2021 Super Bowl car ads: Touchdowns, field goals, and fumbles

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Super Bowl LV was light on drama—Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took care of that by coasting to a 31-9 victory over the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. We also expected automotive advertising to lighten up and play it safe this year. In fact, with politics, social unrest, and COVID-19 dominating the headlines these days, many big-name advertisers skipped the game entirely, a list that includes Ram, Hyundai, and Kia.

Bill Oberlander, cofounder of New York ad agency Oberland, told the New York Post that “rather than spend tens of millions of dollars and not get it right, (advertisers decided to) wait until this s***storm clears.”

Hats off to those car-related businesses that threw caution to the wind, doled out $5.5 million for a 30-second spot, and went for it, either through humor or by tugging at our heartstrings. Most of them scored.

TOUCHDOWN

Vroom.com: “Dealership Pain”

The best comedians have the ability to take uncomfortable situations that we can all relate to and make them funny. And who can’t relate to sometimes-arduous task of buying a used car? Vroom.com, which offers “an easier way to buy cars online” (including having your new purchase delivered directly to your door), nailed its Super Bowl debut.

Vroom’s 30-second spot begins with an exhausted potential car buyer—sweating profusely, his wrists taped to a chair—begging for mercy from a relentless salesman.

“So, you going to buy the car?”

“Please, if I can just go home and discuss things with my wife. I’ve been here all weekend.”

“You can leave any time you want,” the salesman says, touching jumper cable leads together and making them spark. As the salesman moves closer, the potential buyer falls to the floor and is suddenly transported to his front yard, where he’s sitting in a different chair—a lawn chair—next to his wife, enjoying a sunny day. A Vroom flatbed truck rolls up to deliver a new car. “Wow, that was painless,” he says. Boom, Vroom.

Toyota: “Jessica Long Upstream”

How do you make a great car commercial without showing a single car? Ask Toyota’s marketing team, which proved it definitely has a knack for it. In a 60-second spot titled “Upstream,” Toyota told the life story of Jessica Long, one of the most accomplished Paralympic athletes in U.S. history. Born with a rare medical condition, she had to have both legs amputated below the knee as a baby, but that didn’t dissuade her adoptive parents, who brought her home from an orphanage in Siberia. In the years that followed, Long overcame her disability to become a champion swimmer—so far she’s won 23 medals in four Paralympic Games.

Toyota effectively told Long’s story by having her “swim” through key moments in her life, and she touches the pool wall and captures another victory just as her current mother and father agree to adopt her. “We believe there is hope and strength in all of us” appears on the screen, a moment that brings goosebumps, appreciation, and pride. Well done.

GM: “No Way Norway”

Did you know that Norway sells more EVs per capita than the U.S.? Will Ferrell didn’t, and he’s bound and determined to do something about it.

In General Motors’ funny ad titled “No Way, Norway,” Ferrell enlists the help of fellow Saturday Night Live icon Kenan Thompson and singer/actress Awkwafina (don’t feel bad; we had to Google her too) to show the Norwegians who’s boss. There are plenty of made-for-Ferrell gags—for instance, he punches a globe, can’t shake it off, and ends up wearing it throughout the commercial. His best line? “We’re going to crush those lugers.”

In the end, Thompson and Awkwafina, in a GMC Hummer EV, wind up in Finland, and Ferrell exits his Cadillac Lyriq and admits that Norway is “adorable,” except he’s in Sweden. “Damn it!” Since even a spitting-mad Ferrell is a funny Ferrell, we’re guessing no one on the other side of the Atlantic is losing any sleep over his threats. But be warned, based on the final script: “We’re coming, Norway.”

Jeep: “The Middle”

Rocker Bruce Springsteen, appearing in his first Super Bowl commercial, narrated and starred in Jeep’s two-minute ($22 million) dissertation urging Americans to settle their differences and find middle ground. To emphasize the message, Springsteen visits a tiny church in Lebanon, Kansas, located at the geographic center of the contiguous U.S.  The Boss even drives a sweet classic CJ.

Ford: “Finish Strong”

Same feel-good, come-together vibe as Jeep, except the Blue Oval targets the pandemic instead of the social divide (and spent $11M less). Actor Brian Cranston’s voiceover encourages us to “hold the line” and “look out for each other” because we’re close to getting back to “loving, touching, living.” Solid message from Ford in its first Super Bowl commercial since 2017.

FIELD GOAL

Weather Tech: “We Never Left” and “Family”

Weather Tech’s salute to the American worker had a good message (“We never left”), and who doesn’t want to work for a company where everyone feels like family? In a high-stakes advertising game like the Super Bowl, however, it felt like a 65-yard field goal attempt that bounced off the crossbar. Great effort (x 2), but it came up a bit short.

Camping World: “We can’t afford it so you can”

Didn’t see this one? That’s because it didn’t run on CBS. The tongue-in-cheek commercial poked fun at all the high-priced hype with a great ad that focused on having fun outdoors—and you could only see it online. Why not spend the big bucks for a Super Bowl ad? Because that’s how you keep prices low. (Yes, it’s a stretch to include this spot in an automotive roundup, but since Camping World revolves around RVs, we let it slide.)

FUMBLE

Cadillac: “Edgar ScissorHandsFree”

The Cadillac Lyriq played well in Will Ferrell’s trek to Norway (above), but the luxury automaker’s attempt at humor in commercial no. 2 was a miss. The plot: Edward Scissorhands’ equally weird son, Edgar, dreams of driving a car, and Cadillac’s new touchless controls are just the ticket. Except they’re not, even with Winona Ryder reprising her movie role. This ad provoked more eye-rolling than smiles and laughter at our Super Bowl party.

CarMax: “The Way It Should Be”

Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. This is the Super Bowl. That ad could have played during Days of Our Lives. Definitely not “The Way It Should Be.” CarMax should have donated those advertising dollars to the creative team at …

Hyundai: “Noticeably Absent”

Dang it, Hyundai, why did you bail on the big game? You were on such a roll with Jason Bateman’s hysterical elevator ride in 2019 and last year’s hilarious Smaht Pahk! bit. When you have that kind of momentum, you shouldn’t waste it.

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