GM: Are You Experienced?

Automaker rolls out experiential, social media campaign to kick off football season

Having elected to sit out CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII, General Motors will be conspicuously absent from the National Football League’s grand finale. Instead, the automaker will focus on new beginnings, plotting a kickoff campaign steeped in experiential and social media.

As the official automotive sponsor of the NFL, General Motors’ GMC division is reinforcing its ties to the league with a two-day marketing blitz in Times Square. On Tuesday, Sept. 4 and Wednesday, Sept. 5, GMC will turn the Crossroads of the World into a sort of outdoor showroom, parking 33 Sierra pickup trucks on the broad traffic island set between West 47th St. and West 46th St. Each of the NFL’s 32 franchises will be represented by a Sierra pickup, and the remaining truck will serve as a stand-in for the league itself.

In addition to eyeballing the fleet of trucks, fans can play the role of pigskin prognosticator. An on-site kiosk will allow visitors to virtually interact with Mike Tirico of ESPN’s Monday Night Football; in a pretaped segment, the broadcaster will ask fans to weigh in on the Week 1 matchups. A video of each exchange will be available for download immediately thereafter, giving fans a tangible souvenir to share with friends via social media.

GMC is the official vehicle of MNF, sponsoring the prekickoff position in each of ESPN’s 17 prime-time NFL telecasts.

Along with setting the stage for NBC’s 2012 NFL Kickoff game on Wednesday night, GMC’s Times Square activation marks the beginning of a season-long “Never Say Never” campaign, which includes ticket giveaways, social media outreach and 30-second TV spots.

“Our TV spend in NFL games will be similar to what we ran last year,” said Chris Hornberger, national sales promotions manager for GMC. “You’ll see a proportionate increase of spots on NFL Network, based on the fact that they have five additional games, but nationally our focus continues to be on Monday Night Football.” GMC sibling Chevrolet also buys time on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, and GM invests in retail spots in Sunday afternoon broadcasts.

Last year, GM spent $165.1 million on regular season NFL broadcasts, per Kantar Media. Altogether, the networks generated $3.76 billion in NFL ad sales revenue. According to Nielsen, the GMC unit last year ponied up $63.9 million in sports spend, one-third of its overall ad spend.

As an official NFL sponsor, GM pays nearly $200 million per year for a number of entitlements—among them, the presentation of the Super Bowl MVP award, which last year was bestowed upon New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. That said, having punted on any of CBS’ $3.8 million in-game units, GM effectively waived its rights to any postgame positioning. (CBS Sports sales chief John Bogusz said the postgame sponsorship has been sold, and while he did not identify the client, it’s not hard to imagine a rival automaker claiming the vacancy.)

While the NFL doesn’t come cheap—the average cost of an in-game :30 last season was around $385,000, per SQAD data—football and cars go together like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. “Even during the worst of the downturn, the automotive dollars never really left the NFL,” said Larry Fried, SQAD’s vp of national sales.

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