’s pretty funny. “Aw white, aw red and aw Bwitish racing gween’…”.

Apparently the Metro Clubman also featured a digital clock, though it seems unlikely that this was ever a deal-breaker. What’s also striking about this one is the bafflingly expensive Metro Clubman – nearly six grand for a base model at 1989 prices and around the price of a brand new Ford Ka in 2008.

Barrymore outlasted the Metro, but both came to sticky ends in the 90s: A bad time for British cars, and British entertainers.

Castrol GTX Advert

One of the best car adverts from the 80s, Castrol’s ads were always something to look forward to. What obstacles would the oil have to traverse this time? And why the sinister music (Mahler’s Seventh Symphony)?

Castrol has rather updated its adverts these days, the frightening music consigned to the empty oil can of history, but they still feature the classic motifs of the 80’s.

BP Advert

Everything you need to know about car adverts of the 1980s is right here: an advert so ridiculously overblown it could only hail from that benighted decade. This effort from BP could have been summed up with two words: ‘buy petrol’, but instead takes us on a whistle-stop tour of BP’s operations around the world that unsurprisingly stops short of taking in BP’s documented oil spills and government-sponsored persecution of farmers in pipeline regions.

The advert’s last scene features a pizza delivery boy being deliberately exposed to the chill vacuum of space, inevitably resulting in a violent and rather messy death. Cheers, BP.

Car Adverts of the 1980s: Vote

Vote for your favourite car adverts of the 1908s below