Cash-strapped auto companies stood on the sidelines of the Super Bowl for a year or two, but they're about to make up for it in a hurry.
By some estimates, the auto industry will buy the most time of any advertising category for the Feb. 6 game. That's right up there with beer companies.
As many as 11 auto-related companies, including all of the big German luxury brands, will make an appearance from pre-game through post-game shows during the most-watched TV event of the year.
Chevrolet is back after two years away. BMW returns after a decade without a commercial and will run two spots. And Mercedes-Benz will join Suzuki as a first-time advertiser.
And the ad plans go beyond the game itself. Most brands will build a social media strategy into their buy, through Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.
With a during-the-game rate of $3 million for 30 seconds, they'll try to make the spots count.
Jean Halliday takes a look at who's advertising and what message they'll try to send during the broadcast on Fox.
Audi of America
Super Bowl ad history: Audi returns for its fourth straight year. Last year the "Green Police" spot touted the diesel-powered A3 TDI.
Buy: The 60-second spot will be broadcast during the first break after kickoff.
Model/ad theme: A8 flagship. The spot, being created by San Francisco-based Venables Bell and Partners, will dare viewers to rethink luxury.
Why: The automaker aims to continue its Super Bowl presence and narrow its U.S. sales gap with luxury rivals BMW and Mercedes.
Buzz: Audi says it plans to use Facebook to generate interest in the Super Bowl commercial with a mock "estate sale" of "things that are less relevant these days" than they used to be. Chief Marketing Officer Scott Keogh says there also will be sponsored messages on Twitter and a takeover by Audi of the YouTube home page on Super Bowl Sunday.
Super Bowl ad history: After 10 years away, BMW is back.
Buy: Undisclosed number of spots.
Model/ad theme: BMW started a Facebook contest Jan. 21 around the Super Bowl commercial featuring the new X3 SUV. Contestants tried to guess the configuration of the vehicle to be featured to win a two-year lease and a trip to the South Carolina factory.
Why: BMW says it's returning to the Super Bowl to promote its lineup of new vehicles. For the 2010 and 2011 model years, BMW refreshed about 60 percent of its lineup. "We're in the window of our biggest launch period in history and the Super Bowl gives us the stage to make that big impact," says Stacy Morris, marketing communications manager at BMW.
Buzz: Dan Creed, vice president of BMW marketing, says BMW isn't going to try to compete with the funny commercials in the game.
Super Bowl ad history: This is the fourth straight year for cars.com.
Buy: A pair of 30-second spots in the third and fourth quarters. Last year it had only one.
Model/ad theme: Cars.com spots will focus on how expert and consumer reviews can help make car-buying decisions with confidence as part of its "Confidence Comes Standard" campaign.
Why: Cars.com says while it sees immediate traffic gains on Super Bowl game day and the day after, awareness and long-term traffic trends are more important
Buzz: Cars.com used humor in last year's Super Bowl spot to get across its point. The 2010 commercial showed overachievers fraught with fear when having to buy a car.
Super Bowl ad history: First national ad buy after regional exposure in a limited number of markets in past years.
Buy: A pair of 30-second spots, one in the second quarter and one in the third quarter.
Model/ad theme: CarMax wants to explain its customer experience and service with humorous spots.
Why: Used-car retailer CarMax has flirted with regional buys in past Super Bowl broadcasts but will make its first national splash as it aims to build its brand and expand into more markets. The buy was handled by CarMax's in-house media team, and the creative will come from its new agency, Amalgamated, of New York, which was hired after a review last summer. CarMax nabbed some of the last inventory Fox had available in the Super Bowl.
Buzz: Animals that played a big role in past spots, such as a prairie dog and a parrot, will be in the back seat this time around.
Super Bowl ad history: The last time in the game was 2007, when Chevy broadcast the winner of an online contest to create the ad for the HHR and ran a brand commercial featuring artists singing ditties with Chevrolet in it.
Buy: Five 30-second spots. Chevy also will award the most valuable player a car.
Model/ad theme: Volt, Cruze, and Silverado. A spot about the brand's carbon offset program is also a strong possibility.
Why: GM's chief marketing officer, Joel Ewanick, is pushing Chevy into high-profile events such as the World Series and Academy Awards. The game spots will build on the brand's "Chevy Runs Deep" campaign, which launched in the fall, Ewanick says.
Buzz: General Motors needs to beat the drums for its volume brand, Chevy. It's showing a willingness to boost its ad spending in major media.
Super Bowl ad history: Last year its Dodge Charger "Man's Last Stand" commercial helped boost online traffic in the 24 hours after the game, but well below increases seen by other Super Bowl auto advertisers. Before 2010, Chrysler's last national buy in the game had been 2005, for the Dodge Magnum.
