Nissan Takes the Local Route to the Super Bowl

Automaker to Make Spot Buys on Fox Network Affiliates to Push Murano

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NEW YORK ( -- Nissan Motor Co. is quietly mulling a large spot buy that would allow the automaker to run lots of local ads on various Fox TV stations and affiliates during the Super Bowl, according to people close to the situation.
Nissan Murano 2008
Nissan Murano 2008

A Nissan spokeswoman said she could not "confirm anything about our plans for the Super Bowl," but one person familiar with the matter said the automaker is planning to advertise its Murano, a so-called midsize crossover that pairs the driving experience of a regular car with some of the features of a sport utility vehicle.

Avoiding the hefty price tag
The strategy is obviously designed to avoid paying the hefty multimillion-dollar price tag associated with ads that run on network during the Super Bowl. Ads that run on local TV stations would be noticeably cheaper than the spots set to run on Fox, and Nissan could still build an audience reach similar to the Super Bowl by utilizing the tactic. TV viewers are usually unable to differentiate between an ad that was placed on Fox's national network and one that was placed during the minutes normally allocated each hour to the network's affiliates.

Fox has sought anywhere from $2.7 million to more than $3 million for a 30-second ad in the pigskin contest. The event has sold more briskly than in years past, owing to an expected dearth of original content on broadcast-TV in early 2008 because of the writers' strike. Advertisers are also more keen on TV properties that foil use of digital video recorders. Because it is such a communal, big-audience event, the Super Bowl -- and the glitzy, pricey ads that interrupt it -- is usually watched as it happens, not hours or days later. Super Bowl XLII is slated to air Feb. 3 from Arizona. (See which marketers have already bought time here.)

There is probably some mischief at work here, too. Marketers often like to hitch their wagon to the Super Bowl, but make a face when they hear how much it would cost them.

Big-game hunters
To avoid shelling out millions, some advertisers have used ads to make allusions to the event in regular commercials that run in the weeks before the event takes place. Using the phrase "Super Bowl" typically requires the permission of the National Football League, which zealously guards against outsiders who might use its trademarks without permission. Gateway in 2004 ran an ad suggesting the Super Bowl and other football games were good reasons to buy plasma TVs, but used the phrase "big game" rather than the words "Super Bowl."

Others go the spot-buying route -- and not always for financial reasons. In 2001, for example, Diageo bought up local time during the Super Bowl from affiliates of CBS, which broadcast the event that year, to advertise its then-new Smirnoff Ice drink. The strategy helped the company advertise despite a ban the broadcast networks have long maintained on ads hawking hard liquor. It also helped Diageo do an end-run around Anheuser-Busch, which for years has negotiated deals that make it the exclusive malt-liquor advertiser in the Super Bowl.

Even without the Super Bowl, spot-buying strategies often bear more than a whiff of impishness. Time Warner's Turner cable unit bought up local ads during "E.R." on NBC affiliates in 2004 to promote its showing of reruns of "Without a Trace." At the time, original episodes of "Without a Trace" were running on CBS in the same time slot, and TNT's ads reminded NBC viewers they were missing the program because they were watching the medical drama. Upon discovering what was going on, NBC ended up pulling TNT's ads.
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