Fox’s Super Bowl broadcast will feature no fewer than 20 automotive spots, accounting for nearly one-third of the event’s 63 total avails, in an unprecedented show of support from the auto category, according to multiple sources.
And while this may not come as a total surprise, given the strength of the category and the tremendous demand for NFL inventory, this year’s load of car and truck ads far surpasses that of any previous Super Bowl. Even the dot-com debacle of 2000 doesn’t compare; while it may have seemed like more at the time, only a dozen Internet companies threw down for a slice of time in ABC’s broadcast of Super Bowl XXXIV––a 20 percent share of the 61 spots available at the time.
There’s no telling which two NFL franchises will find themselves in Dallas on Super Bowl Sunday; perhaps we’ll see flaxen-haired Uggs spokesmodel Tom Brady and the New England Patriots squaring off against Philadelphia’s Dog Whisperer, or we may be treated to the spectacle of the merrily profane Rex Ryan leading his New York Jets into battle against their fellow Jersey time-shares Eli Manning and the Giants. But no matter who shows up in the Big D on Feb. 6, it’s safe to say that the 100 million-plus Americans tuning in to Fox for Super Bowl XLV will bear witness to something unprecedented.
Fox’s auto inventory is particularly impressive when one stops to consider that only six car clients suited up for Super Bowl XLIV (CBS), double what NBC was able to round up for its presentation of Super Bowl XLIII. Leading the way are some returning favorites, a long-time holdout and one luxury marque that is coming into the big game for the first time in its 45-year history.
After a three-year absence, General Motors is back in a big way, having ponied up for as many as six spots in support of Chevrolet. GM joins Ford and Chrysler in what will mark the first time the Big Three have turned out for a Super Bowl in nearly a decade; Chrysler hopped back in last year for the first time since 2004, while Ford dropped out last year to focus on digital spending.
Super Bowl XLV is Mercedes-Benz’s first trip to the big show. The automaker’s 60-second spot, from Merkley + Partners in New York, is a brand-image ad that will run in the fourth quarter, said Steve Cannon, vp of marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA in Montvale, N.J. The 2011 splash will come as the automaker celebrates its 125th anniversary and prepares for launches involving its SLK, C-Class, M-Class and CLS models.
“We’ve got our first-time ever Super Bowl [buy] intersecting with our 125th anniversary [and the launch of] four gorgeous models next year,” Cannon said. “That kind of connection made the Super Bowl a really relevant platform for us.”
Making its first Super Bowl appearance since the dawn of the century, BMW is in for a couple of spots. The German automaker is leveraging the NFL championship game as a platform for a number of 2011 launches, which include the new 6 Series coupe and convertible, the 2011 X3 SUV and the 5 Series sedan.
BMW did not offer any detailed information about its Super Sunday lineup, although all creative will be steered by MDC Partners’ Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners. The carmaker may pull an end-around and feature its upcoming electric model, the ActiveE, which rolls out in summer 2011.
Another luxury brand is driving into Super Bowl XLV, as Audi of America returns for its fourth consecutive season finale. Created by Venables Bell & Partners of San Francisco, Audi’s 60-second spot will air in the first quarter, in the third position of the first break following the opening kickoff.
“We’ve achieved record levels of awareness and showroom traffic with national consideration numbers showing significant spikes postgame,” said Scott Keogh, chief marketing officer, Audi of America. “The Super Bowl is one of the few places a brand can reach so many people at once; it’s truly a cultural phenomenon.”
Sources said Hyundai, Honda and Volkswagen would also suit up for the secular holiday, leaving a wobbly Toyota and Nissan the lone holdouts among the major automakers.
Fox did not comment on its Super Bowl roster, noting that it would allow each client to announce its plans as it saw fit. The broadcaster moved a whopping 80 percent of its available spots concurrent with the 2010-11 upfront and was out-of-sale by mid-October.
Jon Nesvig, who is stepping down as president of sales for Fox Broadcasting at year’s end, was able to command rates between $2.8 million and $3 million per 30-second spot, slightly above CBS’ year-ago asking price ($2.5 million to $2.8 million). So great was the demand for Super Bowl time, Nesvig had already hashed out a number of preliminary agreements with automakers as early as mid-May.
Air time moved so quickly that some observers suggested that Fox may have sold out too quickly. “It’s not exactly an unenviable problem to have, but if they had held out a bit they may have been able to pump up their pricing to as much as $3.2, $3.3 million,” said one TV buyer. “Then again, who’s going to turn down easy money? And who knows what might have happened with the economy between then and now?”
The overabundance of automotive dollars has everything to do with the industry’s recovery. “This has been a bit of a growth year and 2011 is going to be even better,” Cannon said. “Folks are coming out with new products, and it’s such a terrific platform to get the word out in a big way. So, given the downturn that we’ve all…come through, it’s not actually a surprise that [the Super Bowl] should be chock-a-block full of automakers.”
While auto drove the ad sales market this year, the usual suspects that don’t come equipped with four wheels and a carburetor will also be well-represented in Dallas. After Pepsi-Cola pulled its soft drink spots from last year’s game––the conglomerate was represented by its Doritos snack chip brand––the beverage is back for Super Bowl XLV, prepping three spots for PepsiMax. Doritos will pop up in three :30s.
Anheuser-Busch InBev is expected to trot out as many as 10 new spots for Bud and Bud Light, although Bud Light Lime could squeeze its way into one or two avails. The brewer traditionally throws down for three-and-a-half minutes of air time, or 210 seconds.
Other sponsors who are once again putting on the pads for February’s spectacle include: E*Trade, Cars.com, Bridgestone, GoDaddy.com, Mars, Teleflora, CareerBuilder.com and Skechers. (Football fans should not expect to see advertisements for 2010 sponsors Denny’s, FloTV, truTV, Monster.com and Microsoft Visio.) And while the tablet wars are heating up, it’s unlikely that Apple will make its pitch for the iPad on the day of the big game. Steve Jobs’ gizmo factory has bought time in only one Super Bowl, deploying its now-celebrated “1984” Macintosh spot during the third quarter of the one-sided Raiders-Redskins game (XVIII).
—AdweekMedia senior editor Andrew McMains contributed to this story