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Automakers Rethink Super Bowl

Audi, Hyundai trying out a new breed of Super Bowl spots

by on Jan.29, 2009

Arguably the best professional football game ever was played almost half a century ago in the snow, mud and cold in a wind swept stadium between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts in Yankee Stadium.

Audi's A6 - a smaller, different presence on the Super Bowl

Audi's A6 - a smaller, different presence on the Super Bowl

The super stars of that historic game known as the ‘greatest game ever” – Frank Gif-ford, Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry were paid about ten grand for the season. The season! Television broadcast of the historical game barely extended across the Hudson River or went as far South as the Chesapeake Bay even though it was called a national broadcast.

Seven years later, the Pete Rozelle era had started, Super Bowl I was going to be played between the Packers and the Chiefs in sunny California. The super star players, Bart Starr and Len Dawson, were up to over twenty-something grand a season.

But it was the not so auspicious beginning of manor national television coverage by CBS and NBC networks who were able to pull in adventuresome big bucks advertisers with exclusivity by category contracts. A :60-second spot in Super Bowl 1 sold for $75,000.

Sunday afternoons became much watch NFL football afternoon for men – who were the new car buying family deciders in 1967. And thus the die was cast. The National Foot-ball League moved from what had been a sport with professional overtones and limited media exposure, to a professional sport with great potential: all thanks to television.

The passing years have moved NFL games from grainy black and white small screens, to larger screen color broadcasts to humongous screens in high definition with multi-camera views and instant replay.

A few of the Super Bowls that followed were epic; a couple competitive, several – make that most – were crashing bores of football games. But it was more than a game.

Another competition was developing simultaneously between pro football and the Super Bowl: television commercials. We were watching the Super Bowl for football and the advertisers’ commercials too.

The two seemingly dissimilar events were feeding off each other in what has become almost an obsessive, very costly once-a-year event.

Not many of the most ardent football can tell you which Super Bowl by number or who played whom, much less remember much of the game itself, but most have memorable commercial moments: the Mean Joe Green, Coke commercial or the introduction of Ap-ple’s Mac computers spot or one of a dozen Budweiser beer commercials and many others too.

Everyone become an ad critic. A national obsession was born. Ad agencies vied for the title of creator of the best commercial of the game. Advertisers were seemingly de-lighted to plunk down serious money for their :30-seconds of potential fame.

Well, almost every agency and Super Bowl advertiser except the automotive category. For the most part car advertisers and their agencies just couldn’t get it right.
Auto commercials were usually bland, boring, banal and just plain bad!

Disagree? Quick, name two, just two that were not. Top ten rank? Ha! But this year promises to be an interesting year for Super Bowl commercials, especially car commer-cials.

First, is the cost – a :30-second spot has reached the $3 million cost plateau. Don’t fig-ure it for how much per second, you’ll become ill. We’re in a serious recession, but the game was literally sold out for commercials a few weeks ago. And two, two car adver-tisers are joining the Super Bowl fray: Audi and Hyundai.

As the former advertising critic for Automotive News, I’m pretty blasé, opinionated and often cynical when it comes to car commercials. Those which I like and those which have resonated are few and far between. Why? Because too often of their failure to sell somebody something.

They lack consumer focus and suffer from a missing marketing gene or objective. Price cuts and rebates are a short term triage when major marketing surgery is needed. A failure to sell anytime, but especially today in a major recessionary period is insulting to the viewer, wasteful of diminishing corporate assets and just plan dumb.

But earlier this year I was blown away by a commercial. So much so I immediately emailed the vice president of marketing to compliment and congratulate their marketing positioning, strategy and tactics — that company was …

And the commercial, called Assurance, which first aired in an NFL Championship game, was absolutely stunning in its simplicity by positioning a car company, Hyundai, as com-passionate, caring brand who understands America’s financial problems.

Millions have lost and many more are losing their jobs in this era of financial fiascos through plummeting sales drops, layoffs, early outs, pink slips, disastrous decisions, marketing malfeasance and of course corporate greed, excess, arrogance and hubris.

But if you bought a Hyundai and are in a financial tsunami, not to worry. Hyundai is there to help. Just bring it back to the dealer. Amazing, simply amazing concept exe-cuted in two, non-glitzy or over produced :30-second commercials, basically running footage with Hyundai’s new celeb voiceover, Jeff Bridges, mellifluously
Confidently saying in one, “Isn’t it it nice that a car company has your back?” while the other, preferred by consumers was “We’re all in this together and we will get through this together!”

Joel Ewanick, Hyundai of America’s, vice president of marketing, told me, “The Assur-ance campaign was a gutsy move on our part. An extreme measure of our confidence and faith in our vehicles that added to the 10 year 100,000 thousand mile guarantee we pioneered.

Hyundai is going to sustain the Assurance program all year! Commit to it fully noted Ewanick, “We will be there all of 2009 … for as long as people are fearful, we decided we are in this for the long haul. We will stop talking about this program when the econ-omy is back up

From three championship NFL games in early January, Hyundai has rolled out the As-surance campaign in a major way, going from 100 audience rating points to 300 and expanding from broadcast networks to cable programs in both sports and entertain-ment. Is this commercial going to be in the Super Bowl, I asked Ewanick? Don’t need to give you the answer do I?

But what is interesting from the brand that last year introduced the then new Genesis sedan, which was just awarded car of the year designation at the Detroit Show, is the growth of their confidence and faith in the Super Bowl.

“This year,” Ewanick said, “Hyundai will have five Super Bowl commercials: – 2 spots in the game, 3 in the pre-game section for a total of five new commercials.” And this is a big, no a huge investment and commitment to the Super Bowl telecast.

Hyundai is on a roll. Car of the year for the Genesis sedan, the Assurance program and a new Genesis coupe scheduled to hit dealers late this spring. Not much has been leaked about the new commercials except that a tease is in.
A top driver and record setting, Rhys Millen, is driving the 300 hp Genesis coupe cho-reographed to music played by classical music artist, Yo-Yo Ma. A second version also set to a musical artist yet unknown.


Last year, Audi of America added a cinematic echo as their first Super Bowl commercial played off The Godfather movie’s classic, horses head in the bed scene to promote their new R8 vehicle. Think about it: A German luxury car with a sense of humor about a se-rious product. Amazing.

Last week in a phone conversation with Scott Keogh, Audi’s CMO (chief marketing of-fice) told me Audi is taking the movie moment approach again. “We are using the actor Jason Statham, the amazing driver and star of the best recent car chase genre movies of “Transporter” series.”

“He drives through four decades – from the ‘70’s till now — in four different luxury vehi-cles emblematic of that moment in time: the 70’s in an S-class Mercedes, the ‘80’s with a BMW 5, in the ‘90’s with a Lexus ES and today with the supercharged Audi A6.”

Cute idea, I said, but how is going to work? Keogh said, “Some things are better left be-hind. We are doing it because it does tell a story. Great advertising always tells a story. Old ways, old thinking … the market is telling us Audi is identified as the next thing, the car of this decade, the car of now … the car of the future.’

While I have not seen the new commercial, Keogh described the production values go-ing from the grainy black and white video images of the ‘70’s to current HD visuals show
The new commercial will only be shown once during Sunday’s broadcast, but two other :30-second commercials were also produced for use this spring.

For a sneak peak of the new commercial log on to Audi’s web site During the broadcast, Audi has pod position 1B, which means they are the last commercial in the first break of football action.

It’s going to be very interesting Super Bowl … especially the new breed of automotive commercials.

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