By on October 23, 2017

wilt-chamberlain-volkswagen-beetle

Ages ago, we asked about your favorite car-related marketing campaign. Your answers were varied as they were well-thought out – Nissan’s toy 300ZX, Iacocca daring us to find a better car, and VW’s Star Wars ad.

Absent from all of the above? Celebrity endorsements… unless you count Ken & Barbie in the Z ad. This time around, we’re asking you what’s the most memorable car ad (for better or worse) featuring someone straight out of central casting?

For sheer impact, I’ve got to point towards VW and one of the many instalments in their fantastically self-deprecating “Think Small” campaign. Sure, the Lemon and Live Below Your Means ads made for fantastic copy; showing a towering basketball player next to a funny-looking import car must’ve taken more than a few animated conversations in smoky conference rooms.

Don’t limit your musings to American car ads featuring famous stars, either. In the late Eighties, smack-dab in the middle of Back to the Future II & III fever and right at the end of Family Ties, a youthful Michael J. Fox showed up in a Japanese-market ad for the 1989 Honda Integra.

Eighties music, inexplicable somersaults, and a dash of well-rehearsed Japanese? Super.

What’s your pick for a memorable car ad with a celebrity entering stage left? There’s one for sure I hope someone mentions; it’s for a domestic sedan — that’s all I’ll say.

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69 Comments on “QOTD: Can Hollywood Sell You a Car?...”


  • avatar
    Flipper35

    The old Mazda ads with James Garner would be my choice with these rules.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    Dustin Hoffman and the VW Type 3.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Ricardo Montalban: “Look what they’ve done to my car!” (Chrysler Cordoba)

  • avatar
    threeer

    Shaq with his knees wrapped around the wheel of a Buick?
    Ricardo Montalban for crooning about rich, Corinthian leather?

  • avatar
    Adam Tonge

    Jill Wagner? Jill Wagner.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Farrah Fawcett and the Mercury Cougar. She made more than one commercial for them, but this is a good/readily available one.

  • avatar
    ash78

    No, but Hollywood can UN-sell me a car.

    Cadillac and Kate Walsh.
    VW and John Mayer.
    Ford and Toby Keith (thankfully Mike Rowe and Denis Leary saved it)

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      I thought the Caddy/Kate Walsh commercials were great, and right on message for Caddy.

      • 0 avatar
        ash78

        I saw it as a problem because guys (most Caddy buyers) just saw her as the friend from Drew Carey, assuming they recognized her at all. Women know her from Grey’s Anatomy, but the sexual overtones of the ad clearly weren’t there to appeal to them.

        Actually, her best role? Season 1 of the Fargo TV series.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Matthew McConaughey totally sold me on Lincoln.

    Really.

    I swear.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Well….. alright alright alright.

    • 0 avatar
      notwhoithink

      He almost got me, too. Then I cheaped out at the last minute and bought a Fusion instead. But I still keep looking at the MKZ…and the Continental that I’d never be able to afford, and the MKX that I might have to move up to if the kids keep getting bigger (they will).

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Lincoln is such a waste. The Matthew McConaughey ads just prove it. They only thing that would make those ads better is if they showed him getting in his Bentley (or whatever he really drives) afterwards.

      • 0 avatar
        Fred

        Searched around the internet and except for opinion pieces I can’t find anything that says Mcconaughey does not drive a Lincoln SUV. Maybe it’s part of his contract, which would be smart because the last thing they want is a picture of him in a GM product.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        And the same argument could be made about any number of Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti products. There are differences, just like there are differences between Lincolns and the Ford’s they’re based on. Its only worth considering those differences when its a non-American car brand, amirite?

        I could list the reasons to buy a Lincoln over the Ford its based on, depending on your priorities, starting with the fact that you can’t get a Fusion with 400 hp and a luxury interior, but it would be a waste due to the close minded nature of detractors of American luxury brands. If you can sit in an MKZ and tell me with all honesty that its the exact same environment as a Fusion, then I invite you to sit in an Avalon and an ES and tell me how its exactly the same. But you wouldn’t, because Lexus.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    BTW, good to see Wilt Chamberlain took time out of his Shakesperian-in-magnitude quest to impregnate 15% of the females in the United States to make that VW ad…

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I was musing on how fashion changes.

