Episode 120: Super Bowl LVIII Roundup 

Doug Gordon: This is The War on Cars. I’m Doug Gordon, and I am here with my co-hosts, Sarah Goodyear and Aaron Naparstek.

Sarah Goodyear. Hello.

Aaron Naparstek: What’s up?

Doug: Welcome to episode number CXX of the podcast.

Sarah: I think you mean centum vīgintī.

Doug: I do not speak Latin.

Aaron: CXX sounds like—it sounds like a, I don’t know, like a freight shipping company, you know? Like you’d see it on the side of an 18-wheel truck.

Doug: The new—the new Mazda CXX.

Aaron: There you go.

Doug: Yeah. That’s episode 120, by the way. I did have to look that up.

Aaron: [laughs] For the—for those of you who don’t know your Roman numerals.

Doug: So this is our annual Super Bowl roundup, where we take a look at the automobile ads at this year’s big game, and we ask what they say about driving, consumer culture and the US—which basically is all the same thing.

Aaron: [laughs]

Sarah: So true.

Aaron: Don’t forget foreign policy.

Doug: That’s also true.

Sarah: Okay. But before we get to that, if you like what we do here at The War on Cars, please support us on Patreon. We depend on listener support to make the podcast. We really do. So go to Patreon.com/TheWaronCarspod and sign up today. Starting at just $3 a month, you’ll get access to exclusive bonus episodes, ad-free versions of regular episodes, merch discounts, and much more. Plus, we’ll send you stickers!

Aaron: So I know all three of us watch the games from our separate Super Bowl watching locations.

Sarah: Our separate bunkers. [laughs]

Aaron: [laughs] Our Super Bowl bunkers, yeah. But we did not—we did not have—some years we have a lively Slack conversation/commentary. We did not have that this year. So I really don’t know how you guys felt about the game. What was—any thoughts, any big picture overview thoughts about yesterday’s game?

Sarah: I did what ended up being a really smart thing, which is I just went out to dinner with somebody, trying to ignore the fact that there was a Super Bowl happening. And that was enough to miss the first half, and then I got home just in time for the halftime show and the second half and the overtime which, you know, I concede that this was an exciting second half, et cetera.

Doug: Yeah, it’s a problem when you have two very evenly-matched teams. It was a very boring first half, and then we got a game in the second half. So it was fun.

Aaron: Yeah, it was a—what about halftime? Halftime show?

Doug: For sure.

Aaron: Taylor Swift sightings? Anything?

Doug: Well, there were what, I think someone was tracking that there were, like—not including the final trophy presentation where she was there with Travis, there were, like, a dozen sightings of Taylor. There’s a lot of misogyny going on around the Taylor Swift stuff, and it’s not her fault that the camera keeps cutting to her, but let her have a good time. That’s all I have to say.

Aaron: We had a running—at our Super Bowl party, we had a running commentary about how, like, every time you cut to Taylor Swift, it had something to do with the Deep State. I couldn’t—I don’t even know what we were joking about, exactly.

Sarah: [laughs]

Doug: I think there’s a conspiracy that Joe Biden rigged the game that their people are trying to push, so, you know, yeah. 

Sarah: Well, and the way the game turned out really proved that that’s true, that Joe Biden rigged the game because otherwise, you know, how did the Chiefs come back like that at the very end? I mean, clearly that was a deep state operation.

Aaron: I feel like it would have been better for the Biden campaign, though, if Travis Kelce caught the—caught the winning touchdown, you know, Taylor’s, boyfriend.

Sarah: Yeah.

Aaron: But what about the halftime show? Did anyone—anyone watch that?

Doug: I’m not a huge Usher guy. I don’t think we’re the demographic, right, anymore for Usher. But he’s great. He puts on a really good show. I thought he was really good. It was really fun. I know, like, two of his songs, right? But he was good.

Aaron: I was most impressed with—he had that sparkly blue and black kind of top, and it gave him a six pack. It had little blue abs, little blue six-pack abs.

Doug: Yeah.

Sarah: Is this …?

Aaron: And I want—I want one of those.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Aaron: I need that.

Doug: The difference is that when Usher takes that off, he actually has the abs.

Aaron: He still has abs.

Doug: Yes. I did like—the Broadway fan in me liked the sort of Starlight Express part of that whole thing—he had roller skates. I was a little nervous for him at a certain point.

Sarah: The roller skating was my favorite part. I thought that was legit.

Doug: Yeah.

Sarah: I was impressed. That was a real physical feat.

Doug: Yeah, he’s an incredible dancer. I mean, it was really fun to watch.

Aaron: And you had to be a little worried. You were a little worried. You’re like, “Wow, Usher could, like—he’s just skating around out there. He could fall down.”

