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August marks the time of year that we see the worst the auto industry has to offer in terms of advertising. Summer to auto advertisers is kind of like summer TV programming is to the networks. Programs that run in the summer are usually forgettable, as networks roll out a long succession of reruns and a few pilots that are under consideration for the regular season but just as many that have no chance of ever being picked up.

When I was at Chrysler I loathed this time period because it was mandated that we create a sale event campaign to help clear out those last vehicles of the model year to make room for the new cars that would come for the fall. Except that sometimes the quantities we had to sell were closer to launch volumes than a clearance. We would do our very best to be creative, and sometimes we did well, but others we really mucked up.

My favorite was probably the Lee Iacocca and Snoop Dogg sales event that we ran during the waning days of the summer in 2005. People may have watched it the way they watch an oncoming train wreck, but we did stick out from the pack and drive a few more sales. And those two things, standing out and selling more cars, are the most important elements of determining if your ad has done its job.

?So let's take a peek at what the auto industry has served up this summer.

1. Kia's Sweet Summer Sales Event

This ad is as cheesy as it gets, but I do like the music. It’s the music that you remember more than anything when you see this ad, even if you don't remember Kia -- or any of its products. Unfortunately, the silly ice cream truck driver with his goofy hat, ridiculous “thumbs-up,” and, um, ice cream-eating grin, sticks out much more than any of the Kia vehicles. The real meat in this sandwich is the $149 monthly payment offer at the end of the commercial, but I am not sure many people will pay attention that long.
Grade: C+

2. Dodge Tent Event

Have I mentioned that when you use a cute animal or a baby in a spot, you are just admitting defeat? (Yes, I have done it myself, so I know.) The tent sale is one of the oldest sale event tricks in the book, along with the crowded showroom, the clown, the hot dog stand, and balloons and streamers -- overused and uninspired, all. Dodge uses most of these gimmicks in this spot, but adds the gratuitous monkey at the end. The flat, monotone voiceover tries for the sarcastic comedic element, but I’m not sure it was worth the production cost. Lost among all this foolishness is a "return the car if not satisfied" deal for the first 60 days, plus cash back offers. Seems like Chrysler couldn’t decide on one approach, so chose “all of the above.”
Grade: C (And let’s give the monkey A+ of his own)

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3. Suzuki Free Gas For Summer Event

This is just 30 seconds of really bad graphics and B-roll footage shot in a desert. Yes, automakers shoot a lot of footage of vehicles driving fast in desert sand and on salt flats and the like. We are all too aware that no one actually drives like this but it is cheap to film there because we don't need permits to close down roads and we don't need to manage props or anything else... even if it is usually quite boring. Suzuki uses some of this footage with these graphics to announce what is probably the most interesting hook of the summer auto ads: Free gas. It stands out, gets repeated several times, and you read it on the screen too, so I walk away knowing very little about Suzukis or even what they really look like (since the desert footage shows little) but I do know about the deal and it might just get them on my list if I am shopping deals. (Maybe it would work better if gas was topping $4/gallon again, too?) Simplicity seems the name of the game here, but my worry is that this kind of ad is so commonplace that I have likely tuned out or clicked away before it started.
Grade: C-

4. Hyundai Uncensored: Sweet Ride

It seems as though Hyundai has copied Ford's “Switch My Ride” campaign in this ad. Basically, it shows customers inside vehicles talking about the product while they are driving. You see almost nothing of the car itself, less than two seconds from my estimate, but plenty of the various customers being showcased. Whether you’re the one talking about how dumb you were to drive that Mercedes, or one of the many proclaiming how sweet a ride the Hyundai is, you get to see yourself reflected in the ad, or so the marketers hope. While this is definitely a "been-there-done-that" ad, it is not a sale ad that risks distressing the brand.
Grade: B-

5. 2011 Chevy Corvette: Still Building Rockets

This ad stands out among the year-end sales event ads, because it’s not one of those at all. Not that it’s terribly original, but it is well done and it sucks you in from the opening, slowly building the anticipation and finishing strong with the ultimate climax that is the 2011 Corvette ZR1 in all its glory, even if we don’t get a really good look at the car. Chevy has to leave you wanting more, after all. American spirit is the prevailing theme and we are rewarded with a true American icon that has been refreshed for the 2011 model year. This ad is refreshing itself amongst the sea of truly bad car advertising we endure in the summer months.
Grade: A-?

6. Kia Soul: Black Sheep

It pains me to say so, but this spot grows on you. When I first saw it, I hated it, but I definitely watched it and remembered it. I went on my Facebook page to ask my "friends" what they thought the worst ads of the summer were and also what they thought of this spot. Twenty people responded and all but one seemed to like it, a lot. If you look online, it's getting rave reviews. Why people in hamster suits rapping over a 20-year-old backing track should be award winning is beyond me but you can't deny the fact that it's catchy music and that the ad shows the vehicle, inside and out, featuring some of its technological elements as well. So entertaining and memorable for sure give it points. That said, Kia seems to be on a roll. Between this ad and its Superbowl ad with the Paul Frank stuffed monkey and his friends, Kia has stumbled upon a cult following which, while potentially annoying to some, will likely help it stand out from the crowd and probably even garner a few sales.
Grade: A-


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