According to Forbes, the average cost of a 30-second Super Bowl commercial in 2023 is a whopping seven million dollars! Given the viewership, it can be money well spent for brands, especially automakers. We compiled a list of our favorite Super Bowl car ads over the years. Some are hilarious, while others are inspirational and thought-provoking.
#1: Imported From Detroit (Chrysler)
Chrysler and Ram share a trifecta of Super Bowl car ads highlighting American ingenuity, tenacity, and grit: Imported From Detroit, Halftime in America, and Farmer. All three were meant to inspire the workforce following the Great Recession. Chrysler’s Halftime in America starred Clint Eastwood, while Ram borrowed Paul Harvey’s voice for Farmer, which included the original audio of the late ABC broadcaster addressing the 1978 Future Farmers of America convention.
Chrysler’s Imported From Detroit with Eminem was the first of the three and arguably among the greatest Super Bowl commercials ever, especially considering the time. Also called Born of Fire, a grayscale montage of Motor City landmarks and cutaway shots of Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry mural at the DIA help tell the story. The late Kevin Yon did the voice work, who became known as “The Chrysler Guy” after the commercial aired.
The spot ends as Eminem stops at the Fox Theatre on Woodward. With a choir in the background, the rapper turns to the camera and says what every Detroiter knows is true: “This is the Motor City, and this is what we do.”
#2: With Dad (Nissan)
Nissan’s With Dad hit big during Super Bowl XLIX, racking up millions of views as the favorite Super Bowl Commercial of 2015 via YouTube AdBlitz. Immediately recognizable is Harry Chapin’s 1974 hit Cat’s In the Cradle from the Verities & Balderdash record. Chapin’s music underpins a father’s joy, a mother’s love, and the roar of a GT-R LM NISMO. By the crash scene, most of us already had tears in our eyes.
The happy ending is of note, as the son walks out of school to find his dad waiting in a new Maxima. It heeds the deeper meaning of Chapin’s lyrics in that we only have so much time with our children.
#3: Find New Roads (Chevrolet)
Similar to Nissan’s With Dad, Chevrolet’s Find New Roads was a touching – if not bittersweet – reminder that our time with loved ones is limited. In the commercial, a father and son make one last trip to their house, now a shell of the happy home it once was. When the height chart on the wall is shown, it’s clear mom is no longer here.
Chevrolet captures the essence of what truck owners in America are: people who work hard, care deeply for their families, and want the best for everyone around them. In 2018, a Chevrolet and Harris Poll survey showed a link between truck ownership and serving the local community. Although Chevrolet conducted the poll, it was not brand specific, and nearly 90 percent said they regularly use their truck to help others.
While this commercial highlights the Silverado, it could just as well be any other truck. Chevy ignored the spec sheet and opted not to compete on performance, as the flowers in the bed are hardly a heavy payload. The weight we feel here is how precious our loved ones are.
Let’s switch from reflection and sadness to humor and wit, one of the fundamental tenants of any Super Bowl ad. Buick hit a homerun (baseball reference, sorry) in 2017 with its Not So Pee Wee Football spot starring Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and model Miranda Kerr. It’s one of our favorite Super Bowl car ads, given where Buick was at the time.
Buick has worked diligently in recent years to reinvent itself. When Not So Pee Wee Football aired in 2017, Buick’s lineup consisted of four cars: Cascada, LaCrosse, Regal, Regal GS, and three crossovers: Encore, Envision, and Enclave (the Cascada and Encore appear in this commercial). In late 2016, Buick was capitalizing on 30 straight months of sales growth and dialing down on things like safety, connectivity, and reliability. The brand’s QuietTuning philosophy was (and still is) at the center of everything. In so many words, this wasn’t the Buick you remember. That was the message.
“It’s a story we love to tell because there is so much to it,” Molly Peck, Chief Marketing Officer of Global GMC & Buick, told Automoblog in December 2016. “There are not a lot of examples you can point to where a brand was fading from the minds of consumers and is now coming back.”
Whether or not Buick succeeded in its reinvention depends on who you ask and what data you consider. Given the new vehicle market today, Buick was wise to ditch its sedans and go with an all-SUV lineup. Among GM brands, Buick is at the top for reliability, although in 2022, its overall placement dropped in Consumer Reports’ annual Reliability Rankings. However, Buick was first in J.D. Power’s 2022 U.S. Initial Quality Study.
Meanwhile, a CarMax study using 2020 sales data showed Buick had low brand loyalty (also supported by J.D. Power data in its 2020 Brand Loyalty Study). Yet there is plenty of anecdotal evidence Buick owners are happy, and its legendary muscle cars still find ways to wow fans all across the globe. Thus, Buick’s reinvention and its perceived success or failure is a matter of perspective.
