2020 Super Bowl car ads: Winners and losers

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bill murray groundhog day jeep commercial during super bowl youtube / Jeep

We’ve been analyzing automotive Super Bowl commercials for several years now, and two things are certain: No big-game plug is going to please everybody; same goes for opinions on which company did it best.

With that in mind, if you want to make a great Super Bowl commercial, make people laugh. Make people cry. Make people think. And be clever about it. Maybe toss in something unexpected. Do not leave viewers wondering, what was that about? For the love of Patrick Mahomes, if you’re going to shell out $5.6 million for a 30-second spot, can you at least make it look like your creative team included someone other than your 12-year-old nephew? Sweet Lord, what was that Pringles commercial anyway? (I can hear my son now… OK, Boomer.)

Granted, there’s a fine line between great and awful with the stakes this high. It isn’t easy to come up with a Super Bowl ad that resonates across the board. If it was easy, everybody would do it—and some automotive heavyweights didn’t even try. So hats off to those who lined up and gave it their best shot. Now let’s get to it.

These automotive commercials from Super Bowl LIV stood out—for better and worse.

TOUCHDOWN

Jeep

“Phil? Hey, Phil! It’s me, Ned… Ryerson!

What better way to celebrate two holidays in one—Super Bowl Sunday and Groundhog Day—than with our old pal Bill Murray? Nearly three decades after weatherman Phil Connors got caught in a weird time loop that forced him to relive the same day over and over, he finds himself back in the same predicament as in the 1993 comedy. This time is different, though. After Connors spots a new Jeep Gladiator parked on the street, he sees the bright side of the situation—he gets to drive an orange Gladiator Rubicon day after day after day… hard… in the snow… with the doors off… however and wherever he wants.

Brilliantly mirroring the movie—with Sonny and Cher’s “I’ve Got You, Babe” playing in the background, of course—Connors gets things started by once again blowing off annoying insurance agent Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky), swiping Punxsutawney Phil from Mayor Buster Green (Brian Doyle-Murray), and treating his furry friend to a series of adventures. Of course, he lets the little guy drive. “Ten and two,” Connors instructs as the groundhog takes the wheel.

Jeep even sneaks in a plug for its new 750-watt electric bicycle, which will be available in June. “Safety first,” Connors says, tapping on the groundhog’s miniature helmet.

The highlight of the ad is when Connors, enthusiastically playing the groundhog version of whack-a-mole, turns to his little buddy and assures him, “It’s nothing personal. It’s just a game.” The commercial ends with the two sitting in the bed of the truck, watching fireworks. Connors asks, “Not a bad day, huh?” as the words “No day is the same in a Jeep Gladiator” are displayed on the screen.

Sometimes you watch a Super Bowl commercial and can’t remember what the ad was trying to sell. This one leaves no doubt. Murray nailed it. Punxsutawney Phil nailed it. Jeep nailed it. By the way, did the groundhog see his shadow? Who cares? Buy a Jeep and enjoy yourself.

Hyundai

Don’t be alarmed if your normally serious coworker is suddenly speaking with a Boston accent today. He’s just trying to sound wicked smaht!

In a year when it seemed that every Super Bowl advertisement included a celebrity, Hyundai went all out with actors Chris Evans, John Krasinski, and Rachel Dratch discussing the Sonata’s newest option, Smart Park—we mean Smaht Pahk!

Their hilarious, full-blown Bostonian exchange ensues as Krasinski flawlessly parks his Sonata in a tight space.

Evans: “Oh, you’re not fitting your cah in there.”

Krasinski: “Chris, stop being a smahty pants. Look who’s got Smaht Pahk! … Just hit the clicka and cah pahks itself.”

Evans: “It’s smaht.”

Krasinski: “It’s wicked smaht. And I can pahk it anywhere.”

After Evans and Dratch reel off a list of places Krasinski might have pahked the cah in Boston—including, of course, the Gahden and the hahbah—they’re interrupted by former Boston Red Sox superstar David Ortiz, who shouts down from a window in the building behind them, “Hey, you can’t pahk there!”

“He’s got Smaht Pahk!” Dratch shouts back before the three realize the interloper is the famous Big Papi.

After “Bettah Drives Us” is displayed on the screen, Krasinski apologizes to Ortiz. “Sorry about that, your bigness,” he shouts. Oh, you’re more forgiven, your hilariousness.

