From the Muppets to James Franco, Hollywood will be working hard for carmakers at the Super Bowl.
At least seven auto brands will advertise during Fox TV’s telecast of the National Football League championship game on Feb. 2, researcher Kantar Media said, making the industry the biggest sponsor for a third straight year. Jaguar, the British luxury sports-car brand owned by Tata Motors Ltd. (TTMT), plans its first spot ever, while Franco pitches Ford, Laurence Fishburne appears in spots for Kia and the Muppets ride in a Toyota.
Carmakers are spending as much as $6 million per 30-second spot to grab consumers and promote a bumper crop of new vehicles during the telecast, typically the most-watched TV event of the year in the U.S. The challenge: making their ad resonate with the more than 100 million viewers who will be chatting up their favorite spots online or at the water cooler the next day. New-car sales in the U.S. are forecast to climb back to levels preceding the recession and the 2009 government-financed bankruptcies by General Motors and Chrysler.
“It’s the right place,” Jon Swallen, Kantar Media’s research chief, said in an interview. “The Super Bowl attracts a broader audience than core sports fans who are male, skews higher income and is a perfect audience for auto brands.”
Analysts project a fifth straight year of growth in auto purchases by U.S. consumers in 2014, estimating light-vehicle sales of more than 16 million, the most since 2007. Carmakers are introducing 37 new models in North America this year, the most since 2006, according to IHS Automotive.
This year’s game promises to be a big draw by pitting the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos -- the game’s top defense against its top offense and the first time in five years the two No. 1 seeds have met for the Lombardi trophy.
The competition among auto ads will be equally fierce, with each trying to one-up the other and dislodge Volkswagen AG (VOW)’s “The Force,” featuring a kid dressed as Darth Vader. The spot has been seen 59 million times on YouTube and ranks as Edmunds.com’s most memorable Super Bowl auto ad.
Advertising during last year’s Super Bowl totaled $292 million, according to Kantar Media. Automakers spent $105.4 million before, during and after the contest, a 1.4 percent drop from the prior year. Their ads during the game alone cost $92 million, a fivefold increase from $18 million in 2009, the lowest in the past 10 years. Movie studios and dot-com companies tie for the next-biggest groups.
Standing out can be tough in a telecast where the advertising is as talked about as the game. In addition to paying an average of $4 million for 30 seconds of air time, Super Bowl commercials can cost about $2 million to make and have a shorter life than a regular campaign, Kantar said.
“There’s a saying in our business, if you don’t show the sheet metal, people won’t buy the car,” said Val DiFebo, chief executive officer of Deutsch New York, whose company, Deutsch Inc., handles ads for Go Daddy Operating Co. and Volkswagen. “People are interested in seeing the car, but there’s a difference between what you do on the Super Bowl and what you do in other places to drive traffic to showrooms.”
Ford Motor Co. (F:US) will run an ad between the coin toss and kickoff, said Mark LaNeve, chief operating officer of the automaker’s agency, Global Team Ford. Actor Franco posted a photo on Instagram revealing he’s part of the campaign with the caption: “Ford - Super Bowl commercial - baaaaaby.”
Kia Motors Corp. (000270) plans a minute-long spot for the new K900 premium sedan, featuring Fishburne, said Tom Loveless, the company’s executive vice president for U.S. sales.
As Loveless spoke last week at the North American International Auto Show, a video screen showed Fishburne in sunglasses, recalling his role as Morpheus in “The Matrix.” Viewers will also see ads by General Motors (GM:US) Co.’s Chevrolet and Hyundai Motor Co. (005380), along with a spot from Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) that features Walt Disney Co. (DIS:US)’s Muppets and Terry Crews, the actor and former NFL player.
Jaguar’s 30-second commercial, airing in the second half of the game, stars actor Ben Kingsley, who won an Oscar playing Mahatma Gandhi and has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. The spot plays off the history of Britons as villains in films and TV and was shot in London by director Tom Hooper, whose credits include “The King’s Speech” and “Les Miserables.”
