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While General Motors is headed back to the Super Bowl after a year off, fellow American auto giant Ford Motor Co. is staying on the sidelines this year, an executive confirmed on Tuesday. Ford has not advertised in the game since 2013, when the company ran two ads for its Lincoln brand.
"I'm not saying we won't ever do it, but at this point it doesn't make sense," Stephen Odell, Ford's exec VP-global marketing, sales and service, said in an interview from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The Super Bowl has "worked in the past when we've needed a really big bang -- lots of attention, lots of focus -- on something that perhaps we needed more awareness on," he added. But "our awareness numbers on all of our products and our brands are actually ratcheting up pretty quickly. It's not something we need at this point."
GM's Buick brand confirmed to Automotive News last week that it would be running a Super Bowl ad for the first time ever. GM last advertised in the Super Bowl in 2014 when Chevy got two ads. At this point Buick appears to be the only GM brand going in. Executives from GM-owned Cadillac and GMC confirmed in interviews with Ad Age this week that they won't be in the game, while Chevrolet executives declined to comment.
Buick is spending big bucks on the Super Bowl as it prepares to release three new vehicles in the coming months: A redesigned LaCrosse as well as the Cascada convertible -- Buick's first new convertible in 25 years -- and the Envision compact crossover. "The idea to have Super Bowl to start this year off by gathering some attention to what is going to be happening here is a fantastic opportunity for us," Buick marketing manager Robert Peterson said in an interview from the auto show, where Buick had the convertible on display.
Ford's decision to stay out of the Super Bowl comes as the company -- like a lot of marketers -- continues to put more emphasis on digital advertising.
"The days of direct communication -- perhaps through TV, as an example -- of us telling the public how great we are probably is not as relevant as it was in this country," Mr. Odell said. "In markets like Russia and] Spain, TV is still very important part of the mix, because that's what people do … they sit and watch the TV as a family group."
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He said Ford at this point is not planning to run a dedicated TV campaign for its new FordPass mobility app that was announced with much fanfare at the auto show this week. The app will debut in April in the U.S. and include functionality allowing people to find and pay for parking by using "FordPay," a virtual wallet. The program -- which Ford executives billed as doing for car owners "what iTunes did for music fans" -- might get digital ad support, Mr. Odell suggested. But Ford appears to be relying heavily on word-of-mouth marketing.
"People will discover it. People will see the solutions it provides. And people will share it," Mr. Odell said.
Plans include adding ride sharing, car sharing and multimodal transportation services to the app. Mr. Odell suggested that parts of the ride-sharing functionality in FordPass could be modeled after a lease-sharing program Ford will launch next month in Austin, Texas as a pilot initiative.
Under the program, called Ford Credit Link, self-organized groups of three to six people can share a lease on one Ford car. Each member can use a vehicle plug-in device and app to reserve car time, check the car's status and maintenance and make payments, according to an announcement Ford made this week on the program.
"People already are sharing everything – from books to homes," David McClelland, Ford Credit exec VP for marketing and sales, said in a statement. "We're seeing the potential for a shift from a single consumer paying for a single vehicle to several people sharing costs and benefits. Ford Credit Link makes Ford vehicles more readily available to people who may not want or need their own vehicle but have mobility requirements that must be met."
Ford released the following promotional video on the program: