If you can’t get the tune out of your head, does that mean you’ll end up buying the car – or even liking it at all? Rich, corinthian leather will only take you so far. It usually comes down to whether the car or truck in question lives up to the background music and images. Otherwise, it’s just a cool (or not) video/song.
Here’s a list of some car-tunes that worked … and some that didn’t:
* Volkswagen “Little GTI” –
If you were around in the mid-1980s, you probably know the song, even if you don’t know any German. Some exceptionally clever real-life Mad Man took the 1960s hit single, “Little GTO” by Ronnie and the Daytonas – Little GTO, you’re really looking fine; three deuces and a four-speed, and a 389 … listen to her taching up now, listen to her whine, yeah, yeah. C’mon on and wind it up, blow it out, GTO! – converted it to “Kleinem GTI . . .” — and ran with it all the way to the bank.
Maybe it couldn’t tear up a quarter mile like a tri-power, high-compression V-8 GTO, but the pugnacious Rabbit GTI was agile, light and quick enough to be very entertaining. VW did not make the mistake of suggesting the GTI was equivalent to the classic ’60s Pontiac muscle car – and thereby over-reaching and embarrassing itself. The ads simply let people know the GTI was a fun car, like the GTO was.
And that’s why the commercial worked so well.
* Ford Mustang and “Mustang Sally” –
Mustangs have been around continuously since 1964, Vietnam and LBJ. That’s a long run in a business with a four-year model cycle and ten years is considered a gealogic epoch. Selling Mustangs has never been very hard, though – because good looks and (usually) good performance is always in style. So is Wilson Pickett, whose classic R&B hit, “Mustang Sally” was the no-brainer choice to serve as the theme song for Ford’s pony car and its 1994 revival.
If you read the lyrics – “I bought you a brand new Mustang, ’bout nineteen sixty-five” – you might think that the song was written specifically for the car by a Ford advertising and marketing firm – but no. Like Ronnie and the Daytonas’ “Little GTO,” the song arose spontaneously, in appreciation of the car. Ford just got lucky; the Mustang sold itself – and “Mustang Sally” simply fit the groove.
Ride, Sally, ride!
* Plymouth Arrow and “Me and my Arrow” –
Unlike “Mustang Sally,” this ditty was invented out of whole cloth just to promote a new car, in this case the long-since-defunct Plymouth Arrow of the declining days of Disco. But the late ’70s/early ’80s commercial and the accompanying soundtrack worked because of the nonthreatening, breezy quality they had – which matched the car just right.
Plymouth wasn’t trying to convince you that the Arrow was the mightiest sports car ever – just that it could be a pleasant traveling companion. If you recall the initial spate of ads for Honda motorcycles about 30 years ago – “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” – you’ll note the familiar motiff. Sensible, even-tempered – not likely to cause you any hassles. That’s appealing on a certain level. And: Don’t forget the Copper Houndstooth upholstery over deep foam padding!
“Me and my arrow, taking the high road.” A nice jingle. Darrin Stevens on Bewitched might have come up with something like it.
* Mitsubishi “wake up and drive” campaign –
Good-looking young people, hip-hop music, strobe-light photography and a party atmosphere – “little pieces of pop culture,” in the words of Vinnie Picardi, associate creative director of Deutsche LA – the firm that came up with the 2002 advertising campaign for Mitsubishi Motors.
Did it work? In short, yes. The company’s aggressive marketing of its Eclipse sports car and other models seems to have helped sales – which had been hovering torpidly around 200,000 for the years preceding the ’02 product campaign – and which jumped to nearly 350,000 afterwards. The question is: Was it the cars – all of them brand-new redesigned models – or the commercials? Probably it was a combination of the two – as Picardi admitted – because no commercial, and no hip music track in the world, is going to transform an uninteresting, unhip ride into one that is. The Eclipse – and much more so, the Lancer EVO – were appealing on their merits. So while the stop-motion, glittery, hip-hop beat helped – it wasn’t the only thing fueling the resurgence of the Mitsubishi brand.
* Nissan Pathfinder “Naturally Capable” –
This Aussie ad for Nissan 4x4s never made it stateside – unfortunately. A Pathfinder transforms into an arctic wolf lunging up a rocky, snow-covered hillside, then morphs into a mechanized tarantula as it carefully makes it way back down the boulder-strewn grade before once more shifting shapes into an aquatic reptile for a river crossing.
It’s refreshing to see an automaker touting what its vehicles can do – not just how “safe” they are.
*Cadillac CTS (Led Zeppelin) “Rock n’ Roll” –
As the new century dawned, it had been a long time since Caddy rocked n’ rolled. Unless the pallbearers dropped the casket and it rolled down the hill, anyhow. Enter new models like the angular (and muscular) CTS and the attempt to associate it with youth, via hard-edged metal music – and style, via flashbacks to the ballsy Cadillacs of old, like the finned and chromed ’59 model featured in the first few moments of the commercial.
It’s a great commercial because it speaks the truth:
Cadillac is hip again.
* Chevy trucks and Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” –
Bob Seger’s blue-collar anthem-singing ad campaign for ’90s-era Chevy trucks worked really well. Seger’s voice complements the specifications sheet – as well as the promise of the bow-tie badge. If good taste can be defined as “that which is appropriate,” these ads are in good taste. They got the message across in a no-nonsense, straightforward way that fit the American pie image of Chevy’s trucks perfectly.
* Buick Rendezvous and “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter –
The Pontiac Aztek-based Rendezvous has been a tough sell – and the jumbled confluence of cartoonish imagery, Tiger Woods and the “Frankenstein” theme didn’t help much.
In the first place, while GM was trying to convey the multi-purpose capabilities of its sort-of SUV, associating a vehicle with a freakish monster assembled from left-over bits and pieces is probably not a good concept. And Tiger Woods? A young, single guy who needs a minivan? A Buick minivan?
Epic Fail for Buick. Though not for Tiger, who made as much money off these ads as he did on the green.
* Mercury Marquis Imagine TV and The Grand Marquis
This was one of those commercials that’s catchy but didn’t do much to tout – or sell – the actual product. But it was a fun little ad.
First, cops pull a guy over to take his Mercury for a test drive; the cops offer the driver a donut. Then there’s a trial scene. It seems she was out all night with the Grand Marquis – pan to wig-wearing 18th century fop. No, the Mercury Grand Marquis – pan right to the car.
Cute. But it didn’t help sales much. Not just the Grand Marquis,either. Mercury itself sleeps with the fishes now.