Sarah: And …

Aaron: That could be a thing.

Sarah: … that’s why America loves football, right? Because you gotta be a little worried. It’s just—it’s the American way of life.

Doug: [laughs]

Aaron: Oh, man. It’s a big part of what we do here.

Sarah: Yeah.

Doug: Speaking of what we do here, I wonder if we could talk generally about the game in the sense that it was in Las Vegas. And this is really the first Super Bowl in Las Vegas. And, you know, both the NFL and Major League Baseball have never had teams in Vegas because of all the betting, and they did not want to be associated with, like, sportsbooks and all the rest. And now here we are, not only does Vegas now have the Raiders—they’ve moved there—the Oakland A’s are moving to Vegas, and now we have the Super Bowl. We’re just giving in to, like, just all of the gambling, all of the excess. It’s like the mask is off. We’re just—we’re just doing it now.

Aaron: No, it’s actually perfect. It’s like, you know, corruption has sort of just been incorporated into the system. You know, it is a perfect analogy to what’s happening in our political system, and the fact that the sports leagues have accepted it is kind of perfect.

Doug: Yeah.

Aaron: There’s also, can I say the sphere, the Vegas sphere, which is now like a prominent part of this whole thing, also feels kind of perfect? It’s like we’ve given up on the sphere we live on, right? It’s just sort of like we’re gonna let that melt and burn and crumble but, like, you know, we can live inside the sphere. The Vegas sphere is sort of this obliterating, all encompassing dome that will just distract you from what’s going on outside of it.

Doug: And Bono will just sing you to sleep.

Aaron: [laughs] Exactly. Exactly.

Doug: Another kind of interesting thing—so the halftime show was sponsored by Apple Music, and this is the 40th anniversary of the famous 1984 Apple Macintosh ad directed by Ridley Scott.

Aaron: Which was really kind of the first big Super Bowl ad in some ways.

Doug: Yeah.

Aaron: Like, it started all this nonsense.

Doug: Yeah. This was the ad that turns the Super Bowl into a televised showcase for brands, where every now and then you get a little football game.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: We shall prevail! On January 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.]

Doug: Okay, so—but we are here to talk about the ads in this Super Bowl. So what did you all think of just the ads in general?

Aaron: So boring. So, so boring to me at this point. I mean, like, it just feels like they need some new concepts. Like, this idea of just like we’re just gonna get celebrities, you know, and we’re gonna kind of put them in these weird little one-minute-long situation comedies. It’s just, how is this interesting still?

Sarah: Yeah. And I have to say that looking at the Apple ad, that was something that really—it stood out because it was really well done and it was really outside the box. And it was …

Aaron: The 1984 Apple ad.

Sarah: Yeah.

Aaron: Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah. And nothing—nothing is even attempting anything like that at—you know, there’s some—formally there are people trying things, you know, like looking more like TikTok, or you can see them trying a little bit to do some kind of innovative stuff, but there’s nothing standing out in any kind of artistic or creative way.

Doug: And it was all yours for the privilege of $7 million for a 30-second ad.

Aaron: What did you think, Doug? Did you …

Doug: Yeah, I agree with both of you. I think part of the problem—and the Macintosh ad is a really good example, because back then it wasn’t just that the way of doing that ad was different, but the product itself was different. Like, most of us didn’t have personal computers, and if you did, they were for business purposes. It was IBM. And so along comes Macintosh with this very new idea, you know, this personal home computer that’s easy to use. And now there are no products on the Super Bowl that you’re like, “Well, that’s new. I’ve never seen that before.” It’s still all the same, like, car ads, pharmaceutical ads, insurance and tax prep. Like, there’s nothing that innovative.

Sarah: And snacks.

Doug: And snacks. Right.

Sarah: It’s worth remembering that the last couple of years, they were advertising something that was new, which was crypto. So it seems like …

Aaron: Yes. And, like, surprisingly, we hear no more of that.

Sarah: [laughs]

Aaron: It’s like all of a sudden they got all the suckers in.

Doug: Yeah. But really, is scamming Americans really new? Is that a new concept?

Sarah: True enough.

Aaron: You’ve got all these people’s attention. Like, we’re all in front of the TV, which we rarely are anymore, and this is what we’re doing with it? I just can’t help but think that, you know, we’re selling, like, Temu.com, like, buy the cheapest crap possible, you know?

Sarah: Don’t forget Jesus. 

Aaron: Jesus? Yeah.

Doug: Jesus spent $21 million on ads.

Aaron: Jesus has a very good agency, I have to say. Those ads are something.

Doug: So first, let’s talk about what we might call the kind of War on Cars-adjacent advertising that happened during the Super Bowl. There was the DoorDash, all the ads ad.

