Super Bowl Ads: General Motors To Return To Big Game After 2013 Split

One of the biggest advertisers in the U.S. set to resume advertising as it seeks to launch 12 new vehicles

General Motors, the nation’s third-largest advertiser, is set to rejoin the ranks of Super Bowl advertisers after making a colorful exit from the big event in 2013.

GM’s Chevrolet, typically the brand in the auto company’s portfolio that gets the lion’s share of the Super Bowl spotlight, will launch 12 new cars and trucks in the U.S. between mid-2013 and the end of 2014, offering a good reason for an appearance in the gridiron classic.

A GM spokeswoman declined to specify how much ad time the automaker had purchased for Fox’s February 2, 2014, broadcast of Super Bowl XLVIII. The 21st Century Fox broadcast network has been seeking around $4 million for a 30-second ad in the game, according to ad buyers and other executives familiar with negotiations.

“The timing of Super Bowl XLVIII lines up perfectly with our aggressive car and truck launch plans,” said Tim Mahoney, global chief marketing officer of GM’s Chevrolet, said in a statement. “ “The Super Bowl is a great stage for showcasing the Chevrolet brand and our newest cars and trucks.” Only Procter & Gamble and Comcast spent more than GM on media time for commercials in 2012, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending.

That’s not how GM’s motor hummed in the months heading up to Super Bowl XLVII. Joel Ewanick, then global chief marketing officer of General Motors, publicly railed against the eye-popping cost of advertising in the game.

“We understand the reach the Super Bowl provides,” he said in a statement in May of 2012, ”but with the significant increase in price, we simply can’t justify the expense.” CBS, which broadcast the 2013 Super Bowl, sought an average of $3.7 million to $3.8 million for a 30-second Super Bowl spot, compared with the $3.5 million NBC wanted in 2012.

In 2012, Ewanick was on a mission to wring about $2 billion of costs out of Chevrolet’s marketing expenditures over five years. He had also cut GM spending on Facebook in equally public fashion and was about to enter a contentious series of negotiations with TV networks in the annual “upfront” ad-sales session, demanding price concessions that TV ad-executives swore no one would give. Ewanick has since left the company, and GM has resumed working with Facebook.

Heading into the fall of 2013, the climate seems different. GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney noted that the timing of last February’s game did not coincide with major vehicle launches. In 2014, she said, the Super Bowl broadcast will “match up perfectly with this barrage of new products that we will be sending to dealerships.”

General Motors is likely to be just one of many car advertisers in the Big Game. Over the past three years, car makers have emerged as perhaps the biggest supporters of the event,  out-muscling perennials like Anheuser Busch InBev, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. In 2013, Ford’s Lincoln-Mercury, Hyundai, Kia, Chrysler, Audi of America, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Volkswagen all ran at least one commercial during the Super Bowl.

General Motors has been a fairly regular sponsor of the Super Bowl since 2002. The company advertised in the game from 2002 to 2008, then again in 2011 and 2012. A tough recession and difficult corporate finances -including a bankruptcy – were behind the absence in 2009 and 2010. GM spent approximately $97.2 million on Super Bowl ads between 2003 and 2012, according to data from Kantar. Only PepsiCo and Anheuser outspent the car maker during that period.

GM’s return to the pigskin favorite does suggest that Super Bowl appearances largely come about through a combination of market conditions and executive personality. Ewanick clearly wanted to make a statement about General Motors and its financial discipline in 2012, just as Chevrolet’s Mahoney wants to sell cars in 2013 and 2014.

Eyes may be on another longtime Super Bowl sponsor that recently changed chief marketing executives, Under Nick Utton, E-Trade Financial Corp. ran ads in the Super Bowl for six consecutive years featuring a wise-guy talking baby. Utton left the company in March and since that time, E-Trade has installed a new CMO and switched ad agencies, leaving behind Grey, the ad firm that managed the chatty tyke’s Super Bowl appearances.

Super Bowl ad watchers may want to keep their eyes focused on Fox Sports 1, the new sports cable network lowned by Fox’s parent corporation. As part of its Super Bowl ad sales process, Fox has tried to sell broader ad packages to Super Bowl sponsors and ad time on Fox Sports 1 has been cited by media-buying executives as one of the elements offered to them.

Among the charter sponsors of Fox Sports 1 are Berkshire Hathaway’s Geico, Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln Mercury and Yum Brands’ Pizza Hut. Geico did not return a query about whether it was making a Super Bowl appearance and a Ford spokeswoman was not able to offer immediate comment. A Pizza Hut spokesman said “We do not have Super Bowl advertising plans to announce at this time.”

Pizza Hut has become known for buying the last spot in the pre-game show in various years on the network broadcasting the Super Bowl. Taco Bell, another chain owned by Yum Brands, has been a frequent in-game sponsor of the Super Bowl in recent years. In February on CBS, it ran a Super Bowl ad depicting residents of a nursing home going out on the town for a party.

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