      Now those shorts on a member of the fairer sex would get double takes. ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Wild did another VW ad, for the Rabbit (Golf). He could actually fit in that, he’s driving along while the narrator asks why he bought the car. At the end of the ad he climbs out of the car and says “It has more head room than my Rolls-Royce!” One of the more memorable car ads that I’ve seen.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Patrick Stewart for Pontiac. Because nothing says “American Performance car” like a British man known for playing a French starship captain on a SiFi t.v. show.

  • avatar
    Adam Tonge

    My favorite celebrity endorsements are at the local level. Nothing like a poorly produced Kia dealership commercial with “generic local sports star” in it. Now that’s good TV.

  • avatar
    True_Blue

    Hollywood nearly sold me a red hawkeye WRX when I saw Ansel Elgort’s Baby pull a 180-in, 180-out on Atlanta surface streets.

    They definitely sold me on a Highland Green ’68 fastback, and did it eleven years before I was born. Bravo, Hollywood.

  • avatar

    If Christopher Plummer and his gaggle of middle-aged beauties don’t make you immediately purchase a Ninety-Eight Regency, you have neither taste nor humanity…

    https:// http://www.youtube.com /watch?v=iEe-DiFJrIk

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    In the 80s and 90s, there were a *lot* of A-list stars, who would never stoop to do a commercial in the USA, who took very tidy sums for Japanese ads based on the assurance no one in the USA would see them shilling for Pocari Sweat (Harrison Ford, IIRC) or whatever. There was even a Twin-Peaks themed ad campaign (with Japanese FBI “Agent” inserted) that used a lot of the cast. It was for canned coffee, I think.

    It was very interesting to see when I was stationed there in 1991-93.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      The Bruce Willis Daihatsu commercial is a good example of this.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      The good news is that these American stars get to travel to Tokyo and do whiskey ads, and fall in love with someone who looks like ScarJo.

      I’m going to go with the opening shot of “Lost In Translation” as one of the finest ever put on screen…

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAyR9Mwrkjg

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        I was bored by most of that film, except the part when Bill Murray’s character is in the studio to shoot the Suntory commercial. It reminds me so much of the endless meetings we used to have when I worked for Japanese companies. Just like the director’s long rant, one of us would ask one of the guys here from the home office in Japan a question, they’d talk amongst themselves (in Japanese) for 10 minutes, then respond “Difficult.”

  • avatar
    Fred

    When Cadillac had Led Zepplin promote their cars, all I could think was what a bunch of sell outs. Didn’t change my lowly opinion of Cadillac.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    I’ve never understood the fascination with idolizing some jackrabbit because he acted in a movie or TV show. For the same reason traditional media is trash for filling air time with dolts from Hollywood, rather than news; I similarly don’t respect that same dolt in a commercial. If they’ve accomplished something in life that makes a difference in helping people sure, but simply existing doesn’t make anyone worthwhile of attention.

    So no, when I see a car company use a so called celebrity in an ad I assume the car is such a pile they cannot sell it otherwise. That’s how I’ve always felt, as a child trying to watch the news for the weather for school getting barraged with a bunch of losers I couldn’t care about, to now an adult that has to hear on social media about some stupid idiots complaining from their mansion about some other idiot across Hollywood that is whining to their baby daddy.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      Your lawn. Get off it?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “I’ve never understood the fascination with idolizing some jackrabbit because he acted in a movie or TV show.”

      Agreed, and the current president is an excellent example of why this is such a stupid idea.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        Your president built an empire and has spent his life helping people, I doubt he much cared about the success of a TV show that brought in relatively little money, the network was the one that won in that case. Not to mention I’ve never even seen an episode of it, as many have not.

