for decades the super bowl has come down to three things: the actual game, the halftime show, and the ads. companies spend millions every year to produce and air a spot (or series of spots) hoping to make a big enough impression on viewers to make their ad enter into the zeitgeist (like apple’s iconic 1984 commercial) and maybe sell some of their wares.
it’s no surprise that automakers are keen to get in on this cash-burning attempt to lure us into parting with our hard-earned dollars. sure, there are the typical ads showing cars driving down a winding back road while a famous actor spouts off about freedom and horsepower, but there are also some amazing pieces of advertising that have come out of the car world over the years. so while you're waiting for the kickoff, take a rubber-melting trip with us down memory lane and check out our favorite super bowl ads.
ford's the one - 2004
vw's the force - 2011
nothing grabs us like star wars nostalgia. even as adults, we remember what it was like to pretend we had the powers of a jedi. volkswagen took that premise and made a commercial that lets a young boy live out his darth vader dreams. sure, it requires believing this child is on the dark side, but cute is cute and it made the not-that-exacting 2012 passat a little bit cooler.
chrysler's imported from detroit - 2011
the chrysler 200 is long gone, but the emotions stirred up by this ad for a sedan featuring the motor city remains. aired during the 2011 super bowl, it reminded the rest of the united states that detroit is tough enough to tackle anything. starring detroit native eminem, the ad is less about a car and more about portraying the city as ready to battle its way back into the consciousness of the country, and more than a shadow of its former self.
nissan's dream - 1990
nissan hired director ridley scott (alien, blade runner, legend) to make this commercial about a man dreaming he's being chased by a motorcycle, a sports car, and eventually, a jet, but none could catch him because of his nissan 300zx turbo. does it make sense? no. but scott directed some of the best science-fiction movies ever, so we’ll let him have this one.
nissan's pigeons - 1997
the kenny loggins song danger zone is more associated with the movie top gun than with this commercial. still, we all know the frustration of washing our vehicle only to have a squadron of birds (in this case animatronic pigeons) ruin our efforts with a few well-placed "bombs." the commercial is relatable, and while we only get fleeting shots of the nissan maxima, we know that it's quick enough to outrun some rats with wings.
bmw's newfangled idea - 2015
way back in 1994, today show hosts katie couric and bryant gumbel famously tried to understand what the internet was while on the air. it was a bit embarrassing for the hosts because they clearly had no idea what they were talking about. that interaction is the basis for a 2015 bmw i3 ad in which couric and gumbel try to parse what an electric vehicle is and how it's built in a wind-powered factory. it's meta and to be honest, we're still having these ev conversations with friends.
toyota's the longest chase - 2016
toyota's prius isn't known for its speed or agility, or really for being all that cool. initially, the idea of using the hybrid as a bank-job getaway vehicle seems like a recipe for incarceration. but the vehicle's ability to keep going while a fleet of cop cars have to stop for gas makes for an enjoyable series of ads that ran during the 2016 super bowl. of course, the good guys win in the end by fighting fire with fire using a cop-car prius.
volkswagen's tree - 2001
this commercial featuring the vw golf gti requires some patience, but it's worth it. the single piece of dialogue—"next time, let the clutch out easier"—is one of the best payoffs in automotive ad history.
plymouth's road runner - 1969
way back in 1969 during super bowl iii, plymouth aired this ad for the plymouth road runner featuring looney tunes’cartoon characters wile e. coyote and the road runner. it might be a little too literal, using the animated critters to sell the car, but it was the '60s, and any ad with a plymouth road runner should be celebrated.
jeep's snow - 1995
you never see the jeep, but you know what's going on.