Aaron: God, that was weird.

Doug: Yeah. So the concept of this one was basically that DoorDash was gonna award one lucky winner all of the stuff, the services and the products from all of the ads.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: DoorDash can DoorDash pretty much anything.]

Doug: So very sort of meta, ouroboros sort of advertising. You know, cars, snacks, desserts, and I think the tie in here, I think the car included the Kia EV9, which we’re gonna get to later. 

Aaron: So can you imagine a delivery coming to your house and it’s like, “Here’s your BMW, here’s your Dunkin’ Donuts, here’s your cheap plastic stuff from Temu.com?”

Doug: “Here’s your TurboTax.”

Aaron: “Here’s your TurboTax.” Like, what even is this?

Doug: So then there was the Clydesdales, the Budweiser Clydesdales. They’re back.

Aaron: They never left, Doug, the Clydesdales.

Doug: In an ad called “Old School Delivery.” I don’t know if you saw this one.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: Hey! All right, let’s do it the old school way.]

Doug: So basically, the premise here is that there’s a big storm, power goes out at a local bar. Beer truck cannot make it through the mountains, and only the Budweiser Clydesdales can come to the rescue and deliver the beer.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: Look!]

Aaron: Great song.

Sarah: Great song. And, you know, I like this. Like, let’s take it back. Let’s take it back to the horse-drawn era.

Aaron: [laughs]

Doug: I think, yeah, it’s a victory in the war on cars. Trucks are useless during snowstorms.

Sarah: That’s right.

Doug: There you go. And then very quickly, there was Mountain Dew’s ad with Aubrey Plaza. It’s called “Aubrey Plaza is having a blast.”

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: I can have a blast anytime, anywhere.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: And with anyone? [laughs]]

Doug: All right. This one’s only War on Cars-adjacent because that’s Nick Offerman from episode 106 of The War on Cars. So …

Aaron: There you go.

Doug: Go Nick Offerman!

Aaron: Our friend Nick.

Doug: All right, so those are the War on Cars-adjacent ads. Let’s talk about the car ads. I think actually, the big story this year was not so much the ads that did run during the Super Bowl, but the ads that didn’t run at all. The big three US automakers had zero ads on the Super Bowl, and that’s the first time that has happened in 23 years.

Aaron: I mean, if you guys recall, like, the last two years, there have been a lot of car ads and they’ve been electric car ads. And this year there were almost no car ads at all.

Sarah: So does that mean that we’ve won the war on cars?

Aaron: I mean, it does seem like the auto industry is in really bad shape in a variety of ways right now. You know, there’s been all this labor unrest in the last year. Interest rates ticked up, so people aren’t buying cars with free money like they had been since—really, since the pandemic when there was all this new car sales happening. But then also, it’s really interesting, the last couple of years we’ve seen all these EV, all these electric vehicle ads, and that stopped, too. And I think what’s happening there is, like, the auto industry is kind of waiting around to see what happens in this next election, both in the US and in Europe, too.

Aaron: The CEO of Stellantis, which is the company that makes Dodge and Chrysler and a bunch of other cars, his name is Carlos Tavares. He is overtly talking about how they are waiting to see what happens in elections in the US and Europe. And the quote is, you know, “It could be that politics will be different then, you know, after these two elections.” Meaning they’re selling electric cars because, you know, these governments are mandating them to do so. And presumably, if they’re not mandated to sell electric cars, they will go right back to selling gas cars. So this is one of the reasons why they’re not advertising right now. They’re just sort of waiting to see if they’re allowed to sell their gas cars again.

Sarah: Okay. So it’s not—it’s not the good news I was hoping for.

Doug: So let us get to the few auto ads that did air. The first one isn’t for a car, it’s for a utility task vehicle, UTV, from Kawasaki. This is for the Ridge and the Ridge XR Side x Sides. Aaron, why don’t you describe what we’re seeing here?

Aaron: So two guys get into, like, a Kawasaki four-wheeled vehicle. It’s one of these small, little, you know, utility vehicles. They suddenly grow mullets on their heads, their hair grows out into mullets. They go speeding through the woods. They pass an eagle that also grows a mullet on its head. They’re very into their mullets. They’re cutting wood, they’re cutting logs, they’re hauling logs. There’s a turtle with a mullet. They approach a little lake, and there’s a bear with a mullet. They shake their mullets. That’s, I believe, a professional wrestler named Goldberg. He grows a mullet. He’s typically bald.

Doug: All right. That was Stone Cold Steve Austin. That’s not—that’s not Goldberg. Famously bald Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Aaron: I’m impressed you know your—I’m impressed you know your wrestlers.

