Commercials. They hit us with messages that become so ingrained in our psyches that even if we don’t buy the product being advertised, a seed is planted that just might sprout someday. (You don’t think adult males go looking for Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots on a whim, do you? We—I mean they—hit the “Buy It Now” button to quench a thirst that’s been dogging us—I mean them—for years.)
It’s no wonder then that many of us can remember the automotive commercials that we grew up watching on TV. And the mind games are far from over; today’s advertising is more clever and creative than ever before.
With that in mind, we asked members of Hagerty’s Media Team to pick their favorite car-related commercial. Since each of us was allowed to pick only one, by no means is this a comprehensive list. Feel free to nominate your favorites in the comments section.
Ben Woodworth, Volkswagen Passat (2011)—I almost went with the mildly inappropriate but very clever commercial featuring a growing family and their Volkswagen Atlas (“Let me tell you about the birds and the bees”), but I kept coming back to this one. Pretty much any time the “Imperial March” from Star Wars plays, you’ll have my attention. Add a cute kid and fun dad?! Game over. I grew up watching Star Wars with a dad who is already looking forward to watching the original trilogy with my kids, so I don’t know which part I like best—the kid’s look when the car starts or the look the father gives his wife while watching from the kitchen. So classic.
Carolyn Greenman, Volkswagen Atlas (2017)—What’s not to love about this VW commercial? It resonates with all of us because we all have stories that touch our hearts like this one does. It’s less about the car and more about the experiences you share. Plus, you can’t get better music than Simon and Garfunkel’s “America.”
Jeff Peek, Porsche 911 (2006)—We all dream about our future, particularly when we’re young—where we’ll be, what we’ll be doing, who we’ll be with, what we’ll own. I guarantee, no kid ever watched a Chevette drive past his classroom window and imagined how great it would be to slide behind the wheel of one of those bad boys. That’s because dreaming is all about reaching for the supposedly unattainable—like the kid in this 2006 Porsche commercial introducing the new 911 Carrera. Since 2026 will be here sooner than he knows, let’s hope the bright-eyed dreamer still has the Porsche salesman’s business card … and a growing bank account.
Joe DeMatio, Chrysler Cordoba (1975)—I’m gonna go with the Chrysler Cordoba commercials from the 1970s with Ricardo Montalban expounding on the “soft, Corinthian leather.” Any car commercial (or series thereof) that manages not only to introduce a new phrase into common usage, but also the exact accent of the delivery of that phrase—and have it be a cultural reference point for more than 40 years—is a winner. It’s like the “Where’s the beef?!” commercials from Wendy’s; that phrase became part of the American lexicon.
Jonathan Stein, 2017 Mazda CX-5 (2017)—Anyone who knows me also knows that I don’t watch much TV. So if it isn’t on during a Formula 1 race (half of which I’ve missed this year), I won’t see it. One of the few I’ve seen and liked is this Mazda CX-5 commercial, which includes its clay modeler and shows the human involvement in a design. There’s no bling or flash, but it is a very intelligent commercial.
Jordan Lewis, Mercedes-Benz/Red Bull (2011)—I love the racing humor in this one. Released at the start of the 2011 Formula 1 season, the commercial pokes fun at the idea that “Racing is a state of mind” by putting drivers’ competitive nature on full display. It features then-Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, who try multiple times to one-up each other at a restaurant before “innocent bystander” Mikka Häkkinen orders a can of Red Bull energy drink for both … a not-so-subtle reminder that the Red Bull team won the Constructors’ Championship the year before.
Matt Lewis, Honda Element (2005)—My wife and I love this “crabby” commercial for the Honda Element. It was clever and fun, and gave the Element personality. My wife actually bought one, which was her first imported car, and we put a sticker on the back that had a crab and speech bubble that said, “I Pinch.”
Nick Gravlin, Volkswagen Golf (2006)—I always liked this Golf commercial as a kid, probably because of the song. But as an adult I enjoy it more for its simplicity. I like that it isn’t about the car’s performance or looks, but it shows how the car fits into everyday life in a way that people can actually relate to.
Stefan Lombard, Isuzu Trooper (1990)—Has there ever been a better pitchman than David Leisure as Joe Isuzu? His deadpan delivery and the utter ridiculousness of his premise here are always good for a laugh.
Todd Kraemer, Chevrolet Corvette (1996)—In 1996, I started as a junior art director at Campbell-Ewald, then Chevy’s long-time ad agency, and it seemed the whole agency was all about the 1997 Corvette C5 launch. I spent months looking at storyboard mockups of this TV spot. It was my job, as low man on the ladder, to mount up the presentations for the Chevrolet brass, and I couldn’t have been happier. A lifelong fan of “America’s Sports Car,” I got to see images and video of the new Corvette months before the public did. It was quite a thrill to have such “inside knowledge.”
Yoav Gilad, Shell V-Power/Ferrari (2007)—In the 10 years since the ad was released, I don’t think a year has passed that I haven’t watched it multiple times. The scope is impressive, but the sound is what makes it. And the in-car footage turns this from a commercial into a fantasy. This may be a cliché, but I have to say it: Crank up your speakers.