'Tis the Season: Automakers Rev Up Holiday Sales Spend

NFL Games Suck Up One-Third of All Event Dollars

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It's 'Happy Honda Days' in this ad for the auto brand, one of 13 trying to turn the holidays into a car-buying occasion.
It's 'Happy Honda Days' in this ad for the auto brand, one of 13 trying to turn the holidays into a car-buying occasion. Credit: Courtesy Honda

The season of getting reacquainted with yams, arguing politics with drunk relatives and endless holiday-themed car ads is upon us, and while none of these travails is escapable, the sheer volume of new auto spots should at least provide for a little variety.

In the past two weeks, no fewer than 13 auto marques have launched new TV campaigns designed to move the last of the 2015 inventory off the lot. In fact, the only top spender that has yet to kick off a year-end sales push is Toyota; expect increasingly manic spokeswoman Jan to get into the spirit of Toyotathon by donning the Santa hat in early December.

Altogether, a clutch of manufacturers that includes the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln, Honda, Audi, Ford, Volkswagen and Chevrolet has spent $64.1 million on holiday sales ads since Nov. 1, a figure that represents 21% of the sector's overall TV spend ($302.1 million) in the same period, according to estimates by iSpot.tv.

ISpot.tv said the automakers that have invested the most cash in sales event/holiday ad time are Volkswagen, which since Nov. 8 has ponied up $12.4 million to buttress its "Sign Then Drive" initiative; Ford, which has plunked down $9.88 million on national TV time to hype its Black Friday sale and a "Friends and Neighbors" discount opportunity; Chevrolet, in for $8.61 million since Nov. 3 with an eye toward promoting its "Black Friday All Month Long" sale; and Audi, which in the last two weeks has spent some $6.72 million to get the word out about its annual "Season of Audi Sales Event."

Other big spenders include Lincoln ($6.23 million), BMW ($5.36 million), Nissan ($4.31 million), Kia ($3.07 million), Buick ($1.39 million) and Jeep ($1.31 million).

Just warming up the engine on its big "Happy Honda Days" blitz, Honda in the last 48 hours has spent $541,230 to air five different spots featuring various goings-on inside a miniature house. This year's clutch of Happy Honda Days spots are characterized by a sort of understated, stylized whimsy, like a Wes Anderson film without the British Invasion soundtrack. Last year's $25.6 million Gen-X nostalgia offensive was much more outré; among the animated characters extolling the virtues of Honda were Skeletor, G.I. Joe, Gumby, Strawberry Shortcake and Stretch Armstrong.

It should perhaps come as no surprise that the majority of this year's holiday sales spots have aired during high-profile national NFL broadcasts. Ten of the 13 automakers that have rolled out a seasonal campaign have spent the biggest portion of their respective budgets on pro football games carried by CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and NFL network. All told, $21.5 million of the event buys have targeted NFL games, accounting for a little more than one-third (34%) of the total holiday spot outlay ($64.1 million) to date.

One significant holdout is General Motors' Buick, which per iSpot.tv data, hasn't spent a penny on an in-game NFL spot since the season began. Buick's biggest holiday targets have been college football and ESPN's "College Football Scoreboard" and "College Football Live."

The NFL is currently No. 6 on Lincoln's list of holiday TV targets, as Fox's "Empire" has laid claim to the largest chunk ($1.34 million) of the automaker's seasonal budget. AMC's "The Walking Dead" ($656,346) is Lincoln's No. 2 destination, followed by college football, NBC's "Football Night in America" and NBA basketball.

On the whole, the Big Four broadcast nets and ESPN get first dibs at all the holiday car cash, although cable outlets like NFL Network, FS1 AMC, FX, TNT, TBS, Discovery Channel, Weather Channel, History, Golf Channel and Bravo have all landed in at least one automaker's top five.

Along with the aforementioned "Empire" and "The Walking Dead," some of the general-entertainment programs that have commanded a good chunk of the holiday spend thus far include: CBS's "The Good Wife," "The Big Bang Theory," "NCIS," "Supergirl" and "Madam Secretary;" ABC's "Scandal," "Castle," "How to Get Away with Murder" and "Modern Family;" NBC's "The Voice," "Blindspot" and "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and Fox's "Gotham," "Scream Queens" and "Minority Report."

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