More apparent is how hilarious Cam Newton’s rocket arm is in Not So Pee Wee Football. The poor kid signals he is open, followed by a desperate pleading of “no, no!” The icing on the cake is the dad’s side eyeball glance and the referee plowing into the water table at the end. Super Bowl comedy gold!
#5: The Blue Pill (Fiat)
Like Buick, if any brand needs reinvention and rejuvenation in the United States, it’s Fiat. Plagued by the “Fix It Again, Tony” acronym, Fiat was looking to turn the tides on the strength of the 500 when they returned to the U.S. in 2011. With the endorsement of Jennifer Lopez, Fiat sales peaked in 2014 at about 46,000 units (but even that was under initial forecasts). The following years proved worse, as the Italian nameplate managed to squander nearly all of its remaining relevance.
There was some industry chatter about Fiat getting the boot when Stellantis replaced FCA in 2021. CEO Carlos Tavares later confirmed each of the 14 brands under the Stellantis umbrella would have a 10-year window to prove their value, so Fiat has time to decide when the moment is right for them.
Fiat plans to tackle the EV market with the 2024 500e, set to debut at the 2023 Los Angeles Auto Show (these things take time to work). And while the initial details of the 500e are promising, Fiat needs to not lose their blue pill, unlike the would-be silver fox lover in the brand’s 2015 Super Bowl commercial.
Fiat’s Blue Pill, an ad for the 2016 500X, is loaded with incredible subtleties that will entertain anyone with a mind in the gutter. As the pill tumbles through a quaint Italian village, it rings a bell, zings past a priest, splits a flower bouquet, and tings a champagne glass before landing in the gas tank of a 500. The blue pill causes the smaller 500 to hulk out and become the 500X, much to the delight of the ladies nearby.
Some versions of the commercial had the Fiat 500X emblem at the end with the starting MSRP. The caption read, “Coming this spring. Hold out a little longer.” As a precautionary note, call a mechanic if your 500X lasts for more than four hours.
#6: Smaht Pahk (Hyundai)
One of the best Super Bowl car ads ever right here! In Smaht Pahk, John Krasinski shows Chris Evans and Rachel Dratch that parking a Sonata on a busy street isn’t “wicked hahd” after all. As they quiz Krasinski on all the places he has parked, we learn David Ortiz lives in the apartment above. Naturally, Big Papi is impressed with the Sonata’s Remote Smart Parking Assist feature.
“Remote Smart Parking Assist was difficult to say and remember, but a truncated ‘Smaht Pahk’ caught on when one of our creatives said it in a Boston accent,” recalled Angela Zepeda, Chief Marketing Officer, Hyundai Motor America. “We thought it was a fun, charming, and memorable way to tell people about this incredible new technology using one of America’s most-recognized and beloved regional accents.”
Native Bostonians will also recognize some hidden “Easter eggs,” including the song Dirty Water from The Standell’s debut record in 1966.
#7: Famous Cars (Walmart)
Originally airing during the 2019 Golden Globe awards, Walmart’s Famous Cars reappeared during Super Bowl LIII a month later. The commercial, promoting the national expansion of Walmart’s Grocery Pickup service, features almost every notable movie and TV car imaginable! One by one, they fly into the parking lot to pick up their orders while Gary Numan’s 1979 hit Cars plays in the background.
“We worked with a variety of different Hollywood studios to gain access to these vehicles,” said Barbara Messing, Chief Marketing Officer, Walmart U.S. “This helped ensure the ‘famous cars’ looked just like what our customers knew from the films while demonstrating the ease, speed, and convenience of the service – and that it’s for everyone, regardless of what car you drive.”
Walmart goes for a nostalgia and humor combo, and it’s perfect as each vehicle comes barreling in. The Tumbler Batmobile appears first, then Ecto-1, KITT, and Lightning McQueen followed by the ’84 Sheepdog from Dumb and Dumber. The chosen chariot of Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne screeches to a halt next to the Metallic Pea Wagon Queen Family Truckster, a damn fine automobile.
About halfway through, Kevin, one of the employees, sets a pumpkin down to reveal Cinderella’s magical chariot in an enchanted forest. The harmonious crescendo of Kevin’s wide-eyed wonderment is cut short by Slimer, coming from out of nowhere to yell “bllaaahh” and ruin the moment. Slimer then bulldozes Becky, greasing her with green goo before disappearing back into Ecto-1.
Bumblee does his signature slow-motion leap just before the DeLorean time machine arrives. And while KITT might be confused, one thing is for sure: Walmart has a gem in Famous Cars with plenty of staying power. People will inevitably search for and watch it again years from now, earning it a place among the best Super Bowl car ads.
