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Battle Brewing Over Most Watched Automotive Commercials ever

Two automobile commercials, Volkswagen's Darth Vader spot and Chevrolet's Miss Evelyn’s Wild Ride in a Camaro, are being touted as the most watched automotive television commercials ever, but how can that be?

Chevrolet is claiming its spot for the Camaro made history during Super Bowl XLV as the most-watched television advertisement of all time while Volkswagen has a large display claiming its Darth Vader commercial is the most watched television commercial ever.

So, who's right? It depends on how you define most watched television commercial ever – online or when they first aired.

Just a quick recap of the two commercials. The Chevrolet Camaro spot features two offscreen creative types pitching a commercial that opens in the desert and then morphs into an action tale about a sexy redhead eluding all types of pursuers before plummeting off a parking structure, landing smoothly, and then screeching into a parking spot outside the school where she is an elementary school teacher.

The Volkswagen Darth Vader commercial is for its all-new 2012 Passat ad. Volkswagen brings Star Wars to the spot. Accompanied by John Williams’ iconic “The Imperial March,” the commercial features a takeoff on the most infamous villain in the galaxy, a pint-sized Darth Vader who uses the Force when he discovers the all-new 2012 Passat in the driveway after being repeatedly frustrated in his attempts to use it previously on various toys and his mom.

Chevrolet is touting out Nielsen numbers to trumpet its claim. Nielsen estimates that 119,638,000 people watched the Camaro spot, where two guys narrate their vision of the perfect ad for America’s best-selling sports car. Additionally, “Miss Evelyn’s Wild Ride” spot has garnered more than 1 million views on YouTube.

But Volkswagen is proclaiming on big screens at the Chicago Auto Show that its ad has gone insanely viral around the world and is the number one most watched commercial on YouTube with more than 21 million views in the six days since it aired on the Super Bowl. In hindsight, seeing that factoid was posted originally just three days after the Super Bowl, one will have to take VW at its word.

The final decision on which is the most successful commercial won't come from the number of viewers because companies really don't care how many people see their ads. They want to know how many buyers see their ads.

That's where the Camaro may be the more successful of the two ads ultimately. It is an exciting commercial that is calling buyers to action for a product that is currently on the market. People could see the commercial on Super Bowl Sunday and go out and buy the 2011 Camaro the next day if they wanted to be experience Miss Evelyn's wild ride.

The same can't be said about the VW Darth Vader ad. The Volkswagen Passat does not go on sale until later this spring. Viewers could marvel over how cute the ad was but not do anything if inspired to actually buy the vehicle.

Dealers typically aren’t as in favor of long-term advance ads. They want major money to be spent marketing products right when consumers can buy them. They favor ads that drive showroom traffic. The greatest advertisement in the world that ends with the tagline, "Available Spring 2011" doesn't accomplish that.

There's a whole additional point to consider. People are going to remember that the spot was for Volkswagen without a doubt, but how many among them are going to remember it was specifically for the Passat? It spent $2.9 million to air an ad that people may not associate with the model but will definitely associate with the brand.

However is reporting the ad did lead to a spike in traffic to its website for the Passat. It says traffic rose 114% for the Passat, which aired in the second quarter, but 271% for the Beetle (which in this writer's humble opinion is a much better ad), which aired in the fourth quarter, which was also the best quarter of the Super Bowl.

Edmunds says there were noticeable spikes for the Camaro (+69%) after the Miss Evelyn ad aired. Its other commercials fared well, too. The Cruze was up 63%, with smaller boosts coming for the Volt (+15%). Overall, interest in Chevrolet shot up 21% on in the hours after the Super Bowl. Somewhat skewing the interest, though, could be an already strong, sustaining interest in the Chevrolet products that have been on the market for a while already while the Volkswagen products are still relatively unknown.

So, which ad is the most viewed between the Camaro ad and the Volkswagen Darth Vader television commercial? It just depends on how you measure eyeballs and which are important – those in front of a computer or those in sitting on the couch watching a television.