VW pays to shut out competition during Super Bowl XXXV



By Michael McCarthy


Volkswagen first took the USA by storm by urging consumers to “Think Small” with its Beetle. Now, VW is thinking big: Super Bowl big.

VW has contracted to be the “exclusive” in-game auto advertiser for CBS’ Jan. 28 broadcast of Super Bowl XXXV. Volkswagen has purchased four 30-second commercial slots for its first Super Bowl foray.

“This our best year since 1973. It’s an opportunity to say, ‘VW is back in a big way,’ ” says Tony Fouladpour, spokesman for Volkswagen of America. VW’s November U.S. sales were up 8.7%.

The deal gives Volkswagen Super Bowl bragging rights over rivals General Motors and BMW, both of which had ads in the last game. GM’s Pontiac division will sponsor the postgame show.

Media buying consultant Jerry Solomon estimates an exclusive auto package would cost $9 million to $10 million. Fouladpour wouldn’t comment on the price.

Volkswagen may advertise several models: the New Beetle, the Passat and a special limited “Wolfsburg” edition of its top-selling Jetta.

Arnold Worldwide Boston creates Volkswagen’s popular “Drivers Wanted” ads and will create the Super Bowl spots. Volkswagen’s “Think Small” campaign launching the original Beetle in 1959 was one of the most influential in ad history.

CBS’ “exclusivity” offer sealed the deal, says Arnold President Francis Kelly: “The economy is tightening up a bit. The best defense is a good offense.”

Anheuser-Busch is usually the only advertiser willing to pay “exclusivity” prices. A-B will be the sole beer advertiser for the 13th consecutive year. “It’s our strategy to be exclusive every year,” says Tony Ponturo, A-B’s vice president of corporate media.

Ponturo has locked up beer exclusives with Fox for 2002 and, more recently, ABC for 2003. A-B is the largest advertiser in the game with eight 30-second slots, including the pole-position spot: the first ad after kickoff. “It gives us the look of the leader,” says Ponturo.

The trend of marketers scoring “exclusive” media positions that exclude rivals on such TV events as the Super Bowl and Survivor is growing for several reasons:

* Focus. Neal Pilson, former CBS Sports chief turned TV consultant, says marketers will to pay a premium to reach consumers with a focused message. “Even if consumers don’t notice exclusivity, they do notice conflicting messages.”

* Protection. Exclusive deals protect advertisers from ambush marketing by competitors. “That’s important when you’re spending a lot of money,” notes Tim Spengler, director of national broadcast for Initiative Media Los Angeles.

* Ambush. Exclusivity can be ambush marketing. Miller pays the NFL for the right to call itself “Official Beer of the Super Bowl.” But consumers associate the game more with Bud and Bud Light because Miller can’t run TV ads during the game. Says Pilson: “If the average viewer doesn’t see it on TV, it doesn’t exist.”