Super Bowl

Super Bowl Auto-Ad Blitz Pits Muppets Against Morpheus From 'The Matrix'

Car Companies Spend Big for Their Share of Industry Recovery

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Hollywood will be working hard for carmakers on Super Bowl Sunday.

Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus from 'The Matrix' in a teaser for Kia's Super Bowl spot
Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus from 'The Matrix' in a teaser for Kia's Super Bowl spot

At least six auto brands will advertise during Fox TV's telecast of the National Football League championship game on Feb. 2. Jaguar, the British luxury sports-car brand owned by Tata Motors, plans its first spot ever, while Laurence Fishburne appears in spots for Kia and the Muppets ride in a Toyota.

Ad Age considers the football game and the ad game within it to both begin at kickoff, but James Franco will also be pitching Ford in a commercial to run between the coin toss and kickoff, getting plenty of eyeballs in the process.

The challenge: making all these ads resonate with the more than 100 million viewers who will be chatting up their favorite spots online or at work the next day.

"It's the right place," said Jon Swallen, Kantar Media's research chief. "The Super Bowl attracts a broader audience than core sports fans who are male, skews higher income and is a perfect audience for auto brands."

Analysts project a fifth straight year of growth in auto purchases by U.S. consumers in 2014, estimating light-vehicle sales of more than 16 million, the most since 2007. Carmakers are introducing 37 new models in North America this year, the most since 2006, according to IHS Automotive.

Be memorable
This year's game promises to be a big draw by pitting the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos -- the game's top defense against its top offense and the first time in five years the two No. 1 seeds have met for the Lombardi trophy.

The competition among auto ads will be equally fierce, with each trying to one-up the other and dislodge Volkswagen's "The Force," featuring a kid dressed as Darth Vader, as perhaps the most memorable Super Bowl auto ad. It has been played 59 million times on YouTube.

Advertising during last year's Super Bowl totaled $292 million, according to Kantar Media. Automakers spent $105.4 million before, during and after the contest, a 1.4% drop from the prior year. Their ads during the game alone cost $92 million, a fivefold increase from $18 million in 2009, the lowest in the past 10 years. Movie studios and dot-com companies tie for the next-biggest groups.

Show metal
Standing out can be tough in a telecast where the advertising is as talked about as the game. In addition to paying an average of $4 million for 30 seconds of air time, Super Bowl commercials can cost about $2 million to make and have a shorter life than a regular campaign, Kantar said.

"There's a saying in our business, if you don't show the sheet metal, people won't buy the car," said Val DiFebo, CEO at Deutsch New York, whose company, Deutsch Inc., handles ads for Go Daddy and Volkswagen.

(The creative agency on Volkswagen's upcoming 60-second Super Bowl ad is Argonaut, while "key messaging" for the spot was developed by Deutsch, according to the carmaker.)

"People are interested in seeing the car, but there's a difference between what you do on the Super Bowl and what you do in other places to drive traffic to showrooms," Ms. DiFebo said.

Kia Motors plans a minute-long spot for the new K900 premium sedan, featuring Mr. Fishburne, said Tom Loveless, the company's executive vice president for U.S. sales.

'The Matrix'
As Loveless spoke last week at the North American International Auto Show, a video screen showed Fishburne in sunglasses, recalling his role as Morpheus in "The Matrix." Viewers will also see ads by General Motors' Chevrolet and Hyundai Motor, along with a spot from Toyota that features Walt Disney Co.'s Muppets and Terry Crews, the actor and former NFL player.

Jaguar's 30-second commercial, airing in the second half of the game, stars actor Ben Kingsley, who won an Oscar playing Mahatma Gandhi and has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. The spot plays off the history of Britons as villains in films and TV and was shot in London by director Tom Hooper, whose credits include "The King's Speech" and "Les Miserables."

The ad will show off Jaguar's new F-Type coupe, which starts at $65,000. Car and Driver called it an "all-aluminum beauty" and a "stunning example" of Jaguar's resurgence since Tata bought the brand from Ford in 2008. A 41% sales gain last year made Jaguar the fastest-growing luxury brand, according to Jeff Curry, U.S. marketing chief.

This year's Super Bowl, the first played outdoors in a cold-weather city, will set viewership records, Kantar's Swallen predicted. Regular-season NFL games on Fox set an audience record this season, the company said, while CBS's broadcast network drew 4% more viewers for its games than a year ago. Last year's game drew 108.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

On sidelines
Some automakers are choosing to sit out the game, saving their marketing budgets for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next month, or spreading out commercials across several events.BMW, Mazda and Ford's Lincoln aren't returning this year.

"It's three hours or it could be two hours and a bit and then it's over," Ludwig Willisch, head of BMW in the U.S., said last year at the Los Angeles Auto Show. "It's even become a little bit more of a competition between the agencies about who does the best ads."

~ Bloomberg News ~

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