Some big automakers sitting out Super Bowl ad game – USA TODAY

It may have been easy enough for eight automakers to find good reasons to want to suit up for Super Bowl ads this year, but the tougher call may have been among those staying off the field.

So far, Volkswagen, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and Ford, including its Lincoln brand — all of which have had Super Bowl ads in the past — say they are going to sit out this year. They won’t be joining Audi, Acura, Buick, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mini and Toyota with ads during the game.

For those staying out, it means saving the estimated $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime during the game. It also means passing up the chance to reach what is always likely to be the single biggest audience of the year — and one that actually looks forward to seeing the commercials.

“There is a lot more good thinking about why you’re in or why you are not,” says Ian Beavis, chief strategy officer for consultants AMCI and former top marketing executive for Kia and Mitsubishi. Not only is about the money, but automakers need to spend more to come up commercials worth of the “Super Bowl of advertising” and extensive social-media campaigns to build excitement.

“What could be a good ad in another environment could be run of the mill there,” he says. But the chance to score big, to make an indelible mark in the brains of more than 100 million who typically watch, it a lure many find too big to pass up.

Volkswagen scored in 2011 with its now-famous ad about a kid dressed up as Darth Vader who finds he has no secret powers until he magically makes his dad’s new Passat sedan start — with a little help from dad himself watching through a window with the remote-start clicker in hand.

But for the second year in a row, VW is out of the bowl. This year, the brand is tainted by the scandal over rigging of diesel emissions tests. But that didn’t figure in the decision not to run an ad, officials say. In fact, the decision not to air an ad was made last spring, long before the scandal broke in September.

“This year, our strategy focused on other advertising opportunities and tactics beyond the big game,” says spokesman Darryll Harrison. The timing of the game didn’t work with one off the brand’s biggest product launched, a new version of the Passat that hit late last year. “The timing of the Super Bowl didn’t align with our strategy.”

Nissan faces the same issue. It’s new  for the beginning of 2016. Instead we focused on more timely properties for the

launch. It won’t be following up with an ad this year after what it says was a big success with a 90-second spot for its Maxima sedan last year.

It’s most natural product for a game ad, the Titan pickup, is already on sale. And Nissan Vice President Jeremy Tucker says the brand is finding big success by promoting its brands through a sponsor of athletics at 100 major colleges and universities. “This is a natural stage for us. It’s a way to really connect with our fans,” Tucker says.

No regrets, though, about last year’s Super Bowl ad. What Tucker calls a “pinnacle momeht for our go-big marketing strategy” resulted in an avalanche of social-media traffic and showroom visits to see the new Maxima.

Mercedes-Benz says it has a number of new models to launch this year, but most are some of its most expensive, which doesn’t necessarily work for the mass audience of a Super Bowl. It just unveiled the latest version of the big-selling E-Series midsize sedan earlier this month in Detroit, but it won’t be ready for sale for months. 

“We tend to launch when products or ‘brand moments’ align,” says spokeswoman Donna Boland.

Same deal for Ford Motor. It just showed a new production version of its Lincoln Continental luxury sedan in Detroit, but it doesn’t have another huge launch like the Mustang or F-150 pickup on tap.

The game “does not align with our plans,” says spokeswoman Angie Kozleski. “We continue to be focused on reaching consumers through multiple channels and platforms, including digital and social.”

Just not the Super Bowl.

Follow Chris Woodyard on Twitter at @chriswoodyard

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