Big automakers are putting the brakes on Super Bowl ads

When the Super Bowl kicks off later this week there will be — as always — plenty of viewers tuning in just for the commercials. There’s one industry they’ll see less represented than in previous years, though: automotive.

Last year’s game saw record spending by car companies, but this year, with sales rising, they’re backing away from the game, preferring to spend their marketing dollars elsewhere. In fact, it’s possible that for the first time no North American auto manufacturer will have a spot at Super Bowl XLIX, and only a small number are expected to advertise during this year’s big game — the fewest number since 2010, according to a report.

Car ads make up some of the most memorable spots during the big game — think of last year’s Chevrolet Silverado ad from General Motors (GM) or the Ford (F) Fusion Hybrid ad featuring James Franco and Rob Riggle, which also debuted last year. For the 2015 game between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, though, neither of those companies will be running an ad during the breaks in the action.

Other car manufacturers will be sitting on the bench, including Audi, Volkswagen’s luxury brand. This will be the first time in seven years that Audi hasn’t taken part in the festivities, according to Automotive News. The trade publication also noted that a few car companies will be part of the Super Bowl ad game, though, with BMW, Kia, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota (TM) all confirming that they’d be running a commercial on Feb. 1.

GM will have an active presence at the game despite not running ads — GMC is the official car of the NFL, and the Super Bowl MVP will drive off in a Chevy Colorado pickup truck.

FCA, the automotive company that includes Chrysler, declined to say whether or not the automaker will be airing an ad on the night of the Super Bowl. A spokeswoman for the company said an announcement will only be made the weekend of the game. If Chrysler doesn’t end up running an ad, this would be the first time ever that no major North American car company has an ad during the big game, according to Peter Daboll, CEO at television and video ad company Ace Metrix.

A spokeswoman for GM said that the expense of a spot — said to be around $4 million for a single 30 second ad on NBC — combined with the fact that GM didn’t have a new product launch to focus on, led the company to pass on the Super Bowl this year.

Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert and executive creative director at Baker Street Advertising, said that with more diverse opportunities for mass advertising, some companies may be looking at other options with a less expensive price tag.

“You can spend [advertising dollars] in the college football playoffs, which sort of became a mini-Super Bowl,” he said.
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Ford, for one, debuted commercials for the newly remodeled F-150 during the college football playoffs and other bowl games.

Another reason car companies may be easing back on Super Bowl ads? They just don’t need it, Dorfman said. The car business had a fantastic year last year, selling nearly 17 million cars and reaching heights it hadn’t seen since before the 2008 credit crisis. With sales naturally spiking right now, the $4 million is an unnecessary expense.

The dollars can instead be spent on other types of marketing: digital platforms, social media, and mobile marketing, he said.

There’s also the fact that advertisement schedules tend to be cyclical, noted Ace Metrix’s Daboll. Still, he said he was “honestly a little perplexed” when he saw that so many auto companies were choosing not to participate this year. Social media, and the ability to have ads repeat infinitely on the Internet, no matter what television program they run during, could make companies think twice about dropping the big check for a Super Bowl spot, he added.

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