Automakers shift gears, forgo Super Bowl advertising

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News
Chrysler has long aired commercials during the Super Bowl featuring, from left, Eminem, Clint Eastwood and Bob Dylan.

Don't expect a "Star Wars"-inspired commercial from Volkswagen, or comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno battling for an Acura NSX during this year's Super Bowl.

Automakers are putting the brakes on advertising during Super Bowl XLIX.

Following record spending by 11 automotive brands in 2014, only a handful are expected to advertise during this year's big game — the fewest number of brands since 2010, according to market research and insights firm Kantar Media.

The big question unanswered: Will Chrysler reprise its impactful ads of recent years?

"Perhaps we've reached a breaking point. It's like reaching a wall," said Jon Swallen, Kantar Media North America chief research officer. "At some point, you top out, and the last few years have arguably been the top-out point."

Two of the most surprising automakers to skip this year are Volkswagen and Hyundai, which have been among the top five overall advertisers in the last five years.

Reasons not to advertise during the big game, according to automakers, were based on spending advertising dollars elsewhere, and timing of vehicle introductions.

"Volkswagen is a great fan of the Super Bowl, and it has been a strong platform for the brand and our campaigns," Volkswagen said in a statement to The Detroit News.

"However, for 2015, we have opted to not participate due to other priorities and initiatives across all platforms. We hope to rejoin the Super Bowl when we feel it is appropriate for our brand."

A 30-second spot during this year's Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl on NBC is estimated to average $4.4 million-$4.5 million — at least $200,000 more than a year ago, and $2 million more than a decade ago, according to Kantar Media.

Others automakers and brands not expected to advertise during the Feb. 1 game include General Motors Co. (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC brands), Ford Motor Co. (Ford and Lincoln), Honda Motor Co. (Honda and Acura), Infiniti, Jaguar-Land Rover and Mazda.

Even though it won't be advertising during the game, GM has said it "will have a presence around the Super Bowl," but would not elaborate.

Chevrolet, GM's largest brand, will award the game's Most Valuable Player a new Colorado pickup.

Confirmed brands include BMW, Kia, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota. The amount is more in line with the number of auto brands that have historically advertised during the Super Bowl, according to Swallen.

"Prior to the 2010 rebound of the ad economy, and automotive advertising in particular, it was rare for there to be about more than four automakers in a Super Bowl," Swallen said.

"The past several years has been a deluge, and probably unsustainable."

In the past five years, automakers have been three of the top five advertisers during the Super Bowl: Anheuser-Busch InBev at a combined $152.5 million; Chrysler Group (now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) at $89.5 million; Pepsico Inc. at $76.6 million; Hyundai at $69.8 million; and Volkswagen at $68.1 million.

In the past 10 years, automakers accounted for $514.6 million, or 23.5 percent, of the $2.2 billion spent on Super Bowl ads.

The wild card

Unconfirmed for this year's big game is Fiat Chrysler. The automaker, as it has since its critically acclaimed 2011 "Born of Fire" commercial featuring Eminem, is keeping plans secret. "Born of Fire" was followed by 2012's "Halftime in America," a patriotic ad featuring Clint Eastwood; and 2013's "Farmer," using the "So God Made a Farmer" speech delivered by iconic radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, as well as a Jeep ad narrated by Oprah Winfrey.

In 2014, the automaker aired three ads, including one with Bob Dylan for the 2015 Chrysler 200.

In November, Fiat Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois confirmed the company had "reserved" time during the game, but emphasized there was no guarantee it would use that time.

"We have no news to share at this time as to whether company will/will not be in big game," a company spokeswoman said in an email to The News this week.

Robert Kolt, a Michigan State University advertising instructor, expects Fiat Chrysler to advertise because it has been successful in the past.

"They've got a lot to promote," said Kolt, also president and CEO of Okemos-based Kolt Communications advertising and public relations firm. "It's a good story. They should continue to do it."

Kolt said it will be a major challenge for the company to garner the amount of attention previous ads have drawn.

2015 auto ads

The 2014 Super Bowl had a record-setting 111.5 million viewers. Officials expect this year's game to set another record, and automakers are taking different approaches to their ads.

Based on a series of videos released in the past week, Mercedes-Benz is hoping to stand out with humor.

The videos, which are teasers to its 60-second spot, feature sports commentators such as NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice and ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" hosts debating and promoting a "big race" between a tortoise and a hare. The commercial is slotted for the fourth quarter.

Toyota released emotional videos online about dads, including former and current NFL players talking about what it means "to be a dad."

The videos are in advance of a 60-second commercial for the 2015 Camry during the second quarter.

Toyota also will sponsor the Super Bowl halftime report and will have additional commercials outside the game.

Nissan will return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1997 with a 60-second spot.

Kia, according to a company spokeswoman, has teamed up with actor Pierce Brosnan for a 60-second spot during the third-quarter featuring the 2016 Sorento crossover.

BMW will feature its all-electric BMW i3 in a 60-second spot in the first quarter.

Kantar Media expects ad spending this year to be a record $355 million-$360 million, even if automaker spending is lower than in recent years.

"It sells out every year," Swallen said.

"But if you look at the composition of the advertisers, it's always changing and evolving."

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