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A recent history of automotive advertising

March 2017

Written by Ashika Chauhan, Digital Creative Director at bigdog 

From the classic press ad to innovative interactive content, the automotive sector has produced some of the most stand out creative throughout the years. 

This article concentrates on what’s stood out for us from the last 15 years. However, no round up would be complete without first referencing the classic VW ads of the 60s. We’ve highlighted a couple of the most famous executions below and if you’re interested in how these ads came about, this documentary is a great watch here.

1960s: Lemons, Think Small, Snow Plough

The legendary 60’s VW ads were category defining at the time, most notably celebrating what some may have referred to as the negative characteristics of the Beetle.




2003: Honda, Cog

One of the more famous car ads of recent times – the spot featured a chain reaction of car parts that culminated in a finished Honda Accord. A viral sensation before YouTube even existed.


2004: Honda, Grr (Hate Something, Change Something)

The animated ad promoted the new diesel engines and made ironic use of imagery that reflected nature and innocence. The catchy soundtrack also meant that we’d be humming to its tune all day long.

This campaign signalled a shift in advertising that started to consider digital as part of the mix – an online Flash game also accompanied the TVC.


2004: Citroen C4, Alive with Technology

The Transformer ad. Surprising and fun, the car is a hero featuring on screen for every second. A great use of CGI.


2007: BMW Films

Before content was #content, BMW treated us to a series of films starring Clive Owen and directed by the likes of Guy Ritchie and John Woo.


2007: Škoda, Cake

The new Fabia Supermini is recreated in cake form, all to the soundtrack of Julie Andrews’ “My Favourite Things”. The ad created great brand recognition for Škoda, without the need to show the actual car. 


2011: Volkswagen, The Force

We see a young boy in full Darth Vader costume attempting to use ‘the force’ to control various items in his family home, finally he succeeds by starting the car – the secret power at play? His Dad. This was the first time a Super Bowl ad was released before the game itself, creating noise online in its lead up. 


2012: Mercedes, #YouDrive

An interactive TV campaign to launch the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Audiences were encouraged to 'drive' the story of a 60-second ad that appeared in the first commercial break of X Factor. Subsequent ads shown were based on what audiences voted for.


2013: Mercedes, Chicken

Unexpected, humorous and brilliantly simple. Mercedes’ chicken ad communicates a strong and singular product benefit without needing to show us the car.


2013: VW Polo, Dad

If John Lewis commissioned car ads, this would be it. A touching tribute to the relationship between a father and daughter. 


2014: Honda, The Other Side

Whilst we so often see the technology bandwagon being jumped upon, Honda’s use of tech here was core to the idea. The seamless, two-sided interactive film enabled viewers to switch between stories about a suburban school-run and an art heist by typing “R” on their keyboards – a function that mirrors the Type R’s race button.


2015: Land Rover, Instagram Adventure Story

Land Rover take hold of the storytelling theme and deploy it across various channels. This interactive Instagram Story was a great way to use the platform in a new way.


2015: Harley-Davidson, A VR Experience

We couldn’t help but reference our work with Harley-Davidson at Motorcycles Live. Consumers were able to experience famous riding routes via the Oculus Rift, whilst sitting on the brand new bikes.

2015: Honda, Keep Up

Honda’s challenging spirit is communicated via a series of connected videos aimed to challenge viewers’ ability to keep up and push their own limits. A great example of content that considers the viewer’s experience as an integral part of the creative idea.


2016: Volvo, Split

In one of the most shared videos of last year, we see Van Damme carry out his famous split between two reversing trucks.


2016: Audi, Duel

Audi’s timely ad aired during the presidential debates last year and encouraged the American public to ‘choose the next driver wisely’.


Ongoing: Tesla

No modern-day automotive roundup would be quite complete without talking about Tesla. Whilst many an argument can be had about what is and isn’t advertising, it’s fair to say that Tesla has made best use of the internet and its ability to spread sharable content. The brand’s YouTube channel boasts a series of Netflix-esque documentaries celebrating what’s positioned as one of the most innovative cars of our time.


What’s stood out for you, did we miss anything? 

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