Super Bowl could air with no ads from Ford, GM, Fiat Chrysler

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
Fiat Chrysler has been releasing ads online in the run-up to the Super Bowl, including this one following a herd of rams making their way from California to the game in Atlanta.

This year's Super Bowl broadcast likely will go by without a single ad from the Detroit Three, with Ford and General Motors riding the bench as Fiat Chrysler pivots to a social-media based approach.

Since Tuesday, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been releasing ads online as part of the automaker's "Big Game Blitz." As of Friday morning, the automaker had released seven YouTube videos but had not purchased any ad time during Sunday's game. Instead, it focused on digital and social media efforts heading into the game.

"This year we will exclusively use social and digital to showcase our commercials," FCA marketing chief Olivier Francois said in a Friday statement. "We decided to explore innovative ways to ride the wave of highly engaged viewers, during the one time of the year when the commercials are fun and everybody is talking about them."

FCA released its last two online ads Friday morning, both focusing on the Ram truck brand.

Michigan's own Greta Van Fleet's "Highway Tune" is the soundtrack of the spot titled "Roll Rams Roll." The 53-second spot follows a herd of rams making their way from California to Atlanta, where they are greeted by football fans in a new Ram Heavy Duty pickup. The ad was created in partnership with Motive Group Inc.

Another 60-second spot, titled "4th Quarter Fight," pays homage to workers and off-the-field players. The ad was created in partnership with Highdive.

Still, Francois has been known to hop into the broadcast last-minute with videos that have done well online: The Fiat 500X "Blue Pill" commercial aired during the 2016 game and the Dodge "Wisdom" commercial played in 2015, and both had been posted online well before the kickoff.

Even if Fiat Chrysler sits out the broadcast this year — the automaker received some intense backlash last year after a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. served as the soundtrack for a Ram pickup commercial — University of Michigan marketing professor Marcus Collins said FCA is likely already benefiting from the "halo" of Super Bowl week.

"The Super Bowl used to be a four-hour block of time, and that was that," Collins said. "But with the expansion of the media landscape in recent years, that window spans about a week now. The closer we get to the game, the more inclined people are to watch commercials."

Ford Motor Co.'s namesake brand and Lincoln will not advertise during the game. All four of General Motors Co.'s brands will sit out as well, though Cadillac will again sponsor the Oscars later this month and Buick puts the focus on its March Madness/NCAA sponsorship.

As domestic automakers step aside, foreign and luxury brands will make a showing with ads from Toyota, Mercedes, Kia, Audi and game-sponsor Hyundai.

Mercedes-Benz, whose company name adorns the Atlanta stadium where the New England Patriots will take on the Los Angeles Rams, will air a 60-second spot for its new A-Class sedan during the second quarter.

The commercial, titled "Say The Word," features a man who can suddenly control the world around him with his voice. It's a nod to the new voice-activated technology in the A-Class, which is debuting the automaker's high-tech Mercedes-Benz User Experience.

The star-studded commercial includes appearances from PGA champion Rickie Fowler, Looney Tunes characters, Lassie and even rapper Ludacris, who has deep ties to Atlanta and Mercedes-Benz. 

"Super Bowl spots have to be Super Bowl-worthy, and need that bigness and theatrics that comes with the game," said Mark Aikman, marketing chief for Mercedes-Benz USA. "Our A-Class, the hero of our Super Bowl ad, is one of those cars where you want a broad platform to let people know there is an all-new gateway sedan for Mercedes-Benz."

Hyundai's 60-second spot, which will air during the first quarter, takes a humorous approach this year after two years of focusing on more-emotional messaging. 

This new Hyundai spot features actor Jason Bateman of "Arrested Development" fame riding an elevator down through life's best and (mostly) worst experiences. The elevator plummets down through a root canal, a long flight in a middle seat and "the talk" with a teen and his father, before finally reaching a car dealership lot.

But when Bateman realizes the car shoppers are using Hyundai's Shopper Assurance — the automaker's new dealer-powered car shopping portal — the elevator ascends to a gleaming white room with a new Hyundai Palisade. 

After past outings with actor Melissa McCarthy and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, Kia will pivot from celebrities to promote its new "Great Unknowns" scholarship for young people who need help accessing higher education. The Korean automaker teased the effort in a 30-second ad that aired during the NFC championship last week.

Toyota released a 60-second spot Tuesday, slated to air at the end of the second quarter, with Redford Union High School graduate Toni Harris and the new RAV4 hybrid. Harris, a sophomore defensive back at East Los Angeles College, is the first female football player to play a non-specialist position.

Audi is advertising in its 10th Super Bowl with a spot that highlights the fully electric e-Tron GT concept car.

The various approaches by automakers this year are encouraging to Collins, who says many car brands had fallen into some complacency on Super Bowl Sunday.

"I applaud the automakers for reevaluating their remit within the Super Bowl," Collins said. "The Super Bowl should always be used as a catalyst to do another thing, and I think we see that this year with the way companies are re-imagining how you might use this rich, contextual and cultural media moment."

Twitter: @NoraNaughton