Every year in early February, Americans rally around their televisions by the tens of millions for an unofficial holiday, one that livens up that long, dark stretch between New Year’s and spring: Super Bowl Sunday. Whether or not you’re rooting for either of the teams playing that day, or even care about the National Football League, is practically irrelevant; the Super Bowl is an agnostic Mardi Gras that happens to take place on the weekend, a chance for people to come together and feast, imbibe and be merry.
Of course, with all those people gathered in front of their screens, companies looking to draw attention to themselves and their products have come to go big on Super Bowl Sunday, spending absurd amounts of money on commercials. As a result, the ads have become as big a draw as the football game itself, with companies working like mad to outdo each other and craft miniature films that compress an entire movie’s worth of levity or drama into as little as 30 seconds.
Car companies have been on the leading edge of this for years, sparing no expense to whip up ads that poke people right in their lizard-brain ids. Car buying, after all, is an emotionally-driven decision at the end of the day, so a company that can whip up a visceral response to its products stands a better chance of convincing buyers to fork over tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on that ride they park in their driveway.
Which means, of course, that many of those ads are still a delight to watch today. So in honor of this year’s big game being upon us, we pulled together a list of the best automotive Super Bowl ads of all time.
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Volkswagen — “The Force” (2011)
One of the best Super Bowl ads ever, period. Also, the best use of a remote starter, period.
Ford — “The One” (2004)
No CGI, no over-the-top stunts, not even a plot. Just one full minute of the Ford GT going hard on a racetrack. If it gives you goosebumps, you’re a real car person. (Also, if you have time, watch the "making of" video, too.)
Chrysler — “Born of Fire (Imported from Detroit)” (2011)
Chrysler’s two-minute paean to its hometown may be one of the most chilling, emotionally evocative commercials to ever run across America’s TV screens. The fact that it was ostensibly for the disappointing Chrysler 200, well, that’s best forgotten.
VW — "Tree" (2001)
Wait for it.
Jeep — "Groundhog Day" (2020)
What do you do when you're Jeep, and the Super Bowl falls on February 2nd? You get Bill freaking Murray to come shill your new pickup truck, that's what.
Chevrolet — “Soap” (2004)
One of the best payoffs to the use of a story beginning in media res that you’ll ever see.
Audi — “Horsehead” (2008)
Audi returned to the Super Bowl for the first time in 20 years with this sharp-edged parody of one of the most iconic scenes of The Godfather. It’s safe to say they came out swinging.
Acura — “Transactions” (2012)
While many Super Bowl ads throw celebrities with little connection to the product into the mix, Acura made the most of Jerry Seinfeld and his automotive obsession for its ad promoting the new NSX. Sure, said NSX wouldn’t hit the streets for another four years, but we can’t blame Acura for trying to get folks excited.