This Year's Super Bowl Traffic Jam

More Carmakers Hoping to Make Their Mark

The big game is a week away and anticipation for the ads is running high. The Super Bowl has become one of the nation's favorite events – not just because we love the game of football but because of what the creative geniuses come up with to keep us entertained between plays.

The past couple of years have been a little ho-hum in my estimation, and for us auto enthusiasts, it has been a veritable drought of interesting ads. This year should be just the opposite. There are so many auto ads planned that it may be hard to keep track of them all.

Last Year's Best

Let's start with a review of last year's participants. In total, there were six carmakers who ran a combined five minutes and 30 seconds worth of ads in Super Bowl XLIV. This was up from five manufacturers who ran three minutes worth of commercials in 2009.

Hyundai had a couple of ads. One was about their paint quality -- yawn. The other was an ad featuring Brett Favre 10 years from now, giving yet another press conference about his planned retirement. It was all about being able to count on things 10 years down the road.

Dodge was the only domestic automaker to run an ad and it was the brand's first Super Bowl ad since 2005 (which, incidentally, was an ad I helped deliver when I was working for DaimlerChrysler). "Man's Last Stand" was a new approach for Dodge and did quite well against customer expectations.

Volkswagen was the third car brand with an ad in last year's game. The "Punch Dub" ad leveraged the old school game with the Beetle and took it to a new level.

The most widely talked about car ad of last year's game was the Kia "Sock Monkey" ad. It created the most online chatter of all of the ads and the buzz for the brand has translated into sales.

Honda participated last year as well, with a quirky little ad called "Squirrel."

Audi ran the "Green Police" ad, which combined humor and information along with a great song.

This Year: More Carmaker Ads

This year, Hyundai will run three ads instead of two. Dodge will be back, with a lot to talk about with 6 "new and improved" vehicles. VW will run two ads. Kia will run a 60 second ad this year instead of a single 30 second ad. And Audi will be back for the fourth year in a row, with an ad that will run during the first commercial break.

Four other brands will also join the fray this year, at least that we know of. BMW is back; it hasn't advertised in the big game in 10 years. Mercedes is celebrating its 125th anniversary and the launch of four new products with a 60-second spot in the fourth quarter. GM is planning to advertise its Chevrolet brand. Chrysler has indicated that it may have a second of its brands in the game, as well.

Does It Matter?

At almost $3 million per 30-second spot, these are big ads that carmakers expect big returns from. While we may be thrilled to see so much participation by our favorite auto companies, the numbers mean it will be that much harder for them to cut through the clutter – not only from other auto ads but also from whatever Pepsi, Bud and Doritos have in store for us.

Last year I reported that, in general, automakers saw improved sentiment as a result of their Superbowl ads, based on result provided by ListenLogic, a market research company that "listened" to a sample of about 12,000 people on the top 10 social and blogging sites.

For this year's slew of advertisers, I think it will be crucial that they stray from their conservative tendencies. This will not be easy given the economic condition of the country and the increased scrutiny that the auto makers, particularly GM and Chrysler, have seen as a result of the taxpayer bailouts.

Still, the way to people's hearts, and eventually wallets, is to show off the vehicles while showing off your personality, with humor and energy. This year's packed lineup will leave little room for error, or for mundane, business-as-usual car advertising.

The best outcome for a car company with an ad in the big game, is talk. Online chatter, in all forms, has a viral energy that can carry on well beyond that Sunday and if continued, translates into improved sentiment, consideration, and above all, sales.

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