Sarah: He’s like, if you know any wrestler, he is the one. He’s like the only wrestler that I can name.

Doug: You know the one Jewish name.

Aaron: I feel like I got suckered into describing that one. But there was a real kind of Beavis and Butthead sort of subtext for me there. The two guys, the blond one and the not blond one with the mullet.

Sarah: So hear me out here. When I saw the bald eagle—formerly bald …

Doug: Yeah.

Sarah: … get the mullet bestowed upon it as the—as the UTV rolled through …

Aaron: Which, by the way, sounds like a urinary tract infection.

Sarah: [laughs]

Doug: Ask your doctor. Yeah.

Aaron: Yeah.

Sarah: But I don’t know if you guys—like, when the bald eagle’s mullet started coming in, it kind of reminded me of Donald Trump’s hair when it’s blowing around.

Doug: Oh, no!

Aaron: That’s exactly what’s happening here.

Sarah: Yeah. Worse than Beavis and Butthead by a long shot.

Aaron: Way worse, yeah.

Doug: And I was gonna go with something positive for this one. I really was!

Sarah: Go for it.

Doug: So I actually think that, you know, here we see a couple of dudes doing truck stuff in a small truck.

Aaron: Hmm.

Doug: They’re chopping wood and they’re loading it into the back. They’re, like, doing stuff that if you need a truck bed, you’ve got it, and you’ve got it in this small, like, actually appropriate for the job utility vehicle. Because sports utility vehicle also has that word in there. And this one actually to me is like, okay, like, if you actually need to, like, haul some wood through the woods, this is great. And you know what? If you even took this down to Whole Foods and dropped your kids off at school with it, I’d actually be okay with it. Granted, like, they’re speeding through nature, and I know that, like, that is a particular Goodyear thing that she—that Sarah hates. But I was like, all right, this is not so bad. This is much better than taking, like, a Ford Lightning or an F-150. Like, okay.

Aaron: Which, by the way, the ads for those things never show the dudes doing, like, the hauling of wood.

Sarah: Right.

Aaron: Like, they actually never show that stuff with the big pickup ads. That’s a very interesting observation.

Doug: Yeah. So here’s the question, though. How much do you think one of these costs? Because, you know, the average car now is, like, $38,000 or more, And a lot of these SUVs are $50-60,000.

Aaron: One question: this—I assume this is a gas burner. This is not a …

Doug: Not electric.

Aaron: Okay.

Sarah: Is it street legal?

Doug: I don’t know, and I don’t think so.

Aaron: I doubt it.

Sarah: Right?

Aaron: All right, I’m gonna say this thing has to be 20 grand.

Sarah: That’s exactly the number that I had.

Doug: Yeah, $24,000. About that much.

Aaron: I mean, that’s like—that’s ridiculous.

Doug: It’s still ridiculous.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s absurd!

Doug: It’s a souped-up golf cart.

Aaron: People, get an e-bike. I’m going grocery shopping with my e-bike after this recording session. I could haul all those logs, too.

Doug: Okay, so the next ad is from BMW. It is called “Talkin’ Like Walken (ft. Usher.)” So obviously, this is actor Christopher Walken.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: It’s the real deal. 100 percent. It’s the real deal! Yes.]

Doug: And it’s basically just a series of people doing bad to average Walken impersonations.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: Your dog’s so cute. Yeah. Oh, so adorable! Wow!]

Doug: And then he drives off in a BMW. What did you folks think?

Sarah: I mean, it was kind of cute, but I felt a little uneasy watching him driving, especially once he got his coffee.

Doug: Well, Christopher Walken, God bless the man. Everybody loves him, which is sort of the premise of this ad. He’s 80 years old. And so I was wondering, do we really want to have an 80 year old in a 593-horsepower car that can go from zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds?

Aaron: Hey, Doug, if an 80 year old can have the nuclear codes and be President of the United States, then why can’t they—why can’t they drive a BMW i5 through the neighborhood?

Doug: I also thought this one was just interesting because it’s like it’s really not about the car at all. There’s, like, nothing that’s interesting about the car. You don’t even see the car until really the very end.

Aaron: They barely want you to know that it’s electric.

Sarah: Yeah.

Aaron: You know? It’s just like—which maybe is good that they’re sort of just like, “Yeah, whatever. It’s electric now.”

Sarah: I mean, I appreciate the fact that it’s not an SUV, that, like, there’s any desirability of a sedan. And I guess the tricky part of that is that what people look for in a sedan these days is speed because, you know, if they do want to drive fast, that’s, you know, they know that …

Aaron: Yeah. But it is a—it is a $70,000 golf cart.

Doug: Yeah.

