The five best car commercials of the ’80s
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Some would say I was lucky to miss the ’80s — being a child born during the wonderful year of 1991.
And while they’re probably not entirely wrong, there’s one thing I wished I had more exposure to; ’80s car advertising.
Unique ideas, jingles, casual sexism — commercials of the ’80s had it all in buckets. Sadly by the ’90s car advertising had started to become more derivative, save for the occasional outburst of creativity. Only in the noughties and twenny-teens have we seen some creativity return, thanks largely to the advent of ‘virality’ over social media. Holden’s latest Spark ad has brought back some of that casual sexism though, which is nice.
Even so, there are still plenty of crap car ads on TV today, all utilizing the same stock images of laughing 20-somethings, four-wheel drives splashing through vanilla mud puddles, and slow-motion tracking shots. Yaawn.
The short of it is this: ’80s car ads were always wildly unique and different. Here are five of the very best.
Pontiac: We build excitement
The cars spawned by America’s automotive industry in the ’80s aren’t looked upon too fondly these days, largely because they were junk. There were a few gems in there of course, but let’s pretend for the sake of argument that they don’t exist.
While the cars began to slip down a slope, the advertising continued along the same path, peddling the same messages of optimism and aspiration — two things clearly found in this Pontiac spot.
The whole thing is superbly filmed, then backed by what could possibly be the best supporting car ad jingle / slogan combination in history. Not only that, but am I the only one who pines for a return to ads that market an entire range of cars? I like that Pontiac leave just about no stone unturned, since almost every car from their line-up features in the commercial somewhere.
Over just 45 seconds we’re shown snips of multiple plots; a fighting couple, a woman being pulled over by police, a businessman leaping into his Sunfire convertible in the dead of the night. I want to learn more about these people. They seem interesting — I want to become one of them.
Well, I guess I should buy a Pontiac.
Peugeot 205 GTi: Faux Bond
The budget for this must have been atrocious. Cars parachuting from the sky, bombers flying feet from the ground, incredible scenery, explosions, the whole thing is remarkable.
And easily more watchable than anything Pierce Brosnan’s ever been in.
Corvette: You've never seen anything like this before
While American adverts like Pontiac’s leaned towards pushing ideals on their audience, others made material elements the most important factor — where the buyer could boast to their neighbours in not so subtle tones about how their car has three more horse power than theirs, or two extra speakers in the back, you get the drift.
This got a bit out of hand, as brands started to invent things to boast about in their commercials; points that would grow exponentially stupider as the years passed.
This ad for the retrospectively hated Corvette C4 dabbles in the concept, as the narrator and his husky vocal chocolate talk about the car’s “never before available unidirectional turbine fin wheels,” and “liquid crystal displays” that turned out to just be a crappy colour overlay.
It’s just so quintessentially eighties.
Honourary hat-tip to the ad for Chrysler’s Laser. Try and guess the voice-over artist.
Barry Crump, Scotty, and the Toyota Hilux
This had to be included.
The Crump ad was the slam dunk to end all car advertising slam dunks in New Zealand, and not just because it saw Crump, Scotty, and the Hilux all become lovable household names.
The campaign only further stamped Toyota as one of New Zealand’s most trusted brands, and, through Crump, the populous grew to consider the brand as part of the national psyche. Toyota built upon this through partnerships with the likes of Team New Zealand and Sir Peter Blake — Blake, like Crump, another example of the typical humble gruff Kiwi male persona.
Since then, Toyota have always been one of New Zealand’s most creatively advertised car brands, and you have to suggest that some of their domestic showroom success is a reflection of this. 'Everyday People', 'Welcome to Our World', 'Pied Piper', and so on and so on.
I also tip my hat to the lesser-cited ‘poem’ ad from the end of the decade, which is also well worth a watch.
Every single Japanese commercial with a Western cameo
You would think that selling a Japanese car to a Japanese audience would be a simple sell, but history shows that Japan have a thing for flying out some of Hollywood’s best and brightest to sell them their own cars. I know it’s cheating, as this is meant to be a list boiled down to five, but I really couldn’t decide between these.
Here’s a montage of Eddie Murphy selling Toyota Celicas. Yes, this is a very early ’90s clip, but we’re both better off having seen it don’t you agree?
Next is Michael J Fox and the Honda Integra; Fox throwing an electric guitar around in the most awkward use of an electric-guitar since that time Kyle Busch smashed the one he was awarded at a Nascar race.
This one's also '90s, but I wrote this article, so I'm allowed to break the rules.
A late entry from Bruce Willis and Subaru, packed full of dramatically lit horse dirt.
Finally, here’s George Clooney and a Daihatsu. I have no words to go with this one.