GM Punts on Super Bowl Buy

Automaker says it cannot justify $4 million unit cost

General Motors has decided to punt on its annual Super Bowl investment, saying the price of admission to this year’s broadcast is simply too high.

“We understand the reach the Super Bowl provides, but with the significant increase in price, we simply can’t justify the expense,” Joel Ewanick, vp and global chief marketing officer of General Motors, said in a statement.

CBS is carrying the upcoming NFL championship tilt, set to kick off in New Orleans on Feb. 3, 2013. Earlier this year, CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves told investors that he anticipated commanding as much as $4 million for a single spot in this year’s broadcast, a 14 percent increase from NBC’s asking price in Super Bowl XLVI.

GM last year purchased four in-game spots, a buy that included a 30-second ad during the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter. Per Nielsen, that Cadillac ad coincided with peak viewership, reaching some 117.7 million viewers.

The GM Super Bowl buy was augmented by two postgame ads. All told, the company spent an estimated $21 million on inventory in and around the Giants-Patriots showdown.

While GM’s announcement may have caught CBS off guard, the automaker did not have a formal commitment with the network. And while only Anheuser-Busch InBev and PepsiCo have spent more money on the Super Bowl in the past decade—per Kantar Media estimates, GM purchased $82.8 million on the game between 2002 and 2011—the decision is not without precedent. In 2009, the company passed up the opportunity to invest in the broadcast, a call it reiterated the following year.

As was the case three years ago, GM’s decision to sit out the CBS broadcast was prefaced by a major revision of its TV ad strategy. Just days before its ads aired in Super Bowl XLVI, GM acknowledged that it had opted out of 50 percent of its second-quarter upfront commitments, the maximum allowable under the terms of network ad sales contracts.

While significant, GM’s defection shouldn’t leave CBS shorthanded. For one thing, the network began selling inventory for the big game back in January. Moreover, the last two years have seen unprecedented demand from the automotive category; in Fox’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLV, a record nine brands spent a staggering $77.5 million on in-game ads. (Previously, the most robust auto spend was $29.74 million, in 2010.)

NBC’s 2012 broadcast was also marked by a glut of auto spots. Among the manufacturers that suited up for the Giants-Pats contest were GM, Chrysler, Toyota, Volkswagen, Honda and Hyundai.

At any rate, CBS still has a solid eight-and-a-half months to find a replacement for GM. Barring some unprecedented and unforeseen catastrophe, it’s extremely unlikely that GM’s absence will prevent CBS from selling out.

GM’s announcement was made just days after the company pulled out of some $10 million in Facebook ads.

In January, GM consolidated its global media planning and buying services with Carat, a move that Ewanick said will save the company as much as $2 billion over the course of the next five years.

In 2011, GM spent $4.48 billion on advertising, marking an increase of 5 percent from $4.26 billion in the year-ago period.

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