Your road to car advertising success


The car industry has a lot of competition, which means marketing is incredibly fierce.
Over the decades, car commercials have evolved and changed, adapting from print to TV and social media.
Learn what makes a great car advertisement and understand the future of automotive ads.
Table of Contents
Explore article topics

The global automotive industry is worth around $2.56 trillion USD. In other words, it’s big business. For many people, driving is an essential part of their lives, as car brands have become household names. 

Naturally, with so much money and competition, the world of car advertising is highly competitive, leading to some of the most inventive, high-budget productions in the marketing industry. So, how do you stand out? How do you create a car advertisement that makes a real impact? Today, we’re taking a look at the key to success for automotive advertising, studying some of the most inspiring campaigns to date, and looking at what to expect moving forward.

How the car advertising industry evolved

The first car ad was published in 1898. The Winton Motor Carriage Company placed a magazine advert (in Scientific American) tempting readers to “dispense with a horse”. The ad played on the concept of freedom — daring viewers to go where they want and do what they want with their very own car. It was an effective automotive advertisement for its time and set trends that continue today.


The car advertising industry has evolved plenty of times since 1898, often mirroring the general evolution of marketing through the ages, but also developing according to its own unique requirements and expectations.

For a few decades, newspapers and print were the go-to for all marketing needs. In the 1950s in particular, during the “Mad Men” era, you could expect double-page spreads, packed with information and large, beautiful color pictures in every newspaper and magazine.

Source: 1958 Subject: 1959 Dodge Advertisement Illustrator: Researching Source: House Beautiful, October 1958 Note: Automobile design by Virgil Exner

Of course, the next revolution for automotive advertisement came in the form of television. This is where things got interesting, as marketers pivoted away from information-centric adverts to moving images that could show a car in action and pitch a lifestyle change. Since that pivot, car adverts have never really looked back, constantly evolving and competing with each other to create the most memorable, unique productions.

Take a look at this old Ford commercial, where the lead actress is waxing lyrical about how “it’s a whole new way of life” and how she’s “free to go anywhere, do anything, see anybody anytime I want to”. Even back then, Ford was pushing the idea of each household owning more than one car.

Fast forward to 2023 and we have a very different car advert  a slick, stylish collaboration between Mercedes and iconic puffer brand Moncler. Mercedes wants to show that their finger is on the pulse regarding fashion, and that they’re as much a lifestyle brand as they are an automotive company.

In recent decades, things have evolved with the advent of the internet and social media. Nowadays, marketers can understand their audience’s behaviors better than ever, and it’s never been easier to reach them directly. That’s how you end up with a Mercedes–Moncler collaboration that doesn’t really focus on the car at all. With that in mind,  look at some of the most inspiring car advertisements in recent years.

The best automotive advertisements

A student publication from Gettysburg College found that, in studying 263 car commercial clips found on YouTube dating from the 1960s to 2014, “most car commercials were presented in rural settings and capability was pitched most frequently overall. Fuel efficiency was ranked third overall; however, within urban settings, fuel efficiency had the highest frequency”.

As a rule of thumb, car commercials tend to tempt “viewers with comfort, capability, or safety features, as well as being well‐engineered, affordable, attractive, large or compact sized, or fuel efficient.”

So, what stands out?

Honda — The impossible dream


This Honda production is epic, showcasing the very best of the automotive titan’s rich heritage. The combination of stunning rural locations (white-capped mountains, twisting roads and huge waterfalls) and the song choice help to land Honda’s brand message “The Power of Dreams” ideally.

Car commercial songs play a crucial role in any car marketing campaign. Music has the unique ability to connect with an audience and make them feel emotions — excitement, happiness, perhaps even nostalgia. Meanwhile, the jaw-dropping locations make us want to drive — to get out there and explore the world.

Hyundai — Alcazar

In this Hyundai commercial, we watch as the new SUV range rips around the desert, carving out “Alcazar” in the dirt. Again, it’s a rural setting and the shots are breathtakingly cinematic. Some gorgeous slow motion shots of rocks and dirt fly up towards the camera, and the low sun lights up the dust clouds beautifully. The Hyundai commercial song choice matches the visuals perfectly, bringing a dramatic, classical feel to the advert that captures our attention immediately. Hyundai, part of the Artlist music for business enterprise program, regularly uses its Artlist assets to bring their commercials to life.

Artlist’s song used in Hyundai Alcazar’s commercial

Volkswagen — Feel the force

In this Volkswagen commercial, watch as they tap into the much-loved Star Wars brand that spans generations. It’s a very smart move, and the idea is executed flawlessly. Although there’s little to no information about the vehicle, and it only appears halfway through the commercial, the advert is so memorable that we’ll all remember the name of this car model. It’s a job very well done.

