Yes, Sisyphus would have rather been told to choose the 10 best automotive spots of the past 25 years, instead of rolling boulders around, but that doesn't mean that hand-picking best-ofs over a quarter century is a snap. In any case, the list has to include BMW's "The Hire," definitely Honda's Europe-market ad "cog," VW's "Milky Way" ad (if for no other reason than it introduced Nick Drake to most people), and Chrysler's Eminem ad that resurrected Detroit.
The One Club agrees, and lauds those and the other seven top ads at Cobo Hall on Tuesday, at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Picked from 60 entries by a panel of some 70 top advertising creatives and journalists, including Jeff Goodby, Mark Tutssel from Leo Burnett Worldwide, and Cliff Freeman of Cliff Freeman & Partners, here are the winners (oh, there was also a public opinion winner in Saatchi & Saatchi L.A.'s “Camry Reinvented” ad for Toyota):
1. "Grrr" - Wieden+Kennedy/London and Honda - 2004
2. "Cog" - Wieden+Kennedy/London and Honda - 2003
3. "The Force" - Deutsch/Los Angeles and Volkswagen - 2011
4. "The Hire" - Fallon/Minneapolis and BMW - 2001
5. "Sheet Metal" - Goodby, Silverstein & Partners/San Francisco and Saturn - 2002
6. "Born of Fire" - Wieden+Kennedy/Portland and Chrysler - 2011
7. "Toys" - TBWA\Chiat\Day/Los Angeles and Nissan - 1997
8. "Lamp Post" - BMP DDB/London and Volkswagen - 1998
9. "Milky Way" - Arnold Worldwide/Boston and Volkswagen -1999.
10. "Snow Covered" - Bozell Worldwide/Southfield and Chrysler/Jeep - 1994
"The Hire" was not just a new idea, but a new idea in a new medium. Nobody had done online video at that level. Bruce Bildsten, CD at Fallon, oversaw the 2001 series from start to finish. He tells Marketing Daily that just doing the technology aspects was a problem. Consider that the online video series launched before YouTube and social media were on the scene, and when big bandwidth was as exclusive as a Fisker. "There was no way to distribute it," says Bildsten. "You had to download the films from the site essentially overnight." The agency had to invent the channel. "Quicktime existed in crude form, so we used that for the bones of it, basically creating our own YouTube."
As for the creatives and marketers involved, Bildsten says it had a big influence on the agency creatives, account people and marketers involved. "If they were honest with themselves, they would have to admit that it absolutely influenced their thinking." He says, for example, that Fallon's Cadillac ATS "ATS Versus the World" campaign last year reflected that. The effort, as much a Discovery Channel exploration of exotic locales as an ad campaign, "was a bold move that went much deeper than the traditional TV spots."
Lance Jensen, who was Executive VP and Group Creative Director at Arnold Boston (now the Chief Creative Officer at Hill Holliday), says the "Milky Way" spot for Volkswagen's Cabrio, set to Nick Drake's "Pink Moon," offered a transcendental look at the benefits of driving with the top down...at night. "It's a simple and honest story: four friends driving through the country with the top down, enjoying the moon and the night," he says. "The Cabrio is a strange little car, wasn't a big seller, and they'd never bothered to make a commercial for it, so we thought of it as a brand halo spot." It helped, he adds, that Steve Wilhite, much-lauded North American director of marketing for the brand, and Liz Vanzura, VW's marketing director at the time, had a clear vision of the brand, and knew the agency could deliver on the intangibles. He adds that the night-driving inspiration drew from his own youth, when he tooled around with the top down.
As for Drake, he died young, famously hated performing live, and had fairly severe depression and insomnia (for what it's worth). His music's arc was like that of "Moby Dick," which also remained obscure for years. It wouldn't be far off to say Arnold Boston was to Drake what critic Raymond Weaver was to Melville's tome: the agency had a major role in resurrecting the artist and creating a new fan base. "We'd been listening to a lot of Nick Drake at the time," says Jensen. "We were all in bands on the side. We were looking at rough cuts and said, 'How about this song,' and it was meant to be."