Aaron: You know what I’m saying?

Doug: Yes.

Aaron: Like, that’s what we’re talking about here, guys.

Sarah: And you don’t even grow a mullet when you drive it.

Aaron: No. And also, you know, it’s like who are they—you know, you can tell who they’re marketing it to when it’s—I mean, I guess young people do like Christopher Walken, but the assumption here is that, like, your grandpa buying this, I guess.

Doug: Yeah.

Sarah: Actually, I think they’re marketing it to you, Aaron. [laughs] You are your grandpa.

Aaron: Kind of true. Kind of true.

Doug: I just feel like Christopher Walken, the word “walkin'” is right there. Like, we need him—we need him in a pedestrian ad. That’s what we need.

Aaron: Right. Right. But anyways, that product is trash.

Sarah: [laughs]

Doug: [laughs]

Aaron: As far as, like, personal mobility products go. You don’t need it for almost anything, really. But did you guys notice the ad that aired adjacent to the Walken ad? Can we just, like, cue that one up real quick?

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: (woman) Thank you, Agent State Farm!]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: (Arnold Schwarzenegger) Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: (director) Cut! Hey, Arnold. I’m hearing “neigh-bah.” It’s neighbor.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: (Arnold Schwarzenegger) That’s what I said. Neighbor.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: (director) Neighbor.]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: (Arnold Schwarzenegger) Neighbor.]

Aaron: So these two ads aired almost next to each other, I mean, right next to each other during the actual game. And so you had Christopher Walken, and the whole premise of that ad was everybody’s, like, you know, kind of making fun of his sort of unusual but New York-y accent. And then cue the next ad, and it’s this State Farm insurance ad with Arnold Schwarzenegger. And the entire premise of this ad is like, we’re just sort of making fun of Arnold’s Austrian accent, telling him how to correctly pronounce “neighbor.” Which, you know, I don’t know, Boston people and New York people sort of pronounce it with that R.

Doug: Yeah. There was also the Ben Affleck Dunkin’ Donuts ad where he’s really exaggerating his Boston accent.

Aaron: Oh yeah, that’s right! There was a third one. So we had three ads. Anyways, I thought that was good. Good 2024 stuff there. You got your Trump mullet coming in, you got your fear of foreign accents?

Sarah: Mmm, okay.

Aaron: Including New York City accents.

Sarah: Yeah, well, how much more foreign could you get? Okay, so let’s see what happens next.

Doug: Okay, so the next one is from Toyota, and it’s called “Dareful Handle.” And I guess it’s worth watching all of this one. Sarah, you should probably comment on this one, it’s right right up your alley.

Sarah: All right, so it’s some guys driving along in a rattling SUV. They’re in a desert, they’re driving over some fragile desert habitat, and they’re hanging on to that handle.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: (woman) Seriously, Rob!]

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: (announcer) The Seriously, Rob handle.]

Sarah: The “Seriously, Rob” handle. It’s like they’re doing these extreme things, and they have to hold on to the handle next to the passenger seat because it’s just so extreme, the terrain that they’re traveling over.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: (announcer) The all new Toyota Tacoma.]

Aaron: Also screaming in Spanish. I didn’t notice that during the …

Doug: Yep. They got—covering a lot of demographics in it in that one.

Sarah: So they call it the “dareful handle.” I am familiar with these handles because they have them in taxis for when you’re going over all the potholes in the streets in New York. But yeah, I guess this is—this is like hold on for your life is the new marketing.

Doug: Yeah. I mean, I personally think of that as the dry cleaning handle because that’s where, like, when you’re driving around the suburbs, your dad or your mom puts the dry cleaning in the back on the handle. I will say that if you’re in a car and you’re saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, Rob!” Or, like, “Oh no, no, no!” Or “¡No me gusta!” don’t ever drive with that person again. Like, that would be my lesson from that ad. Yeah.

Aaron: I’m just fascinated with the fact that here we have Toyota, and all their executives and their advertising agencies and whatnot, and they’re just like, “How do we sell this piece of trash, this 2024 Tacoma? Like, no one actually needs it. It doesn’t—like, nobody’s gonna be hauling wood in it. What do we got, guys? Oh, we got this—we got this handle. We got this little handle in the interior. Nobody’s ever done—nobody talks about the handle. Let’s do—let’s do some—let’s do a whole Super Bowl ad. Let’s drop $14 million on this handle.”

Doug: [laughs]

Aaron: Like, they have nothing to sell!

Doug: Yeah.

Aaron: Like, to me, that’s what this ad is. It’s like we have nothing to sell.

Doug: Well, they don’t have fuel efficiency, because I think this model’s Tacoma barely improves on the previous model. So it’s like 21 miles per gallon or something atrocious.

