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Hagerty Employee

9 automotive ad campaigns that either sizzled or fizzled

The new car business is incredibly competitive. There are a dozen or more companies all vying for customer dollars, doing their best to build a compelling product. Even if a company were to build the perfect vehicle for a buyer, marketing is how the message gets out. To make that connection, advertisers have come up with all sorts of outlandish gimmicks, pitches, and commercials.


As we'll elucidate in this highly scientific study, sometimes great commercials can lend new life to a model or help establish the identity of a brand. Others, well, can become punchlines.


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   I've got one of those tiger tails that I sometimes put hanging out of my decklid.  Not sure if I'm referencing the GTO tiger ads or the Esso tiger - someone just gave it to me as a gag.  But either way, kids often see it and it catches their attention (they're too young to know or care about where the reference is from anyway).  Much like my stuffed tiger or the miniature GTO model that I sometimes display on the car, anything that catches a youngster's eye and gets them interested in an old car is a good thing, IMHO (could lead to a passion later in life?)

   It's really all 'just fer fun', after all 😃


Esso did have a big "tiger in your tank" promotion, but another strong influence was the tire commercial for "Tiger Paws." I forget the brand but the commercial campaign ran for quite awhile. One of the most memorable commercials of all time was the Mitsubishi girl doing her arm dance. Not long after the Mustang came out they had a campaign featuring a Walter Mitty type nerd who started scoring big with the girls after buying a Mustang. Going way back, anybody else remember "it's de-lightful, it's de-lovely, it's De-soto"? But possibly the greatest print ad of all time was Packard's simple slogan "Ask the man who owns one." 

Intermediate Driver

The tires were by Uniroyal - they still have a line of Tiger Paws!

“Ford Trucks!!! The BEST Never rest” ads should have been here

Intermediate Driver

Sheriff Joe Higgins in the Dodge commercials should have been listed in this article.
Y'all drive careful, now. Heah? 


No mention of the old Dodge ads, of the sheriff, "You're in a heap of trouble, boy!"

Intermediate Driver

I always thought those "Dr. Olds" ads were unbearable. The effort to be "hip" in some fashion to the point of being incomprehensible. A muddle.

New Driver

I can recall the VW slogan, but not the actual commercial content, the slogan was "Volkswagen, they will definitely float,  but they won't float indefinitely"


Mid 60s VW ads were very clever (Sometimes in a cringeworthy way).

Joe Izusu were so hilarious that people often started conversations with; “Have you seen the new Joe Izusu commercial?”.

Brilliant advertising can be fondly remembered decades later.

Intermediate Driver

The 1986 Iroc Z28 was a good add

Pit Crew

Chevy guy: “We brought you here today to show you a car that will be outsold 7:1 by the Toyota Camry.”


I thought the VW “My Fast ads were great.   Although, at least one of them generated a lot of push back for its misogyny:





I absolutley loved the My Fast ads.  My hotrod truck has a keychain with the My Fast demon.    VW also has another realy cool ad campaign around that time call Un-pimp your auto with Peter Stormare playing derranged german auto engineer destroying ridiculously tricked out imports.

The Audi R8 V10 ad is best played with headphones or on a good sound system.   I doubt it sold a lot of R8s, but it helped build Audi’s performance image.


Still love to watch this!


Pit Crew

What about Mr. Ed, the talking horse pushing Studebaker’s at the end of his show!?

Pit Crew

The reference to "rich Corinthian leather" became part of the pop vocabulary and developed "lots of secondary meaning" making the ad campaign for Chrysler succesful, somewhat less so for the Cordoba itself (We had one) .

Major omission in this piece - the 30 year ad campaign for the Mercury Cougar.  Employing a rescued live Cougars ("Chancey" being the most famous) with Cheryl Tiegs, Farah Fawcett and Arnold Palmer (among others). "At the sign of the cat" followed by Chancey's signature snarl, it was the single longest running "same themed" car ad campaign.

See:   Does Your Cat Have His Papers? « - The Copyright Zone › ...


Pit Crew

This, by far, is my favorite car TV ad - the kid identifying the '96 Z/28 by exhaust sound;

New Driver

Missing from this list is the campaign that introduced the Infiniti brand to the US by showing rocks, streams, and trees - but no cars - in the B&W TV commercials.  Wonder if that ad agency survived that blunder?  At least Infiniti did, but they started at a great disadvantage to Lexus that launched at the same time.

Pit Crew

I thought the AMC Eagle preceded the Outback as a lifted 4WD wagon by a few years?

Intermediate Driver

Funniest car ads I ever saw, were from a dealer.  The "Trunk Monkey" series.   "I don't do probes."  

Intermediate Driver

The single coolest TV ad for a car, ever.


Huge fan of the Joe Isuzu commercials!  They made me want to buy an Isuzu.  Way too funny.

Not a fan of the Chevy Real People ads either.  Loved Crocodile Dundee selling Subaru's.  


The ESSO Tiger spots were created by a Madison Ave genius, Dale Wright.  He found a way to differentiate one gasoline brand from the rest (gas at the time, was exactly the same at every gas station).  He also created the concept and practice of "premium gifts", where you earned a free glass, plate, cup, cutlery after a fill-up, so you could collect an entire set for your home.  Dale created gasoline brand loyalty with those ads and promo programs.

Intermediate Driver

Remember the Roadrunner ad, where they touted regular insurance rates?

New Driver

I think an honourable mention must be made of the superb SAAB ad directed by Tony Scott in the early 80's.

Community Manager

That is a fantastic advert. 


I thought it interesting that Paul Hogan, supposedly driving his Outback in the outback, had a left hand drive car- as did the guy chasing him.





   Thanks for the "FRAHNK-en-steen" reference.  Has little to do with cars or ads (maybe nothing at all?), but it made me grin.  One of my favorite movies of all time!

   I got a chuckle and a memory jog out of all of your picks.  The ads (both print and TV) of the '60s and '70s were probably the heyday of the marketing age for automobiles here in the U.S.

   Of course, many have thrown in some other examples, some of which I agree are great ones, but we all know that you can't list EVERYthing in an article like this.  I think the ones you picked are good examples of your topic.  And when you look at how many replies the post got, it certainly got things percolating, which I think is a measurement of success for a Forum article.  👍


One of the best marketing deals was Like a Rock for Chevy Trucks.

Who here today does not think Chevy trucks when they hear Bob Seger sing those well chosen words of life.

I saw Bob two years ago and when he sang I though about Chevy trucks.