8 Great Car Commercial Songs (And A Couple Not-So-Great Ones)

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

If you can’t get the tune out of your head, does that mean you’ll end up buying the car — or even liking it at all? Rich, Corinthian leather will only take you so far. It usually comes down to whether the car or truck in question lives up to the background music and images. Otherwise, it’s just a cool (or not) video/song.

Here’s a list of some car-tunes that worked:

1) Ford Mustang & “Mustang Sally”
Mustangs have been around continuously since 1964, Vietnam and LBJ; that’s a seriously long run in a business where ten years is considered a geologic epoch — and models come and go faster than teeny-bopper Top 40 singers. Selling Mustangs is apparently not very hard — because cool sheetmetal is always in style. So is Wilson Pickett, whose classic R&B hit, “Mustang Sally” was the no-brainer choice to serve as the theme song for Ford’s pony car and its 1994 revival.

If you read the lyrics — “I bought you a brand new Mustang, ’bout nineteen sixty-five” — you might think that the song was written specifically for the car by a Ford advertising and marketing firm — but no. Like Ronnie and the Daytonas’ “Little GTO,” the song arose spontaneously, in appreciation of the car. Ford just got lucky; the Mustang sold itself — and “Mustang Sally” simply fit the groove.

Ride, Sally, ride!

2) Volkswagen & “Little GTI”
If you were around in the mid-1980s, you probably know the song, even if you don’t know any German. Some exceptionally clever adman took the 1960s hit single, “Little GTO” by Ronnie and the Daytonas — “Little GTO, you’re really looking fine; three deuces and a four-speed, and a 389 … listen to her taching up now, listen to her whine, yeah, yeah. C’mon on and wind it up, blow it out, GTO!” — converted it to “Kleinem GTI . . .” — and ran with it all the way to the bank.

Maybe it couldn’t tear up a quarter mile like a tri-power, high-compression V-8 GTO, but the pugnacious GTI was agile, light and quick enough to be entertaining. VW did not make the mistake of suggesting the GTI was equivalent to the classic ’60s Pontiac muscle car — and thereby over-reaching and embarrassing itself. The ads simply let people know the GTI was a fun car, like the GTO was.

And that’s why the commercial worked so well.

(A VW ad that didn’t work so good was the recent “euro-trash” weirdness that was just… weird.)

3) Plymouth Arrow & “Me And My Arrow”
Unlike “Mustang Sally,” this ditty was invented out of whole cloth just to promote a new car, in this case the long-since-defunct Plymouth Arrow of the declining days of Disco. But the late ’70s/early ’80s commercial and the accompanying soundtrack worked because of the non-threatening, even breezy quality they had — which matched the car just right.

Plymouth wasn’t trying to convince you that the Arrow was the mightiest sports car ever — just that it could be a pleasant traveling companion. If you recall the initial spate of ads for Honda motorcycles about 30 years ago — “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” — you’ll note the familiar motif. Sensible, even-tempered — not likely to cause you any hassles. That’s appealing on a certain level.

“Me and my arrow, taking the high road.” A nice jingle. Darrin Stevens on “Bewitched” might have come up with something like it.

4) Mitsubishi’s “Wake Up And Drive” Campaign
Good-looking young people, hip-hop music, strobe-light photography and a party atmosphere — “little pieces of pop culture” in the words of Vinnie Picardi, associate creative director of Deutsche LA — the firm that came up  with the 2002 advertising campaign for Mitsubishi Motors.

Did it work? In short, yes. The company’s aggressive marketing of its Eclipse sports car and other models seems to have helped sales — which had been hovering torpidly around 200,000 for the years preceding the ’02 product campaign — and which have jumped to nearly 350,000 since then.

The question is: Was it the cars — all of them brand-new redesigned models — or the commercials? Probably it’s a combination of the two — as Picardi admits — because no commercial, and no hip music track in the world, is going to transform an uninteresting, unhip ride into one that is. The Eclipse and Lancer/EVO are genuinely appealing on their merits — so while the stop-motion, glittery, hip-hop beat helps — it isn’t the only thing fueling the resurgence of the Mitsubishi brand.

5) Nissan Pathinder/Frontier & “Blitzkrieg Bop”
You see it in the company’s TV ads, edgy productions done in black and white with models such as the supercharged Frontier S/C pick-up truck scrambling over boulder-strewn terrain in stop-motion fury like a 4-wheeled Ostrogoth bashing away at the gates of Rome. Then there’s the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg bop” soundtrack — and the “Not that you would … but you could” teasers that come at the end. Fitting accompaniment for the hard-edged, newly muscular image Nissan is selling.

Just a few years back, Nissan was in a tailspin toward bankruptcy and oblivion — today’ the company has some of the most coveted vehicles on the market in its stable — and the beat to match it.

6) Cadillac CTS & Led Zeppelin’s “Rock n’ Roll”
It’s been a long time since Caddy has rocked n’ rolled — and the attempt to associate the CTS sport sedan with both hard-edged metal music and the ballsy Cadillacs of old (like the finned and chromed ’59 model featured in the commercial) has worked miracles. The Zep song song is great — and so is the ’59. As for the CTS? Easily the most interesting car that Caddy has built in years — especially if you’re not a subscriber to Modern Maturity.

7) Chevy Trucks & Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock”
Bob Seger’s blue-collar anthem-singing ad campaign for ’90s-era Chevy trucks worked really well. Handsome trucks armed with manful V-8 and V-10 engines capable of doing almost anything, Seger’s voice complements the specifications sheet — as well as the promise of the bow-tie badge. If good taste can be defined as “that which is appropriate,” these ads are in good taste. They got the message across in a no-nonsense, straightforward way that fits the image of Chevy’s trucks just so.

8) 2003 Lincoln Navigator & Mr. Scruff’s “Get A Move On”
My vote for the best new car/truck commercial tune of the past five years  To showcase the neat new features of the ’03 Navigator SUV — including automatically deployable running boards, auto-folding third-row seats, folding outside  mirrors, etc. — Lincoln’s marketing guys came up with the idea of having a guy play with the electronic toys in synch to a cool techno/jazz beat number ginned-up by someone named “Mr. Scruff.” He’s good, whoever he is — and just like the old “Little GTI” commercial, I find myself snapping my fingers to the beat of “Get a move on” at least a couple of times a week. Doesn’t mean I’d buy that hog… but, still.

Not all collaborations work out, here are a couple campaigns that didn’t work as planned:

Hyundai Sonata & Jethro Tull’s “Thick As A Brick”
This is another of those attempts to associate a classic rock & roll number with a late model car, in this case, the Sonata sedan. While it’s a perfectly decent little car, the idea that the Sonata is cool and hip is about as disjointed as Dr. Evil insisting that he’s “with it.” C’mon. If you have sex appeal, run with it. If not, talk about the warranty and the solid value — because that’s what’ll sell the car — not a paean to youth (lost or not) and aging rockers with socks stuffed into the crotches of their Vidal Sasson jeans…

Buick Rendezvous & Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein”
The Pontiac Aztek-based Rendezvous has been a tough sell – and the jumbled confluence of cartoonish imagery, Tiger Woods (of all things) and the “Frankenstein” theme didn’t help much.

In the first place, while GM was trying to convey the multi-purpose capabilities of its sort-of SUV, associating a vehicle — any vehicle — with a freakish monster assembled from left-over bits and pieces is probably not a good concept. And Tiger Woods? A young, single guy who needs a minivan — a Buick minivan? What’s that all about?


Image Credit: corazón girl

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