Super Bowl Ads: Is GM Punting On Third Down?

There’s one guaranteed plus about General Motors’ decision this May to forego Super Bowl advertising next February: It’s going to generate lot of commentary –- probably even more over the long haul than its decision to forego advertising on Facebook, which was announced last Tuesday.

Advertising time for the big game is “just getting too expensive," GM's global marketing chief Joel Ewanick told the Wall Street Journal’s Sharon Terlep and Suzanne Vranica in an interview on Friday that broke the story. "And we're not just going to do the same thing every year." 

WritesAd Age’s Brian Steinberg in an analysis published in Automotive News: “Deep-pocketed marketers typically follow Theodore Roosevelt's adage of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. GM is still carrying a massive weapon -- millions of advertising dollars -- but it's talking about its marketing decisions to anyone who cares to listen.”



Well, not just anybody, but we won’t go there this morning. In any event, both of GM’s media decisions are providing grist not only for the media mill but also for the digerati at competing automakers.

“As soon as General Motors said this week that it would quit paid ads on Facebook, Ford was on Twitter saying it has doubled-down on social and digital media -- and hinted in a tweet that GM just didn't know how to use new social media,” Fred Meier reports in USA Today. “Then, no sooner had GM said yesterday it would not buy ads in the next Super Bowl, Super Bowl regular Hyundai quickly let us know it won't pass on the biggest annual ad event in TV.”

Ewanick, you’ll recall, was head of marketing at Hyundai before coming to GM in December 2010 (with a pit stop at Nissan in between).’s Michelle Krebs is one analyst who thinks that GM may be flagged for moving way before the ball has been snapped..

"It feels premature for GM to make such a big decision regarding Super Bowl, especially since GM will be launching a new line of full-size pickup trucks and full-size SUVs around Super Bowl time," she tells Reuters’ Ben Klayman. "The Super Bowl audience is ideal for those vehicles and the timing is right."

And Forbes’ “Sportsmoney” blogger, Chris Smith, opines that it’s “a daring move, given the game’s incredible popularity.” But he projects that marketing expert Mark Stevens, with whom he spoke before last year’s Super Bowl, would agree with the move, having pointed out: “If you didn’t make any money back, it wasn’t a bargain.” Opines Smith: “GM apparently noticed just that, and the automaker is off to find a better deal elsewhere.”

GM spokesman Pat Morrissey confirms that while the 2012 advertising budget is about the same as last year’s, it is shifting things around.

"We're looking to be more efficient in media spending as a whole," Morrissey tells the Detroit Free Press’ Alisa Priddle, while also pointing out that the company has consolidated media under one agency from 30, and Chevrolet advertising is being handled by one agency instead of 70. 

“The company would probably like its actions to spur a debate on the price of advertising and the ad efficiency of specific media outlets,” writes Steinberg, but he mentions that Ewanick is on a “mission to wring $2 billion over five years out of marketing costs for the company's flagship Chevrolet.”

As for CBS, which will broadcast the 2013 contest, time will tell if the void left by that huge whooshing sound Friday will be filled. “This creates a huge -- an unfillable hole,” one TV media executive tellsMedia Daily News’ Wayne Friedman.  

But Brad Adgate, svp of research at Horizon Media, points out to Terlep and Vranica that GM pulled out of the Super Bowl a couple of years ago – 2009, to be exact, when it was mired in its financial crisis -- and it didn’t have much impact on pricing. "I would venture a guess that someone would pick up the slack and see this as an opportunity," he says.

Industry experts say rates have been rising faster than the actual viewership of the game, writes Paul A. Eisenstein of The Detroit Bureau on -- reportedly reaching between $3.0 million to $3.2 million for last year. Sources tell him that the figure is approaching $4 million for the 2013 contest. 

But there could be a bit a hidden-ball trick at play here, as Eisenstein suggests. 

“GM is only dropping out of ‘national advertising specific to the in-game’ broadcast,” he writes, meaning that you may yet see GM cars and trucks zooming around in pre- and post-game spots, as well as in local dealer advertising. Provided, of course, that you can differentiate one automaker’s ad –- Clint’s and Eminem’s jingoistic exhortations excepted -- from another’s in the blitz of steel-on-wheels hype.

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