10 unforgettable TV ads about cars and trucks
Every one of us has a list of automotive TV commercials that made such a strong impression the first time we saw them, they’re now in our memories forever. Whether the message moved you or made you laugh, whether you loved the vehicle or hated it, some ads simply outlast their eras, so well done that you could watch them over and over again. Here are 10 of our favorites, listed in no particular order.
(We’ll get out ahead of this one: This isn’t a list of the Greatest Car and Truck Commercials of All Time. Do you have a memorable ad that you think deserves recognition? Share it with us in the comments section below.)
2003 Honda Accord – The Cog
Ever seen one of those crazy videos in which one touch of a Domino starts a chain reaction of tumbling game pieces that is so intricate and imaginative that it blows your mind? This ad does the same thing using car parts from a 2003 Honda Accord. This automotive Rube Goldberg does it so well that you swear there is no way it’s real—particularly around the 25-second mark, when tires roll up hill. Snopes.com swears only actual video clips were used, but … Hmmmmm. Does it matter? Just stop thinking about it and enjoy the show. Again. “Isn’t it nice when something just … works?”
1991 Chevrolet Silverado and Suburban – Like a Rock
The ability to take a hit song by a rock and roll superstar and make it forever inseparable from a product is no easy task, but Chevy did just that with this series of ads for the Silverado pickup. Think about the last time you heard Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock” on the radio or your phone’s playlist. You immediately thought of the Silverado, didn’t you? It’s no wonder Chevy went back to that well many times over the years.
2020 Jeep Gladiator – Groundhog Day
We know it’s fresh; maybe that’s why it immediately jumped into our heads. Or maybe it’s just that good. Brilliantly mirroring Groundhog Day—with Sonny and Cher’s “I’ve Got You, Babe” playing in the background—we get to see some of our old friends, including TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray), annoying insurance salesman Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky), and groundhog handler Buster Green (Brian Doyle-Murray). This time around, Phil is more than happy to repeat the same day over and over, because he gets to drive a Gladiator.
2013 Dodge Ram – So God Made a Farmer
You don’t have to be a farmer to love this one. Not only does it celebrate those hard-working Americans who provide the food that we can’t live without, it so effectively pulls us in that Dodge only needed a few seconds at the end to tell us what it was advertising—and even then, it was subtle. Using clips from a speech that legendary radio newsman Paul Harvey gave at the Future Farmers of America convention in 1978, the message is unforgettable, but so are the images that illustrate the all-hands-on-deck work ethic of farming families.
2011 Chevrolet Corvette – Still Building Rockets
When was the last time you saw a commercial for Corvette? This not-so-subtle reminder that “America still builds rockets” is perhaps a little heavy-handed with the patriotism, but Corvette has enjoyed a close tie to America’s space program ever since retired racer turned car salesman Jim Rathmann offered astronauts lucrative, $1-per-year leases on any Chevrolet of their choosing. Plus, there’s a nice V-8 soundtrack and some gratuitous drifting around a gorgeous race track.
2005 Ford Mustang – The Legend Lives
Inspired by Field of Dreams, this Mustang owner, rather than building a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield, chooses to duplicate the Willow Springs racetrack instead. While the ballpark called Shoeless Joe Jackson to emerge from the ether, it’s Bullitt and Le Mans star Steve McQueen who is called forth to take the keys to the brand-new Mustang GT and give it an appropriate thrashing. The magical resurrection of McQueen was thanks to digital trickery and archival footage applied to a stand-in. McQueen, Mustangs, and one of the best sports movies of all time—what’s not to like?
2020 Hyundai Sonata – Smaht Pahk
The day after Hyundai released this ad during Super Bowl LIV, it seemed everyone had suddenly acquired a Boston accent. Not quite like when Budweiser injected “Wazzuuuuuuup!” into the country’s collective vocabulary, but you get the idea. To unveil the Sonata’s new self-parking Smart Park feature—apparently pronounced Smaht Pahk by those living in New England—Hyundai brought in Boston-born actors Chris Evans and John Krasinski, along with former Saturday Night Live star and Massachusetts native Rachel Dratch, to hilariously (and literally) bring the message “home.” The appearance of former Red Sox superstar David Ortiz at the end was wicked smaht. Hard to forget this one.
1996 Nissan 300ZX – Toys
Another film-inspired commercial, this Nissan spot from 1996 plugging the 300ZX came on the heels of Pixar’s Toy Story. The burly action-hero figure breaks free from the jaws of a dinosaur, hops into a red radio-controlled 300ZX, and weaves through furniture on his way to scoop up his belle, much to the dismay of her preppy beau. Aside from the fun visuals, the Van Halen soundtrack really makes this memorable. At the end of the commercial, we get a quick shot of a smiling Dale Ishimoto representing the father of the Z, Mr. K, Yutaka Katayama.
1996 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 – Kids Play a Guessing Game
Most gearheads can relate to these two kids, testing each other on their vehicle identification skills solely based on an engine note. The spotter, rather than being impressed by his brother’s uncanny talent, takes the opportunity to throw him a curveball.
2001 Nissan Frontier – Playing in the Mud
Not entirely groundbreaking, this 30-second spot for the face-lifted 2001 Nissan Frontier highlighted its 3.3-liter, supercharged V-6 and still ranks high for us because it features Stone Temple Pilot’s Wicked Garden, the perfect soundtrack for the kind of mud-slinging action that’s depicted. This commercial definitely inspired us to go play in the mud.