Big Game, Big Money: What To Expect From Automaker Super Bowl Ads

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I’ve enjoyed reading the controversies that surround the Super Bowl
advertising space. As someone who loves football and is also a
marketing professional, I feel that the Super Bowl is really the
supreme event of my first quarter — combining what’s hopefully the
ultimate gridiron match-up and also the “best of the best” in terms of
advertising. And, like all viewers, professional and armchair, I love
being a critic of what I see.

As a former marketing executive who green-lighted ads in the big
game, I try to be objective and thoughtful. While it is exciting to get
an ad in there, it’s also really nerve racking to wait for the hordes
of critiques that follow Monday morning.

This year, much like last, the blogs and papers are lighting up with
commentary from people everywhere on the “TARP-takers”, or “TARPies” as
I like to call them, Super Bowl ad buys.

Last
year General Motors opted out of the big game because of the economic
issues facing America and the fact that they likely knew that
bankruptcy was all but a reality by that point. This year, while things
are not necessarily good, they are at least looking like they are not
getting worse.

Chrysler (another TARPie) is dipping its toe back into the shark
tank that is the Super Bowl ad venue, fresh with support under its new
Italian management. According to AdAge, they chose to feature the Dodge Charger. Five years ago, it was the Magnum…I know because I was there.

That Magnum “monkey” ad, as I refer to it, was not our best effort.
It was so over-thought and over-edited that it lost most of what it was
supposed to be. And, truth be told, it was NOT the one (nor the
vehicle) the agency nor I wanted to run, but sometimes even the most
persuasive arguments didn’t work on the upper echelon of the
DaimlerChrysler offices. The point of this is only to illustrate that
the ad that runs does not always reflect the intention, especially if
the decision makers are many and the position unclear. Such are the
issues I see facing Dodge in this years Super Bowl.

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I actually think that the idea of Chrysler advertising in the game
is not a terrible one, and maybe even good one. They DO need to remind
people that they exist and that they have cars that some people might
actually want. However, to be successful in this platform, you have to
be on top of your game and I do not think that they are yet. Recently
their head of marketing spoke about what we should expect from their
Super Bowl ad.

“It looks like the ad we have today,” Chrysler’s Olivier Francois told Automotive News. “It sends a message of irreverence, passion for cars and fun to drive.”

That’s not really very inspiring. Also, since Ram has left the Dodge
fold, I do not know exactly what the rest of the line-up stands
for…is it sort of what Dodge used to stand for sans tough and rugged?
Who knows.

But I do know that they would be better served showcasing the best
of what Dodge is about (which may include more than just the Charger)
with a clear and hopefully super entertaining wrapping around it so
that it stands out and hopefully gets us to act. And even better than
that, it would be a great idea if they had new products on the ground
or coming that were game changers…but they don’t, at least not this
year.

And that leads me to my second point: the digital connection. I
really hope that they have a great hook in there that compels people to
engage offline in some way to gain leads at best and perception shifts
to the better at the least. Without it, I would go so far as to say
that the ad buy could actually hurt them as the crowds that are opposed
to “TARPies” spending “our” hard-earned tax money to buy Super Bowl ads
are just waiting for an excuse to prove that it was a huge mistake that
requires repercussions.

There are other non TARPies that are advertising and I kind of like what I am hearing. Suzanne Vranica from the Wall Street Journal
reported that Kia is running a spot for its 2011 Sorento. Mike Sprague,
VP of Marketing, and a friend and past colleague of mine from Ford, has
said that they are trying to reach younger parents with small kids who
want a sporty ride. They are emboldened by the fact that they are
coming off a great year growing share by almost 10% in 2009 (according
to Autodata). In this case, the risks are smaller because it’s not
taxpayer cash and also they had a great year. Whether enough moms with
small kids will see the ad and be convinced will remain to be seen, but
I am optimistic.

Hyundai is back this year after launching their “Assurance Program,”
in last year’s Super Bowl ad which promised consumers they could return
their cars if they lost their jobs within a year after purchase. I
LOVED this for Hyundai last year. We were in the midst of a
debilitating recession and Hyundai was just starting to tell its story.
With this program, they not only improved the image of their company by
launching a program that really helped where people needed it the most,
but they also improved the perception of their vehicles. Better than
that, they have not abandoned the program in the “launch ’em and leave
’em” fashion that is so common in auto land.

VW will join CBS’s big game ad roster too. Nine years after their
last Super Bowl ad, they will run what we used to call a “portfolio
brand spot” where they will showcase their entire line-up of vehicles
to remind people of all that VW offers. What I like is that they are
leaning on past VW car culture with the “slug bug” or “punch bug”
concept in this new spot. Recalling a feel-good idea that they so
clearly own like “slug bug” will play well with Boomers, Gen X-ers and
Y-ers alike. Can’t wait to see this one.

Audi and Honda are in this year as well, but Toyota opted out,
stating that the Super Bowl “doesn’t align with any of Toyota’s
marketing initiatives” this year. I think that is smart. Was it Kenny
Rogers who said, “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”? Let’s
hope the automakers show a strong hand this year.

Stashi is an Editor at Driver Pulse, a provider of online automotive editorial reviews and latest news throughout the automotive industry. From the sight of sleek curves to the sound of a roaring engine, old and new, she has a great love for vehicles of all makes and models. What she finds most exciting is that automakers of iconic muscle cars from the past, such as Ford and Chevrolet, are reproducing them for this generation of gearheads. Her dream car, the 1964 or 1966 Ford Mustang, is the ultimate American pony car and paved the way for her love of growling and rumbling engines of old school muscle cars. She spent her whole life in the Midwest and still finds herself playing the same game she once played with her father when she was a young girl. It’s a game her father liked to call “Name that make and model”. This game has become more challenging as the years pass making it a great way to pass the time on long road trips. She believes that automobiles, old and new, are an art form that can be enjoyed by both children and adults.

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