Here's What Maserati Could Have Bought Instead of That Super Bowl Ad

For the Same Amount, the Ghibli Could Have Been Featured in Various Media for Weeks

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Maserati's spectacular Quvenzhane-Wallis-narrated Super Bowl commercial has had its share of fans and detractors alike, from agency creative chiefs to armchair critics. So did it prove to be a good media strategy for the Ghibli sports sedan?

A 90-second ad in the Super Bowl went for probably around $11 million. Add to that the production of the spot, the Yahoo home-page takeover, the USA Today cover wrap, paid search and digital display advertising, and it feels like a cool $16 million to $17 million for the week's media buy. I've always been a fan of Super Bowl advertising, but this buy didn't make sense to me.

If you're Coca-Cola, which sells over 350 million bottles of Coca-Cola across the country, with just about everyone watching the game a potential consumer, it's smart business to be in the country's biggest advertising event. But for a luxury auto manufacturer hoping to sell a far smaller number of units, it seems, well, a luxury. Just 9 seconds of the 90-second spot involved a car visual or sound, with only the last 3 seconds revealing to viewers what the brand was. It's hard to see this as a wise use of money.

But I hear the counter argument: "It's generating awareness." "The comments on Facebook and tweets on Twitter." "People are clicking to its website." So why not a Super Bowl Ad?

Creating awareness is a good thing. But doing this at the top of the marketing funnel is an expensive proposition. Many other marketing considerations go into converting a prospect into a buyer. Many more people are aware of Ferrari than, say, Mitsubishi, but that awareness doesn't equate to more units sold.

Any auto dealer will tell you that selling cars is a 52-week-a-year proposition. Has Maserati got the budget to follow up a big week with sustaining advertising support for the other 50 weeks? General Motors does.

Maserati, part of Fiat Chrysler, did see some impressive increases in searches on and Kelly Blue Book after the Super Bowl spot ran. I'm guessing that these came off very low bases. Social-media mentions were also high. So they seem to have gotten the brand into the conversation.

One big surprise about the Maserati spot was the fact that no one saw it coming. No pre-event buzz. No spot on YouTube or Vimeo before the game. Ad Age's piece showcasing the ads in advance didn't have it. This felt like a miss for Maserati. The Super Bowl isn't just a media buy, it's a marketing event, of which brands are an indelible part. Perhaps the agency team felt it had to do something to stand apart from the rest. However, with 12 other automotive advertisers appearing in the Super Bowl, I would have worked harder to find a way to distinguish the brand.

Paying for the most expensive spot with the highest production values, in the most competitive automotive media event, doesn't strike me as what a challenger brand -- which it claims to be in the ad -- should do. Kudos for Maserati's boldness, but its money could have been spent a lot more imaginatively and responsibly.

As an aside, here's what $16 million to $17 million dollars could buy in other media:

52 full-page ads in The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times

60 double-page color spreads and a load of premium digital placements in Forbes

Every ad in the New York Times tablet app for six months

6,000+ spots on CNBC

2-minute spots on the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the Grammy's

A 30-second spot every hour in prime time on CNN, MSNBC, FOX News and Al Jazeera America for four months

A national 12-month deal running 90-second spots throughout on cinema

Every promoted Tweet to the entire U.S. Twitter base for 85 consecutive days

or 10 home-page takeovers on Yahoo, AOL and MSN.

Antony Young is president of Water Cooler Group, an independent brand media communications agency, and author of "Brand Media Strategy," a Palgrave MacMillan and Advertising Age publication offering strategies on communications planning in the Google and Facebook era.

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