Aaron: These products are trash. They’re trash. And they have none—and the industry knows it has nothing. And so they’re just like, “Look at our handle.”

Doug: [laughs]

Sarah: [laughs]

Doug: All right. So the next one is from Volkswagen. It’s called “An American Love Story.” And it celebrates the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Beetle in the US. Not The Beatles, but the VW Beetle.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, advertisement: (Neil Diamond singing) Did you ever read about a frog who dreamed of being a king, and then became one? Well, except for the names and a few other changes, it’s all about me. The story is the same.]

Doug: So that song is “I Am … I Said” by Neil Diamond. Basically, the ad continues—and this is—we’ll put a link. This is a very long one. They played a one-minute version of this on the Super Bowl. It kind of goes through all the decades up through today of, like, hippie culture, surf culture. There’s even a little scene with, like, Bart Simpson doing punchbuggy red against Lisa Simpson, all the way through the new ID EV wagon that they’re gonna release in the States.

Aaron: Right.

Doug: I think next year.

Aaron: It’s sort of—it’s sort of an immigration story. Like, you see VW come off the boat in 1949, you know, and then sort of make its way through American life and culture over the years.

Doug: And influence American culture in ways that immigrants have, right?

Sarah: Right. And then as it becomes more American, it gets larger and more wasteful.

Doug: [laughs]

Aaron: [laughs] That’s right. And corrupt.

Doug: Yeah. That’s right, that’s right. And more corrupt. So this is Volkswagen’s first ad on the Super Bowl in 10 years, which is no coincidence because the VW emissions scandal broke in 2015.

Aaron: Right. So if people remember, VW actually had software programmed into the vehicle so that when the VW, quote-unquote “clean diesel,” you know, TDI vehicles, they were called, clean diesel, when they were being tested for emissions in the US, the software would know that a test was underway and it would actually—it would falsify—it would somehow sort of like make it so that the car was polluting less during the emissions test.

Doug: Not just here in the US, everywhere.

Aaron: Everywhere.

Doug: They were fined in the EU. They were fined in countries all over the world, including the United States.

Aaron: Yes. I actually owned one of these cars. It’s the only new car I’ve ever purchased. When we were living in Boston, we bought a car. Fucking Boston!

Sarah: [laughs]

Aaron: And … 

Doug: Sorry, Bostonians.

Aaron: Boston, you made me buy a car. I can’t really blame Boston. We probably could have lived completely without a car, but I owned one of these cars, and I did think, like—I was like, wow! Like, they figured out how to make diesel clean, and you got, like, 43 miles per gallon on the highway. It was actually like—it was kind of a fantastic car until the emissions scandal. And then basically VW had to, like, pay us back, like, the entire cost of that car. It was like having a free car for, like, three years.

Doug: I do think this is a really great ad for exactly this reason. Like, it completely memory holes all of that, and then basically says, like, “Here is this German car that’s more American than American cars. It is such a part of American culture. You can just forget about the premature deaths that we’re responsible for, the air pollution that we’re responsible for. And the corporate lying, of course, that we’re responsible for.”

Aaron: VW is good at memory holing. I mean, the thing that they really want to memory hole is the fact that, like, the company was started by Adolf Hitler, who was like, “Hey, we need a—we need a wagon for the Volk!”

Sarah: Yeah.

Aaron: “You know? Let’s—like, how about it?” And then, you know, they literally had Ferdinand Porsche—you know, Adolf asked Ferdinand Porsche to design a car for the people, and that is where VW comes from, folks.

Doug: I do love the idea that this ad starts in 1949, as if, like, wow, I guess the world was formed in 1949. But what happened before that? Why did all of these immigrants have to come to America?

Aaron: Yeah. Our Super Bowl party, definitely—like, it was noted immediately. It was like, wow, VW, do you guys really want to be, like, invoking the 1940s at all? [laughs]

Doug: Yeah.

Aaron: You know, it’s just not a good time for you guys.

Doug: I mean, I will say about the song, the Neil Diamond song, “I Am  … I Said,” it’s a really sad song. It’s about loneliness, like, shouting to no one and being alone, and yet they’re positioning—the images are suggesting that the Volkswagen is this, like, creator of community and culture, which is really not what we think about when we think about cars. We don’t think about community with cars. So I thought it was a really curious choice. Obviously, the fact that, you know, The Jazz Singer and Neil Diamond’s story of like, this Jewish immigrant family is very important to our country, so there is that, but it is a pretty—it’s a lament, that song. It’s not really upbeat.