Model/ad theme: Unknown, but Dodge and Chrysler are thought likely to play a large role with the new 300C and Durango.
Why: Chrysler Group needs to try to build on the momentum it generated last year.
Buzz: Dealers are hoping for a Dodge spot, either for a Durango or Caravan.
Hyundai Motor America
Super Bowl ad history: This is the fourth straight year for the automaker. Last year Hyundai had the most spots of any automaker on game day, launching the new Sonata and touting its 100,000-mile warranty in a commercial with Brett Favre. And the brand was the name sponsor of the pre-kickoff broadcast on CBS.
Buy: Three 30-second commercials.
Model/ad theme: The launch of the Elantra. The Super Bowl spot will be a new iteration of Hyundai's "Snap Out Of It" campaign for the Elantra, which takes a jab at uninspiring compact cars.
Why: Hyundai's big media plays in the past several years have helped the brand get on more shopping lists. CEO John Krafcik says a third of American car shoppers now put Hyundai on their lists, up from 7 percent in 2000.
Buzz: Hyundai is keeping the pressure on by continuing to advertise in high-profile TV broadcasts. Expect to see Hyundai's spots carry the "Think About It" tag line.
Kia Motors America.
Super Bowl ad history: Last year's game was Kia's first appearance and featured the new Sorento. The "Joy Ride Dream" spot starred toys from kids' cable TV show "Yo Gabba Gabba" coming to life and living it up in Las Vegas.
Buy: A 60-second commercial during the game. Also, Kia will tease the spot with 15-second TV spots the week before the game.
Model/ad theme: The redone Optima. The car will be the star, but a police officer, an ancient tribal chief and aliens will try to wrest the Optima from the hands of its driver in the spot.
Why: Kia wants to boost its modest share in the mid-sized sedan category, dominated by the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion. Kia got good results with its 2010 spot, including record traffic to kia.com and more than 200 news articles.
Buzz: Kia is using a playbook similar to last year's for the launch of the Optima, which, like the Sorento, will be backed with advertising for most of the year. Optima is Kia's biggest ad-dollar launch of the year, and Michael Sprague, vice president of marketing, wants his Super Bowl spot to be entertaining.
The Super Bowl commercial won't be the same as Optima's cinema spot, which started about six weeks ago. But the voiceover, "Nobody ever dreamt of driving a midsized sedan -- until now," offers a clue.
Super Bowl ad history: This is Mercedes-Benz's first Super Bowl commercial.
Buy: One 60-second commercial in the fourth quarter.
Model/ad theme: The commercial will feature four never-seen-before models: a roadster version of the SLS; the new C-class coupe; the revamped CLS luxury four-door; and the SLK hardtop roadster.
Why: The Super Bowl is a part of Mercedes' strategy to play front and center at big events in 2011 as its marketing budget expands.
Buzz: In addition to the spots, Mercedes is sponsoring a tweet race in which teams driving specially equipped vehicles need to generate traffic on Twitter to win a C-class coupe. Four two-person teams will have to generate about 10 tweets per mile, or about 15,000 tweets, to reach Cowboys Stadium from respective starting points in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Tampa. The three-day race, which starts Feb. 2, features hip-hop artist Rev Run from the group Run-D.M.C., tennis star Serena Williams, musician Pete Wentz, and New York Yankees baseball player Nick Swisher as coaches to drum up traffic.
Super Bowl ad history: First time in the game.
Buy: One 30-second ad that will be broadcast in 19 markets concentrated along the Eastern Seaboard and in the Southeast.
Model/ad theme: Suzuki will focus on the Kizashi sedan. The spot, called "Wicked Weather," shows a driver evading a pack of menacing snowball-wielding snowmen with the help of the Suzuki Kizashi's optional all-wheel-drive system.
Why: After a drop in sales last year, Suzuki is looking to pump some life into the brand.
Buzz: Before the "Kizashi Kicks" campaign, Suzuki had a scant national advertising presence in 2010 as sales fell 38 percent from 2009.
Volkswagen of America
Super Bowl ad history: VW jumped back in last year after a nine-year hiatus with its "Punch Dub" spot featuring comedian Tracy Morgan and a cameo by Stevie Wonder.
Buy: A pair of 30-second commercials during the second and fourth quarter.
Model/ad theme: The spots will showcase two redesigned models, the 2012 Passat and Beetle, both due this fall.
Why: VW needs to tell Americans about its expanded lineup and more recent value pricing. The brand says it liked the success it had last year and sees the Super Bowl platform as a great way to reach a mass audience.
Buzz: VW could spotlight its diesel engines or focus on its industry-leading top safety picks from the Insurance Institute.
(Source: Automotive News)