Journal: 10 Car Commercials That Actually Worked

10 Car Commercials That Actually Worked

By Petrolicious Productions
September 10, 2015

The song Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix swells in the background, belted out by a string quartet. “For lunch, a Porsche 944 Turbo generally prefers Ferraris, though occasionally, it’s been known to snack on Corvettes…” as a red 944 Turbo slides across the screen in slow motion.

And now you want a Porsche 944 Turbo.

It’s far from the only example of a great ad, and we could fill this website every day with examples to prove our point. What makes a great commercial? With the benefit of hindsight, we think that commercials featuring a real depiction of a vehicle’s character are best, while answering the following: Why is this car here? What can it do? Why do I want it?

Here are some of our favorites. 

Yeah, it’s nearly 10 minutes long. But the BMW Z4 looks pretty great when piloted by Clive Owen—with James Brown in the passenger seat—as they face off against the devil.

An Audi CS quattro lines up at the bottom of a seemingly impossible obstacle: a ski jump. A dramatic demonstration of the company’s quattro technology, and a commercial that no doubt sent many people to showrooms.

“For lunch, a Porsche 944 Turbo generally prefers Ferraris, though occasionally, it’s been known to snack on Corvettes…” is the expression of Porsche’s naughty side. The 911 commercial on the right, however, may bring the sentimental among us to tears.

“DEMAND THE MCCOY!” the announcer says, before ending with a tag line to end all tag lines: “You only get one shot at life!” The message? Buy a Triumph TR4A and experience a real sports car!

Sometimes, whimsy can work: but it helps if your products are as good as the Volkswagen Beetle, Citroën 2CV and BMC Mini. One thing’s clear: these cars aren’t like the others.

Honda is perhaps the one car company that often manages to make us want its cars without actually showing much of its cars! The Japanese company has been known to create media as tribute to greats like Ayrton Senna, as well as attack a challenge that is filmed to use in an ad—the company once made a “singing road” for this purpose.

On the left, an ingenious commercial that must be the reason we invented 3D rendering technology…In it, Honda manages to touch on just about every aspect of its business in less than two minutes—two minutes we’ve re-watched at least a dozen times! On the right, a lap of Ayrton Senna at Suzuka from 1989 is recreated in realtime, at the track, using lights, engine sounds, and a huge amount of brainpower to make it all work. Gives you chills? Us, too.

Has a car commercial inspired you to lust after or buy a car? 



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Jean-Noël Fermaud
Jean-Noël Fermaud
3 years ago

I have to say, the latest Volvo adverts are really striking a chord in me, just because they’re beautiful. The most special to me is the Seasons ad, for the Volvo XC90. The music is breathtaking, to listen with the best headphones possible.

3 years ago

Don’t forget Alfa 156 & Catherine Zeta Jones…

Paul Webb
Paul Webb
4 years ago

Mazda RX7 commercial from 1982 comparing it to a Porsche.

Juan Carreño
Juan Carreño(@juancarreno993)
5 years ago

Ironically the Z4 video is 9:44 minutes long… (queues orchestrated Purple Haze)

Terence Challenger
Terence Challenger(@fb_616278791)
6 years ago

Arguably the best car ad ever:
But the one that made me actually want the car (admittedly not a true TVC):

Phil Kostka
Phil Kostka(@fb_24501137)
6 years ago

can’t beat the 300zx gi-joe commercial!

Marc (@santacaferacer)
6 years ago

Pink Moon VW ad sticks out…made me want any open top car after that!

Thomas Donohue
Thomas Donohue(@fb_848271075292946)
6 years ago

The Porsche ‘Business Card’ commercial reminded me of similar one..

GT3 Cup Dream

and my favorite: Porsche – ‘Anticipation’

Francois Bozonnet
Francois Bozonnet(@bozo348)
6 years ago

the honda ads have made some effect on my little family. maybe one day my son will remember it and will buy a honda.

6 years ago

My personal favourite is Fiat’s early 1980s advert for the Ritmo/Strada….. great music and ended up on the track on the roof of the Lingotto factory.

Christian Peta
Christian Peta(@petachr)
6 years ago

The ‘business card’ commercial strikes a chord for me personally. I like many others I am sure, see myself. Being one of those they describe as ‘truly afflicted’ – after decades of wanting I recently purchased my very first batch Stuttgart sheet metal – a ’10 Cayman S and couldn’t be happier. There is no substitute.

Jason Roberts
Jason Roberts(@jasonroberts)
6 years ago

Can’t believe I forgot the Lexus ball-bearing commercial:

Jason Roberts
Jason Roberts(@jasonroberts)
6 years ago

No love for VW?

Original GTI:
Golf IV:
Jetta (windshield wipers):

My personal favorite, GTI mark II:

There are others on youtube, but these are the ones I remember.

Tom DesRochers
Tom DesRochers(@brown76)
6 years ago

Has a car commercial inspired me to lust after or buy a car?
If we are limited to tv spots, then no.
If we stretch the definition of “commercial” to include product placement in movies and television, then yes.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger(@gtrslngr)
6 years ago

I and most of the more progressive business and marketing world are not convinced that any ad over the last decade or so has had any viable or measurable effect/affect on car or any other sales regardless of how good or bad the ad might be . Fact is in the muddy murky overwhelming sea of digital noise , ads on every street corner/school bus / uniform / movie [ product placement ] etc the average consumer has become so overwhelmed by ads as to make them totally ineffective . Fact is nine times out of ten after viewing ads the majority of those surveyed though they may remember the plot/script cannot remember what the ad was promoting

As far as this bunch though which do I think are the best ? Basing my judgement on whether I remember the ad or not from beginning to end without actually viewing it again here ;

The 911 ” business card ” ad is the only one of the bunch thats ever made enough of an impression for it to be tucked away in the ole memory banks . All the rest having disappeared into the annals of vapidity

6 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

“muddy murky overwhelming sea of digital noise” good god, you have completely and perfectly summarized every post you so frequently rush to post on petrolicious.

“Fact is nine times out of ten after viewing ads the majority of those surveyed though they may remember the plot/script cannot remember what the ad was promoting” I’m gonna throw the BS flag on that. Your scientific studies must have run out of steam when 4 out of 5 dentists recommended Dentine gum. Your posts stink like skunky morning breath.

I’m sick of seeing your ridiculous posts flood my favorite auto blog. Go find a woman, a cartoon, a dog, grab a fishing pole or take a hike. Get over yourself.

oh… and my personal favorite, the 300zx commercial with ken and barbie. Unforgettable. 🙂

6 years ago
Reply to  John

This must be the best comment I’ve read on Petrolicious. Mr G Slinger, your opinions are not always necessary or welcome. They’re usually just tripe!

6 years ago
Reply to  Fingers

As a long time reader and contributor, I do wonder why he has chosen to haunt us here sometimes. Rarely accurate, often rude, mostly hot air and bluster. I assume not even he believes the stories told, and might suggest for someone so obviously driven to annoy people for the sake of it, starting his own blog might suffice… ‘Alone and Angry in the Car World’? ‘Automotive Fables’? ‘Wishing for Wheels of my Own’? Countless options, and no need to wait for our tolerant hosts here to post anything.