Sarah: Yeah. And it’s also strange to me that they spend so much time showing us the Beetle, which is a car that they don’t make anymore, and they don’t really account for that. Like, it’s like if we all loved the Beetle so much, why can’t we still buy that? Well, because we have to have something newer and bigger and whatever, but it’s—that was curious to me too, because it’s this idea that we’re nostalgic for something that we can never get back to: this simpler time. But we could get back there if we just made smaller cars and not as many of them.

Doug: I mean, I think what they’re doing—obviously you’re right, they do not sell this car anymore. There was the big relaunch of it a bunch of years ago, but that car is no longer available. I think they’re trying to say it’s not so much about any individual model, but about, like, we are—we changed culture back in 1949, and we’re about to do it again with this new ID4, the VW electric. It sort of looks like the old school, like, VW van, but it’s just, like, more for, like, the space age. I mean, it’s a really cool looking van, and I’m sure when you see it on the street it will turn heads.

Aaron: And I thought that ad—the ad was really good.

Doug: Yeah, I like the ad overall.

Aaron: I hate to say.

Sarah: No, by far the best ad we’ve watched.

Aaron: And you know, to be fair to VW, they did set up a $12 million fund to compensate surviving slave laborers from World War II back in 1998. So, you know, they’re doing their reparations. 12 million bucks, guys.

Doug: 12 million. Yeah. I mean, even the fines that were levied against them for the emissions scandal, I think, in the end were, like, just a real small fraction of what they probably should have been fined.

Sarah: Yeah. I mean, 12 million bucks in 1998 is obviously a lot more money today, but they just spent $7 million on the Super Bowl.

Aaron: [laughs] Exactly. It’s not much. It’s nothing.

Doug: Okay, so the next ad is for the Kia EV9. It’s called “Perfect 10.”

Aaron: So let me try to describe this ad. Basically, you have this young girl, and she is figure skating on a rink, and her father is watching her perform. And she’s a really kind of high-level figure skater. But there’s a seat empty next to the dad, so somebody is missing, right? And the girl looks over and she seems sad. And at the end of the ice skating competition, it’s the girl and the father. They get in their kind of futuristic-looking electric vehicle and they start driving. And they drive off into the distant, snowy mountains, and they end up at this kind of beautiful house way, way up in the mountains. And the dad plugs his EV into some sort of thing, and a pond lights up. So now, like, a little pond outside of this beautiful house, and the girl starts skating on the pond. And there inside of the house in the mountains is—it looks like the grandparents, right? The missing grandparents. And they’re there and they’re watching the girl skate on their—on their rink. And it’s very—we’re supposed to be moved. We’re supposed to have feelings about this, that the—that they were able to get up into the mountains to let the grandparents see the ice skating performance because they had this—this Kia EV.

Sarah: Yeah. And granddad, who’s clearly on his last legs, gives her a 10 on that thing. That’s why it’s the perfect 10, even though it’s the EV9. And it’s the sound system that the dad is plugging in. And, you know, that’s what enables her to skate her—and he lights up the rink, and so she’s able to do the performance for …

Doug: Yeah.

Aaron: The Kia—the Kia is able to power this entire extravaganza.

Doug: The lights and speaker. Yeah, that song is “Wish I Was Here” by Cat Power and Coldplay. I had a slightly different interpretation. The missing empty chair at the arena is the dead mom, and the …

Aaron: That’s what I thought too.

Doug: And then the—we only see one person. We see maybe, like, someone else who could potentially be a home health aide wheeling the grandfather towards the window. So what I’m led to believe is that this is the son-in-law bringing the granddaughter to his dead wife’s father’s house so that he can see his granddaughter figure skate, which he obviously can’t do because he’s stuck up in the mountains, isolated and alone. So …

Aaron: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sarah: So after I finished wiping a tear from my eye because my father died recently and, you know, watched my son do a performance over Zoom once, you know, and—whatever, like, okay, you got me. But if the mother is dead, and the grandfather is obviously incapacitated and doesn’t have someone to drive him in a Kia EV9 down to the skating rink, why the fuck did the dad buy an extra seat so that we could just, like—so that his daughter could feel sad when she was like, “Oh, that’s where my mom would be sitting if she weren’t dead?”

Doug: [laughs] It’s a packed—that’s what’s really weird about it is, like, the arena is packed. There are no empty seats around him but, like, they’re clearly suggesting that someone is dead.

Sarah: It is an incredibly emotionally manipulative ad, and I resent …

Aaron: Yes. Can you imagine—but, like, let’s think about this. Can you imagine, like, you just buy a seat for your dead mom so your kid can feel bad? Oh, maybe the mom just died. Maybe they bought the …

Sarah: She died in a car crash, and then the Kia is their new vehicle.

Aaron: Right. That’s why they did that.