Try to look past the fact that no one with a new car would park it in a space so tight that it’s guaranteed to get dinged. Hyundai found a wicked smaht way to roll out a new feature. (For even more fun, be sure to check out the “making of” snippet in which Saturday Night Live alum Dratch tries to teach Ortiz how to speak like a true Bostonian. “There’s a wicked rippah by the hahbah.”)

Porsche

“Ohhhh, it’s a beautiful day for a car chase!” Isn’t every day a beautiful day for a car chase?

In its first Super Bowl commercial in decades, Porsche gives us “The Heist,” an action-packed chase involving an array of vehicles after an all-new fully-electric Taycan is quietly stolen from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany—or so we’re led to believe. At the end we learn that it’s just a game the museum’s security team plays. “Who wants to be the bad guy?” one says, handing the keys to another.

The Heist is a treat for the eyes and ears, as a historic lineup of Porsches—917K, Carrera GT, 918 Spyder, 911 RSR, 718 Cayman GT4, 911 Carrera 4S, 930 Turbo, and 911 GT2 RS—take to the highway and make their way through stunning locations like Heidelberg, Heppenheim, and the Black Forest. Of course, the Taycan can’t match those beautiful engine notes, but it isn’t supposed to.

Best comic relief: As the museum employees quickly choose which vehicle they’ll give chase in, one asks, “Which car should I drive?” Since he’s the “new guy,” he gets a 1960 Porsche tractor. (Yes, Porsche produced tractors.)

If only the world had seen the commercial in its entirety (the extended version included here). Alas, we were given a cut-down edition. It still managed to score, but let’s face it, Jeep and Hyundai set a high bar for Porsche to reach. Now, there’s a sentence you may never hear again.

FIELD GOAL       

Genesis

Real-life husband and wife John Legend and Chrissy Teigen turn a black-tie affair into a going away party for “Old Luxury.” Teigen addresses the crowd and says goodbye to, among others, “the guy who thinks his loud suit is a personality” and “the lady who goes to Asia once and suddenly thinks she’s spiritual,” and then she offers a toast to Old Luxury. “You had a good run, but it’s time to zhuzh you up a little bit. I give you… Young Luxury!” They all look to the front door in anticipation, but nothing happens. “John!” Teigen shouts, and Legend finally pulls up in a new Genesis GV80. After some banter, they drive away.

“Somebody had to make luxury fun,” Legend says. Teigen replies, “Who better than us, baby?”

Cute, but it’s not in the same class as the Jeep and Hyundai commercials. Still, it deserves extra props because that GV80 is actually one attractive SUV.

FUMBLE

Hummer

Maybe we’re tainted because every number quoted in this commercial comes with a disclaimer (GM estimate). And maybe we actually like the sound of LeBron James dunking a basketball so hard that the glass breaks. And doesn’t a silent Hummer make it… less of a Hummer?

A Quiet Revolution may be coming. Guess we’ll have to watch for it.

Kia

We’re all about kids and heart and hope. In fact, the commercial for the new Kia Seltos, featuring Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, gives plenty of feel-good vibes. With all due respect to Jacobs and his younger self, however, this seems more like a “regular season” kind of commercial, not a Super Bowl commercial.

Toyota

The title of Toyota’s 2020 Highlander commercial is “Hero.” Hmmm. We’re assuming Toyota is referring to the Highlander, not supermom Cobie Smulders, who saves the day, again and again, by picking up those left behind as the world falls apart. She then “saves” her own son from pouring rain outside a movie theatre.

Dumb. Unless, of course, Toyota is actually advertising new technology that anticipates when and where someone needs to be saved from disaster! Wait until Uber gets ahold of this vehicle! It’s revolutionary!

Audi

Embracing the future—and presumably acknowledging climate change—actress Maisie Williams isn’t about to let heat and exhaust fumes get her down. No, she’s going to make like Queen Elsa in Frozen and just “Let It Go” in an all-electric Audi e-tron Sportback.

The problem is, Williams is best known for her recent role as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, which puts her a bit out of place in this scenario. It also didn’t help Audi that its commercial aired with two minutes remaining in a then-close game. At that point, we didn’t care about the commercials, we just wanted to see how Super Bowl LIV turned out. 

Ironically, the best part about this ad was the appearance of an old-school Dodge Charger and a slew of lowriders, also known as “the bad guys.” Sorry, Audi, we’re just going to have to let it go.

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