The Dirty Dozen: Our 12 ‘worst’ automotive TV commercials

We got a little distracted watching each other’s favorite car-related commercials last week. OK, so we got a lot distracted. But not enough to put a stop to it. In fact, we decided to amp things up a bit by asking members of Hagerty’s Media Team to take a 180-degree turn and pick the worst car-related commercial.

We nominated plenty of stinkers, but we know there are a lot more out there. Since misery loves company, feel free to share your own worst car-related TV ads in the comments section.

Ben Woodworth, Jeep Wrangler (2012)—Keeping this short is difficult because I hate this commercial so much. First of all, it shows a Jeep doing something it can’t actually do—outrun an avalanche. Second, this spot aired during the X-Games, not long after pro skier Jamie Pierre was killed by an avalanche in an area I’ve skied many times. Quite a few people die in avalanches every year. It is a serious, dangerous business. Avalanches are not cool, and they are not hip marketing tools. I think it was tasteless and stupid for Jeep to create the commercial in the first place, let alone air it so close to Pierre’s death.

Carolyn Greenman, Plymouth Breeze (1995)—If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a TV commercial must be worth what, a million? No need to do the math, since only one word is needed to describe this ad for Canada’s Plymouth Breeze: Terrible.

Chris Lambiase, Chrysler Cordoba (1975)—This is the commercial where most of us mistakenly thought Ricardo Montalban said “Rich Corinthian Leather” to describe the upholstery in the 1976 Chrysler Cordoba. He actually said, “Soft Corinthian Leather.” While you watch the video just to make sure, also notice that the seats aren’t leather at all—Corinthian or otherwise. [Editor’s note: We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that Chris’ choice for “worst” commercial of all time was also colleague Joe DeMatio’s choice as “best” commercial in last week’s story. Coincidence, perhaps?]

Jeff Peek, Plymouth Duster (1984)—Of all the horrible car commercials out there (and there are a lot of them), I can’t imagine anything worse than this one for the Plymouth Duster. Shown during the 1984 MTV Music Awards, it took aim at music-loving youth and missed by a country mile—unless, of course, you’re easily swayed by fog machines, neon lights, dancers in parachute pants summersaulting over cars, and snappy lyrics like “That car is mighty fine, makes me feel like the world is mine.” Or is it, “Makes me feel like I’ve lost my mind”? Either way, the ad looks more like a Saturday Night Live spoof than an actual TV commercial. Adding insult to injury, it’s three times longer than the average 30-second spot. Feel the burn.

Joe DeMatio, Cadillac (2015)—I think this is the original Cadillac “Dare Greatly” spot. Later ones at least showed a car. This one had only a voiceover about people achieving great things … blah, blah, blah … while showing young, multicultural, hip people walking the streets of lower Manhattan. Which had absolutely zero connection to the notion that one of the great things that people, jointly, might achieve is the design, engineering, and manufacturing of a world-class luxury car, of which Cadillac had several by 2015, when this spot aired.

Jonathan Stein, Volkswagen (1990)—I always hated Volkswagen’s “Fahrvergnügen” commercials. Building an advertising concept around an absolutely impossible-to-spell-and-pronounce German word is just plain stupid. I can’t believe VW persisted with it for so long. There really is something special about the VW driving experience, so why not build ads around the “The Pleasure of Driving”? I’ve purchased nine new VWs, and I was already a buyer when the campaign came out. I thought the ad concept was ill-conceived then, and it hasn’t gotten better with age. In fact, while searching for the commercials I discovered one person’s perfect description of the entire mess: “The ad campaign that made America NOT want to buy a Volkswagen.” On the bright side (for VW), although I can’t pronounce it or spell it without looking it up, I remember it.

Justin Warnes, “Scottie the Crusher” (2009)—I think local car dealership commercials are always the worst. This one (featuring a 2005 Chevrolet Impala) is a prime example of local advertising gone CrrrAAAAAzzzzYYYYY!

Matt Lewis, Kia Soul (2011)— I can’t find a good link to the Chevy Cruze Emoji commercial that ran last year, which is probably a good thing since it was the worst. Of the commercials I could find, however, this one—featuring the Kia Soul Hamsters dancing to Party Rock Anthem 2011—is the dumbest. Not only does it have zero to do with the car, the hamster gag was long past being a novelty by the time this commercial ran. And then killer robots suddenly put down their weapons and start dancing? What is going on!?!

Nick Gravlin, Nissan Juke (2011)—What part of this weird, computer-animated, Sci-Fi commercial is supposed to sell me on the Juke? With no real imagery or specs of the car, I can’t tell if it’s actually a car commercial or if I should look for Nissan Juke Superhero cartoons this fall.

Stefan Lombard, Ford Escort GT (1987)—Though plagued by reliability issues early on, Ford had a good little car on its hands with the Escort. But it couldn’t leave well enough alone, and GT’d it for 1983, adding sport suspension, spoilers, and a whopping 88 horsepower. Hardly the stuff of rock-n-roll music videos, but that’s exactly the treatment they gave the GT in this 1987 ad. The whole thing seems more like a montage from a Judge Rheinhold movie than a car commercial. Either way, it’s terrible.

Todd Kraemer, Chevrolet Traverse (2008)—Here’s a commercial from my days as an art director at Chevy’s ad agency—I had nothing to do with this, though! A lot of consumer groups labeled it blatantly sexist, and… it kind of is. Many companies, especially car companies, try too hard to market their products to women, and most get it wrong. This spot is a prime example. It was pulled from the rotation pretty quickly.

Yoav Gilad, Toyota Camry (2012)—I understand that Toyota was trying to get “real folks” to talk about how fun and sporty Toyota’s appliances are. But there’s no excuse for clichés like, “It had stuff that guys like,” or emphasizing the fact that Ms. Forte lacks a working knowledge of the English language: “It felt grounded to the ground.” This commercial feels awfully awful.

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