Doug: Yeah, but what’s also—the EV9, the Kia Ev9 is a three-row SUV, right? So even if there was a mother here, we’re talking about a family of three, and the only thing they’re taking their kid to is ice skating. It’s like, that’s not a lot of equipment that you need to put in the back of your truck. So this is very wasteful.

Sarah: Maybe there were—maybe there were other kids that died with the mother in the other vehicle, and this was their second car and they already had it. [laughs]

Aaron: I feel like we’re actually missing the real issue with this ad is you’ve got this, like—this, like, incapacitated boomer dad living by himself on a mountain. Get him off the mountain!

Sarah: [laughs]

Doug: Yes. Get him to a walkable, rollable area where he can—like, at least his home health care aide could take him out to see things.

Aaron: Like, what is he doing up there? So he could come to the skating event.

Doug: Yes, exactly.

Aaron: He should be living in assisted living, or maybe, you know, somewhere in town and could enjoy his grandchild. And without this, like, you know, mishegoss of, like, a trip into the mountains.

Sarah: Right. I think that you as usual, Aaron, you’ve cut to the heart of the matter.

Doug: Yes. I wrote in the notes, the outline for the show, “This is a rich text.” And yeah, Sarah basically created a whole universe. There’s like a whole wiki now surrounding this entire ad of, like, how did the mom die? Here are the theories.

Aaron: I bet there is the whole subreddit out there.

Sarah: Yeah.

Doug: So that’s it, really, for the ads, for the car ads. What are our kind of final thoughts on, you know, what we saw, what it all means?

Sarah: I mean, I think that Aaron’s earlier comment that all these products are trash is probably, like, the real takeaway here. And, you know …

Aaron: That’s evergreen, though.

Sarah: Yeah. But I mean, I think that even more than usual, they’re really not selling any kind of functionality. It’s just emotion. It’s just manipulation. It’s just getting you to feel things about things that aren’t even cars, and then just, like, putting a car next to the thing you have a feeling about. And you know, that to me is what all these ads were.

Doug: I mean, I think that’s true of all the ads, no matter what the product is. Like, the Mountain Dew, they never tell you what the flavor is. It’s Baja Blast. That doesn’t signify really anything. Aubrey Plaza doesn’t say, like, it’s delicious, I don’t know, strawberry flavor. I have no idea what its flavor is. She doesn’t talk about calories or how sweet it is or anything like that. It’s all just like an affect, a mood and vibes, right? That’s all we get in all of these ads. But I mean, the thing I wrote down for myself was like, “Will there even be car ads in next year’s Super Bowl?”

Aaron: Yeah.

Doug: Or, you know, a couple of years out? I feel like, are we just past peak car ad? We’re on the downward slope to, like, maybe it’s just not worth it for the car companies?

Aaron: Yeah, I hope so. I feel like it gets back to your earlier point, Doug, of sort of there was a real end of empire vibe to the Super Bowl, you know, to the set of ads, the fact that …

Doug: To be fair, I think I said that last year, too.

Sarah: [laughs]

Doug: But yeah.

Sarah: It takes a while for empires to end.

Doug: Yeah.

Aaron: It’s true. Also evergreen, I guess. Yeah. But no, the fact that the big three automakers sat out, didn’t have any ads in the Super Bowl and didn’t sort of, you know, connect themselves to this, like, great American moment, that feels really telling. Like, it just feels like this is an industry that is very troubled right now, that is in decline, that’s confused about what it’s supposed to be doing. That doesn’t really want to, you know, even, like, market its products right now. It’s—they sat out the Super Bowl. They never do that. I think it’s an industry that’s in trouble. And, you know, we can—we can thank the war on cars for that.

Doug: That’s right. That is it for this episode of The War on Cars. Thanks so much for listening. If you are a Patreon supporter, we’ve got a little bonus, a little extra that we have recorded on a few extra ads, so stick around. You’ll get that. If you are not a Patreon supporter and would like to listen to that and all of our exclusive bonus content, go to Patreon.com/TheWaronCarspod. It’s just $3 a month, and we will send you stickers, you’ll get a handwritten thank you note, and you get a whole lot of other cool stuff.

Aaron: Thanks to our top Patreon supporters: Charley Gee of Human Powered Law in Portland, Oregon, Virginia Baker, Mark Hedlund and the Parking Reform Network.

Sarah: This episode was recorded by Josh Wilcox at the Brooklyn Podcasting Studio. It was edited by Yesenia Moreno. Our theme music is by Nathaniel Goodyear with a special assist from Michael Hearst. I’m Sarah Goodyear.

Aaron: I’m Aaron Naparstek.

Doug: I’m Doug Gordon, and this is The War on Cars.