In recent years, Audi has offered up some memorable Super Bowl spots, notably the 2008 gambit playing humorously off “The Godfather.” It was Audi’s first appearance in the big game and sought to position the brand as “new luxury” ready to take on Mercedes and would-be bastions of yesteryear.
Since then, the automaker has ponied up the millions of dollars each year needed to return. On Tuesday, it began the teaser process of dribbling out details of this year’s offering, saying only it would plug special headlights and a new model.
Lexus is this year’s Audi 2008. It announced Tuesday it will be making its Super Bowl debut en route to staking claim as a cutting-edge luxury brand. The company has posted a 15-second “sneak peek” on YouTube that suggests a Lexus may be able to breakthrough a fortified vault.
Will anyone remember either the Audi or Lexus spot the day after the game, let alone a month later? Forget about now. (Perhaps only two ads from last year, for Chrysler and Volkswagen, would show up on a recall meter today.)
Quick quiz: what brand last year featured a jailbreak spot with the soulful sounds of Kenny G for? How about the theft of P. Diddy’s prized vehicle from his driveway? Or, Neptune rising from the deep to grab a car?
The respective answers are Audi, Mercedes and Kia.
Last year, of the 67 Super Bowl spots listed on Fanhouse.com, 25% were for auto marketers. Talk about a traffic jam.
This year, the clog looks to be similar. The New York Times recently listed seven brands teeing up, which likely means combined spots will run in the teens. Last year, Chevrolet lived up to its “Runs Deep” tagline with six spots.
No doubt, last year automakers came up with some fantastic ads, each with potential appeal to swaths of the audience. For the romantic: a Chevy ad where a couple finish a date, and the man uses voice-recognition software in the car to find out she just posted “best first date ever” on Facebook. For the patriotic: a BMW ad about how every one of the German company’s X3 is built in South Carolina. For the humor-lover, there were many, including a Chevy one where senior citizens have trouble hearing a promotion. For the cut-to-the-chasers: several talking about gas mileage.
Yet, the bet is only the Chrsyler and Volkswagen ads would do well in a recall test today. Those were the epic Eminem ad for Chrysler touting the resilience of the city of Detroit (one of the best Super Bowl ads of all time) -- and the heartwarming Volkswagen ad with a kid pretending to be Darth Vader, who’s discouraged when his Jedi powers fail, until his dad comes to the rescue by making him think he can start a car magically.
The auto category isn't the only one, but certainly faces a tough challenge in making ads stand out the 364 days a year when the Super Bowl isn't happening. As one MediaPoster said: basically everything’s been done. The dominant image is simply a car zipping along, peacefully for a minivan, sleekly for a sports car.
If an ad has to offer footage of the vehicle – “show the metal” is one industry maxim – and tout a differentiation point such as miles per gallon for years and now Web access while in motion, there are restrictions. Perhaps that’s reason to give special praise when the likes of a “See the USA in Your Chevrolet” campaign emerges.
Of course, clutter is the principal problem, which begs the question why so many marketers are willing to pony up for the Super Bowl? Certainly, some believe they have a combination of great creative and new breakout features or models that make it worthwhile. Others may be fearful of the “incumbency trap,” where they feel their dealers – and maybe customers – will notice their absence so much (the press certainly makes a point of it) that it doesn’t make sense to risk taking a pass.
Then, there’s just the calculation every advertiser makes: how can you pass up the chance to reach so many people at once? And, run all kinds of lead-up and lead-out promotions around it.
Lexus seems to be banking on all of these. It says it’s introducing multiple new models in 2012 and noted the big game provides the chance to “reach a highly engaged audience of 50 million.” It’s also launching a contest leading up to kick-off, where tweeting correct answers in a trivia game brings a chance to win a prize.
In a sense, that offers a nice metaphor for a Super Bowl play: all advertising is a game of chance.