Asian automakers horn in on GM's Olympic role

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Although General Motors Corp. is the exclusive domestic car sponsor of both the U.S. Olympic Team and NBC's U.S. broadcast of the Games, three other carmakers have bought major broadcast packages from the network.

All three -- American Honda Motor Corp., Toyota Motor Sales USA and Hyundai Motor America -- are launching new sport-utility vehicles as well as other vehicles during the Games. Volkswagen of America also will break a 60-second commercial for its new Beetle from Arnold Communications, Boston.

None of the auto marketers would discuss spending for the buys. But, according to media buyers, a 30-second spot on the NBC broadcast -- depending on the advertiser's package -- could cost about $400,000. That's based on an 18 Nielsen Media Research household rating.

Honda and its sibling luxury brand Acura snatched up the largest package -- 47 spots on NBC and 41 spots on its cable affiliates MSNBC and CNBC. All are :30s.


The Honda brand is launching the ad campaign for the redone 2001 Civic during the Games' opening ceremonies Sept. 15, said Eric Conn, assistant VP-national advertising for both Honda and Acura. During the closing ceremonies, Acura will break a campaign for its new MD-X sport-utility, which goes on sale Oct. 5.

That vehicle is crucial for the brand, as luxury SUV sales continue to rise. Civic is the best-selling small car in the nation.

"The Olympics have broad appeal, so it's a good time to tell people about new products," Mr. Conn said. "You just do the best you can to get on" during the Games. Although he declined to discuss the cost of the buy, he said that during the two-week Olympic broadcast the marketer is spending what it usually spends in a month on TV.

Mr. Conn said Honda and Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, are still "wrestling" with which narrator to use since its longtime pitchman, actor Richard Dreyfuss, has refused to cross the picket line of the striking TV commercial actors.

Both Toyota and its Lexus brand bought NBC packages, although Toyota's is bigger, said an executive close to the marketer.


The Toyota brand has 20 slots on the network and 24 on MSNBC and CNBC, said Steve Sturm, VP-marketing. The brand is launching a spot for its full line of SUVs -- the small RAV4, redesigned for the 2001 model year; the new, full-size Sequoia and the new, mid-size Highlander. The effort marks the first time Toyota has developed a full-line SUV spot, a move Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division started with its ad last fall.

Toyota's spot, from Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., isn't finished yet, Mr. Sturm said. But there are no people in the commercial. "The heroes are the vehicles," he said.

Also arriving during the Olympics are new commercials for the Toyota Tundra pickup and Sienna minivan. A spot that broke earlier this year will also air for its Corolla.

Saatchi created dedicated Olym-pic print ads for the October issue of Sports Illustrated's edition on the Games. And NBC created a custom program guide that will be distributed free at Toyota dealerships.

Team One, El Segundo, Calif., created two new spots for Lexus' LS 430 sedan. Most of the buy is on NBC cable units.


Hyundai Motor America is launching its first SUV, the Santa Fe, which appears in a single new brand spot with the new XG 300 mid-size sedan and redesigned Elantra compact sedan, said Paul Sellers, director of marketing communications.

The :30 spot from Bates USA West, Irvine, Calif., will run 11 times during the Games on NBC and 24 times on its two cable networks.

Mr. Sellers said the commercial was produced with existing footage. Cream's "I Feel Free" is the background music, used in earlier spots, to tout "the freedom of America's best [car] warranty," he said.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo and Wayne Friedman

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