The ad will show off Jaguar’s new F-Type coupe, which starts at $65,000. Car and Driver called it an “all-aluminum beauty” and a “stunning example” of Jaguar’s resurgence since Tata bought the brand from Ford in 2008. A 41 percent sales gain last year made Jaguar the fastest-growing luxury brand, according to Jeff Curry, U.S. marketing chief.
“Bringing a British brand into the most American of sports might not seem the natural thing, but that’s how we’re a little counter, too,” Curry said in an interview late last year. “We like to have a little fun and bring a little of that British humor to the thing.”
This year’s Super Bowl, the first played outdoors in a cold-weather city, will set viewership records, Kantar’s Swallen predicted. Regular-season NFL games on Fox set an audience record this season, the company said, while CBS Corp. (CBS:US)’s broadcast network drew 4 percent more viewers for its games than a year ago. Last year’s game drew 108.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
Some automakers are choosing to sit out the game, saving their marketing budgets for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next month, or spreading out commercials across several events. Ford’s Lincoln, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW)’s BMW and Mazda Motor Corp. (7261) aren’t returning this year.
“It’s three hours or it could be two hours and a bit and then it’s over,” Ludwig Willisch, head of BMW in the U.S., said last year at the Los Angeles Auto Show. “It’s even become a little bit more of a competition between the agencies about who does the best ads.”
Automakers also have to be careful that ads don’t exaggerate a vehicle’s performance, after the Federal Trade Commission brought a case against Nissan Motor Co. The automaker and its agency settled the matter without a fine by agreeing not to mislead consumers about a pickup’s prowess.
Audi, the luxury unit of Volkswagen, is advertising in the Super Bowl for the seventh straight year, Scott Keogh, president of Audi of America, said in an interview. This year’s commercial features the A3, Audi’s model for the sub-$30,000 luxury market.
Only one in five Super Bowl commercials result in sales, according to Tucson, Arizona-based researcher Communicus Inc., which found that the most memorable ads weren’t always the most effective. To break through, Super Bowl advertisers need their commercials to connect with viewers online and through social media, according to Communicus.
Keogh said advertising during the Super Bowl, despite the high cost, provides impact and value, especially adding the exposure on social media and the Web.
“It’s turned it from a two-day thing to six-week thing,” Keogh said. “For us, it’s perfect.”
Sometimes the model featured in the commercial and the content of the message don’t mesh, Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Chrysler Group LLC, told reporters at the Detroit auto show.
Chrysler Group’s Super Bowl commercial in 2011, featuring rapper Eminem and the tagline “Imported from Detroit,” drew attention to the automaker’s unfolding recovery and has been viewed more than 16.5 million times on YouTube.com.
The car it featured, the 200, was a facelift for a troubled model previously known as the Sebring, and never matched up to Ford’s competing Fusion or Toyota’s segment-leading Camry. In 2012, Chrysler followed with a pep-talk by Clint Eastwood and last year ran a black-and-white ode to farmers featuring the Dodge Ram pickup and narrated by the late radio host Paul Harvey.
“Somebody made the comment to me that I had the right commercial in 2011 and the wrong car,” Marchionne said. “I think we now have hopefully the right commercial and the right car.”
Chrysler, which rolled out a redesigned 200 sedan at the show, won’t reveal details of this year’s ads, Marchionne said.
General Motors is returning to the Super Bowl with two 60-second Chevrolet ads after sitting out last year to focus resources on 18 introductions of new or refreshed vehicles.
The Detroit-based automaker sees an opportunity to draw attention to those new Chevys now in showrooms, Tim Mahoney, chief marketing officer for the brand, said in an interview at the Detroit auto show.
“Big brands do big things,” Mahoney said. “It is one of the few places where people still tune in to watch the commercials.”
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