#8: Fable (Mercedes-Benz)
Academy Award-winning special effects artist Robert Stromberg (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful) directed this retelling of The Tortoise and the Hare from Aesop’s Fables. Stromberg opens at the starting line, where the entire forest is gathered for the big race (look to the left to see the three-pointed star logo in the spider web). The Hare is warming up, and despite the Tortoise being a good sport, the Hare decides to be an insufferable chowderhead.
When Fable aired during Super Bowl XLIX in 2015, Mercedes-Benz was pushing its “Best or Nothing” tagline throughout its marketing, most notably with the voice of Jon Hamm. Mercedes-Benz wanted Fable to embody that (and then some) on the Super Bowl’s grand stage, as each character in the forest went from sketches and paintings to sculptures. The commercial was eventually filmed after a few days of heavy rain on location, which added to the ambiance.
“One of the main challenging elements to this spot is that there are so many different animals,” Stromberg recalled in a behind-the-scenes video with Mercedes-Benz. “And they all had to have expressive looks and do things with more human characteristics.”
When the Hare stumbles upon a Mercedes-Benz factory, he changes his viewpoint on “slow and steady” as he watches a hand-built 4.0-liter biturbo V8 being lowered into the then-new Mercedes-AMG GT. The engine, lauded for its “Hot V” design, was distinguished by dual turbochargers inside the V configuration versus the traditional position outside the cylinder banks. After production, the Mercedes-AMG GT produced 456 horsepower and 443 lb.ft of torque, with a top speed of 189 mph.
Complete with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and a 47/53 front/rear weight balance, the Mercedes-AMG GT is the perfect car for the Tortoise to deliver some much-deserved just deserts to that cocky Hare.
#9: Wisdom (Dodge)
Dodge’s Wisdom became an overnight sensation when it debuted during the New York International Auto Show in April 2014. It amassed nearly 4.5 million views in its first 24 hours on YouTube, easily surpassing previous Super Bowl car ads within Chrysler Group, like Imported From Detroit, Halftime in America, and Farmer. Naturally, Wisdom would appear again in 2015 for Super Bowl XLIX.
The ad, commemorating Dodge’s 100th anniversary, features centenarians on camera dispensing life advice. It starts with inspirational nuggets like “learn from your mistakes” and “there are miracles all around you,” but the gloves and rose-colored glasses eventually come off.
Decades after their passing, Horace Elgin and John Francis Dodge were inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan (Horace in 1981, John in 1997). Throughout their lives, the Dodge brothers were close. From the early days of Evans & Dodge Bicycle, as an exclusive supplier to Ford, then as eventual founders of Dodge Brothers, Horace and John were inseparable through it all. The Wisdom commercial is powerful, inspiring, and melancholic, given how the Dodge brothers’ lives ended abruptly.
While at the National Automobile Show in New York, Horace fell ill with severe influenza stemming from the 1918 flu pandemic. Tending to his bedside, John also became sick. The brothers died 11 months apart, John in January 1920 and Horace in December 1920. Both were in their 50s and in the prime of their automotive careers. The brothers are interred together at Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery, a fitting eternal tribute to how they spent their lives.
#10: The Force (VW)
VW’s The Force from Super Bowl XLV in 2011 is one of the most noteworthy commercials to grace the airwaves, and it changed traditional advertising, despite not having an ounce of dialogue. In the spot, a determined kid tries earnestly to use the force on everything in the house while sporting a slick Darth Vader costume. Frustrated at the lack of progress inside, little Darth Vader heads out to confront the 2012 Passat in the driveway.
The remote-start ending and ensuing reaction of mini Darth Vader made The Force an instant hit. Although it was scheduled for Super Bowl XLV on Sunday, February 6th, 2011, VW actually released the ad the prior Wednesday. Writing for TIME in 2015, Josh Sanburn details the story of how VW and its ad agency Deutsch ultimately went against conventional logic and dropped The Force on YouTube first. The gamble paid off, having been viewed 17 million times before Super Bowl Sunday in 2011.
Behind its charm, The Force was an early example of how brands could leverage emerging social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. Advertising was now branching beyond print, radio, and television. With The Force, VW showed how YouTube and other social media channels could cater to potential customers, no matter where they are, an idea that only reinforced itself with the arrival of more capable smartphones in the years ahead.
What Are Your Favorite Super Bowl Car Ads?
This list of Super Bowl car ads is by no means exhaustive, and there are plenty of others to mention (Bill Murray and Jeep and Melissa McCarthy and Kia come to mind, as do the Nissan pigeons from the late ’90s). If we missed one, let us know on Twitter.
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Society of Automotive Historians. He serves on the board of directors for the Ally Jolie Baldwin Foundation, is a past president of Detroit Working Writers, and a loyal Detroit Lions fan.