Volkswagen — A perfect day to hit the waves

This Volkswagen commercial is very different in tone and pitch. It’s clear from the get go that they have a very, very specific target audience in mind. Not everyone will surf and lead this outdoor lifestyle, but for those who do, this advert speaks directly to them. This car will help facilitate this lifestyle and let them do more of what they love. There are beautiful aerial shots of twisting coastal roads and waves, as well as adrenaline-pumping surf shots, all bathed in a golden light. The Volkswagen commercial song is hand-picked from the Artlist library and perfectly matches this ad’s upbeat, carefree nature.

Hyundai – Kevin Bacon goes full dad mode

In this Hyundai commercial, Kevin Bacon understood the assignment. There are dad jokes aplenty and it’s rather cheesy, but that’s the idea right? In a funny and lighthearted manner, Hyundai wants to communicate that even your parents’ generation can embrace the coming revolution of electric vehicles. If it’s good enough for Kevin, why not you too?

Artlist’s song for Hyundai commercial

Tesla — inside the Gigafactory

This Tesla commercial gets right to the heart of what the brand aesthetic is all about — it’s not necessarily the cars themselves but the excitement of the innovation and forward-thinking, developing for a greener, better future. This look inside their Nevada gigafactory perfectly showcases this, soundtracked by another great Artlist pick in “March the Machine” by Flint. Given the stunning natural backdrop of the factory’s surroundings, there’s even the chance for some wonderful cinematic drone shots with wild horses running across white, snowy hills.

Artlist’s song used in Tesla’s commercial

Predictions for the future of car advertising

Big brand commercials aren’t going anywhere, especially when it comes to car advertising. So, what can we expect from these car commercials going forward?

Beautiful landscapes will always be in

It’s clear that some of the very best car advertisements are shot in beautiful, rural locations. It’s hard to go wrong when shooting a car winding its way along an epic road with a sunlit backdrop of rolling waves. This will continue to be the case for as long as the automotive industry is around.

Less about the car and more about lifestyle choices

As has been the case as soon as television arrived and automotive advertising made the jump from print media, car ads are much less about the car and features, and far more about the idea of it being a certain lifestyle choice. Expect this trend to continue and accelerate, with more commercials becoming increasingly niche in their target audience.

The surfing ad from Volkswagen or the Moncler collaboration from Mercedes won’t universally appeal, but they connect directly with who they’re selling to. It’s all part of the greater brand storytelling.

More green, more electric

Naturally, there will be far more emphasis on green, renewable energy as the automotive industry shifts into an electrical revolution. Not only is this necessary, but it will help appeal to new generations of buyers who won’t accept anything other than an electric future.

Music is crucial

Some great car advertisements are so memorable because of their song choices. Car commercial music is a crucial thing to get right, and that’s not changing anytime soon. Using Artlist, you can search for specific car commercial songs and royalty-free music, honing in on your perfect match using filters for genres, video themes, and mood. There’s a host of incredible sound effects to play with, too.

Expect the unexpected

As with the marketing for any industry, sometimes you get a curveball. Brands will continue to think outside the box and get creative in ways we haven’t seen, to ensure they stand out and stay ahead of the competition.

Luxury brands will steer clear

Certain luxury brands such as Rolls Royce and Lamborghini have never felt the need to advertise — at least not in the way that the case studies above showcase. The brands are aware that they’re already well known to their core target audiences — they don’t need further exposure as the brand name is prestigious enough. Rolls Royce are known to place advertisements in certain magazines, but don’t expect anything drastically different going forward.

Wrapping up

So, that’s the road to success when it comes to car advertisements. While comfort, capability, or safety features, as well as being well‐engineered, affordable, attractive, large or compact-sized, or fuel efficient, will always remain important, there is a noticeable shift over the decades.

Increasingly, each brand is focusing less on info-heavy commercials where the cars and features are the highlight, and more on how it emotionally connects with their audience — the lifestyle and feel of the piece. Comedy, music choice and cinematic beauty are crucial and will continue to be so.

A service like Artlist Business can be a great way to improve your own car commercials. You’ll gain access to thousands of amazing assets ranging from music and sound effects to templates and stock footage, and a dedicated account manager who can curate content, VIP customer care and advance copyright clearance.

Was this article helpful?

Josh Edwards is an accomplished filmmaker, industry writing veteran, storyteller based in Indonesia (by way of the UK), and industry writer in the Blade Ronner Media Writing Collective. He's passionate about travel and documents adventures and stories through his films.

More from Josh Edwards
Share this article
Did you find this article useful?

Related Posts

Latest Posts

Power your business with the best creative assets.