Marketing and advertising insights for automotive suppliers

11 Car Commercials That Somehow Passed the Focus Groups

11 Car Commercials That Somehow Passed the Focus Groups

There's a fine line between stupid and clever.

Making advertising is hard. Creating a commercial for a major automaker is really hard. Storyboards must pass through a gauntlet of focus groups, committees and subcommittees. Then, there are the months of preproduction. The huge costs. The mounting stress. I gotta hand it to everyone involved in making these commercials. In each case, the client and ad agency really went for it. They pulled out all the stops, employing lasers, singers, dancers, a 1,800-pound bull, even Ricardo Montalban. At least they took a chance. As Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” But wow, these commercials missed—gloriously.

Like omigod, it’s a Plymouth Duster!

Take the hair, unitards and parachute pants of the 1980s and combine it with an ear-splitting chorus of “My Duster,” and it’s enough to gag you with a spoon.


The Datsun 280ZX strikes black gold, if you’re into that.

Glamorous woman and thickly mustached man meet. They kiss. And drive off into the sunset at warp speed together, to a rousing “Black Goooooooold!” chorus. Welcome to the 1970s.


The cheese is strong with Chrysler Laser.

In my 12 All-Time Great Car Commercials post, there is a Darth Vader-themed spot that is sheer perfection. This is not that spot. I can’t argue with using the great James Earl Jones for voiceover. But this storyboard should’ve been blown up along with the Death Star.


This Lincoln MKC spot is full of bull.

Matthew McConaughey has a chat with a 1,800-pound bull standing in the road that he identifies as Cyrus. Points for originality. But -10,000 points for not having a point.


The Chrysler Cordoba deserves a guest spot on Fantasy Island.

What is soft Corinthian leather? Even Ricardo Montalban admitted that it was completely made up by somebody in marketing. The upholstery in this commercial is not even leather. However, this spot lives on in the “so bad it’s good” category.


And now, a man in a griffin costume for Vauxhall.

No—just no.


Lincoln MKZ hands over the wheel to Twitter.

This recent commercial had an intriguing premise—let people on Twitter write the story. It culminated with an outdoor wedding attended by bikers, turtles, aliens and an alpaca. Not so easy being a copywriter, is it?


In space, no one can hear you scream about this Chevrolet Astro Van spot.

“In all the universe,” there’s never been a greater opening line of a car commercial. During a majestic Saturn sunrise, the Astro starts flying, followed by mysterious black orbs. Of course, eight happy space travellers in orange jumpsuits are inside, happy to be along for the ride.


The Ford Windstar boldly goes where no one has gone before.

Apparently, science fiction was a hot theme in the 1980s. But putting All My Children actress Susan Lucci in a Star Trek-like uniform is highly illogical. The teleportation device that transforms you into a disembodied head must come as an option.


Bikini girls carjack a Dodge Charger 500.

Elliot seems like a nice enough guy, with a plan to propose to his girlfriend on the beach. Until a group of bikini-clad women flock to his car. They hop onboard, and Elliot drives off, leaving his girl stranded on the beach. I guess the wedding will be postponed.


Ford Ranger Splash Edition—at least it’s better than Waterworld.

Sometimes, all a creative team needs is a word and they run with it. In this case, it was “splash.” Trucks driving through waterfalls wasn’t enough. So they added swimsuit-clad models frolicking in the spray. And electric guitars. Mission accomplished.



Ernie Perich

As the owner and creative director of Perich Advertising + Design for more than 30 years, Ernie knows a thing or two about automotive marketing. He combines brand strategy with smart creative to help automotive suppliers strike a nerve. Contact

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