        No I’m not being crockety, it truly is a strange world that any rational human being would idolize another simply for leading a fictional unrealistic life on a television while making more in a year than most people make in a year. Why anyone would treat someone that is known simply for acting on TV any different than a jester is beyond me.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Paul Hogan, Crocodile Dundee, about single-handedly rescued Subaru from complete obscurity in 1995 or so. He sold a whack of Legacy wagons with cladding (but no raised ride height at the time) as the Outback – splashing through 9 inches of muddy water at 45 mph. The stilts were added over the next 18 months.

  • avatar

    Richard Dreyfuss, before he was a star, in an AMC Javelin commercial:

  • avatar

    AMC’s ad agency must have had a line on up and coming NYC talent. Here’s Roberto DeNiro pitching the AMC Ambassador. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvGbmpWIOcI

  • avatar

    The Three Stooges for Simoniz:

  • avatar

    Comedian Ernie Kovacs (who I believe died in a wreck in a Corvair) and his wife, singer & dancer, Edie Adams, for the 1955 Ford:

  • avatar

    The newly formed American Motors had a deal with Walt Disney.

    Mickey Mouse, Pluto Pup and Jiminy Cricket did commercials for Nash while Donald Duck worked for Hudson.

    http://www.carsindepth.com/?p=10937

  • avatar
    TW5

    Jonathan Pryce – Infiniti

    I don’t think this alliance has been mentioned yet. It was an effective ad campaign, and I distinctly remember seeing G’s, J’s, and Q’s showing up in my Northeastern town after Jonathan’s eloquent endorsement.

    My favorite endorsement though is probably Kate Walsh in the Cadillac ads. It was mentioned earlier, but it should be emphasized again.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Paul Hogan selling Australia’s #1 rugged sport utility wagon, the Subaru Outback, was a good ad series.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Straight from the horse’s mouth – Mr. Ed promoting Studebaker

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I will admit the Camaro in the first Transformers movie of 2007 did appeal to me, especially considering how nasty the previous Camaro was during its later years.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    I seem to recall a professional basketball player who supposedly owned a Beetle. Maybe Wilt Chamberlain? He had the front seat removed and drove it from the back.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    When I was a kid I really liked the product placement by Chevrolet on the ABC network. In addition to featuring Chevrolets in the TV shows when a scene with a car was called for, they had the stars of various ABC TV shows peddle the merchandise in commercials. We saw the cast of “Bewitched,” “The Man from UNCLE,” and “Bonanza” pushing Chevrolets. On Youtube there’s a commercial from 1965 where the stars of all three shows appear together with the then new Chevrolet lineup of vehicles.

    Later on, I remember Hoss Cartwright (Dan Blocker) pushint the new Chevy Cheyenne pickup truck in 1971 or maybe 1972.

    One of my favorites featured Abner Kravitz (George Tobias) calming down his nosy wife Gladys (Alice Pearce) and informing her that the tilt steering wheel in the Chevrolet Impala was no act of witchcraft, but a wonderful new optional feature that resulted from technology.

  • avatar
    I_like_stuff

    When I learned LeBron drives a Kia (snort) I rushed out and bought one myself.

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    I’m sure its been mentioned already, but Ringo Starr shilling for “not your father’s” Oldsmobiles is still just as vivid and tacky in memory as day I saw it twenty or whatever years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      All of those Oldsmobile commercials were terrible except for Leonard Nimoy’s (cause come on Spock).

      It did inspire Ray Stevens to sing “This IS your Daddy’s Oldsmobile” (Don’t it look good, don’t it smell good, don’t you love the way it feels?) Likely that campaign would have sold more Olds.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    If you’re old enough, you remember the early days of TV when sponsors owned the shows – the networks couldn’t produce content. As a result, the stars of the shows did the ads, like Phil Silvers selling Lucky Strike cigarettes, and Ed Wynn appearing in gasoline ads. (Just google the names)

    GM had a couple shows sponsored by Chevrolet, the Dinah Shore Chevy Show, and Bonanza. For product endorsement, you can’t beat Dinah Shore singing the show’s theme song, “See the USA in your Chevrolet…” unless it’s the voice of Lorne Greene pronouncing MONNN-za.

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