Don’t expect new cars and trucks to be the sole focus for automakers airing commercials for Super Bowl LI.
Half of the eight auto brands that will air commercials before, during and after the game don’t feature a vehicle until the very end — or at all.
Brands such as Ford, Audi and Hyundai are among those airing Super Bowl ads that have opted to use their broadcast times to focus on their company’s mission or send a message before rolling out the cars.
Hyundai is taking the most unprecedented approach to its advertising for Super Bowl LI. The South Korean automaker will shoot, edit and produce a 90-second “documentary” during the Super Bowl that features four members of the U.S. military at an undisclosed base reacting to the game.
“While everyone is telling jokes at the Super Bowl and hiring celebrities, similar to the formula we used last year, we want to ‘zag’ and have a different formula this year which is instead of making people laugh, making people feel something inside ... and united as an American,” said Hyundai Motor America CMO Dean Evans.
The troops will be in custom built 360-degree immersive pods, which Evans described as “little IMAX theaters.” The ad will air during the first commercial break immediately following the conclusion of the game, before the trophy ceremony. It features a “surprise” that Evans declined to discuss until the commercial airs.
“We’ve got one of the most unique, I think, ways to tell a story that our creative team has come up with, and we’re really excited about it,” Evans said, noting cars will be in the ad but focused on the military. “They’re part of the story we’re documenting.”
Audi, while more traditional than Hyundai, looks to make a statement with its 60-second ad using a father-daughter relationship and a Soapbox Derby race to make an emotional pitch for equal pay between genders and progress “for everyone.”
The “Daughter” ad shows a young girl participating in an aggressive downhill soapbox race while her dad contemplates whether his daughter’s worth is measured by her gender. His thoughts shift to optimism once she wins the race against several boys. It ends with the father and daughter walking over to an Audi S5 Sportback, as the screen fades to black to display the messages of “equal pay for equal work” and “progress is for everyone.”
Ford’s 90-second ad — set to air shortly before kickoff — is somewhat of an anthem, or overall, ad for the Dearborn-based automaker’s mobility efforts.
The commercial features people as well as a cat “stuck” in peculiar situations such as a dog door and ski lift before showing a woman in traffic. It then showcases Ford solutions — including self-driving vehicles and ride-sharing — to help people move freely again.
“No one likes being stuck,” a voice-over says as videos of Ford tech efforts are displayed before an all-new Ford GT and self-driving car pop up. “That’s why Ford is developing new ways to help you move through life faster, easier, better.”
Robert Kolt, a Michigan State University advertising professor and Super Bowl ad guru, says ads in the Super Bowl have to be outstanding and tell a story.
“No one is going to get up during the Super Bowl, run out and buy a car,” he said. “It’s not an impulse buy. ... It just needs to make an impression for whatever reason.”
The move isn’t unprecedented, and has worked in recent Super Bowls for automakers — particularly for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, which has not announced its plans for Sunday’s game.
Kolt argues that the Super Bowl, where a 30-second ad this year is expected to average around $5 million, isn’t exactly the place for a traditional ad. Hence, the move to tell stories or make statements.
“Do you have to show the product? Not the whole spot but you should show a picture of it or tease us just a little bit.”
Brands such as Buick, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Kia and Lexus are looking to make an impression with celebrities — from comedians Tina Fey and Melissa McCarthy to athletes Cam Newton and Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Honda’s 60-second ad is a star-studded affair that features a celebrities — from their high-school yearbook photos and through their journeys toward success. The company relates their aspirations to the success of the company and progression of the Honda CR-V.
Celebrities featured in the “Yearbooks” commercial include Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Viola Davis, Missy Elliott, Tina Fey, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jimmy Kimmel, Stan Lee and Robert Redford. It is scheduled to run in the first break during the second quarter.
Kia tapped Melissa McCarthy for its comedic 60-second spot in which the actress drives a Kia Niro while attempting to save trees, whales and rhinos.
Mercedes-Benz and Buick also stuck with humor.
Mercedes released a 60-second version of its commercial prior to the game that includes actor Peter Fonda, Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” and references to the 1969 film “Easy Rider” for the AMG GT Roadster.
Buick is scheduled to air a 60-second commercial Sunday during the first quarter for the 2017 Encore and 2017 Cascada that takes place at a Pee Wee football game with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and supermodel Miranda Kerr.
Lexus’ ad features movement artist Lil Buck and “Move Your Body” from recording artist Sia. The dancer is featured in the ad alongside the all-new LC 500 and its parts, drawing parallels between the shapes and movements of the human form and vehicle. The 30-second spot is scheduled to air during the second quarter.
Toyota, Lexus’ mainstream sister brand, will be absent from national advertising during this year’s Super Bowl. It will air a regional ad for the 2017 Mirai fuel cell vehicle in Los Angeles and San Francisco markets.