Last Sunday night in a highly-anticipated matchup of the #1-ranked defense and #1-ranked offense, the Seattle Seahawks triumphed over the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII. Watched by an average audience of 111.5 million people, this year’s Super Bowl had the highest viewership of any television program in U.S. history. Every year, businesses and organizations take advantage of the championship game’s high visibility by airing advertisements in hopes of striking a chord with consumers. However, with this year’s event being the most watched ever, those who bought air time were pleasantly rewarded and many car companies made sure they did not miss out on the prime opportunity.
As the auto industry has improved, its presence in the Super Bowl each year has become more prominent despite perennially-rising advertisement costs for the big game. While a 30-second TV spot reportedly climbed to $4 million this year compared to $3.8 million in 2013, automakers were undeterred as the number of participants grew to 12, up from nine a year ago. New to the festivities this year were mainstream brands Honda and Jeep, along with high-end luxury makes, Jaguar and Maserati, and all took vastly different approaches toward achieving the same goal of resonating with viewers. Unbeknownst to those watching the championship game, Subaru accomplished that objective when it targeted its pet-loving customer base by airing four commercials not on FOX, which televised the Super Bowl, but on Animal Planet, which concurrently broadcasted its annual Puppy Bowl.
Automotive advertising was not limited to automakers either, as other related businesses made appearances as well. One notable absentee was online marketplace, Cars.com, which chose to sit out this year’s game after airing commercials in five out of the last six years, but others stepped up to take its place. As a sign of used cars becoming an increasingly more important and prominent piece of the auto industry, CarMax aired its first TV spot since 2011 and complemented that with another online version. The used car retailer’s return to the Super Bowl is significant because not only is it a testament to the growing prominence of used cars in the minds of both dealers and consumers, but it also speaks to how lucrative the business has become. Operating efficiencies have improved as new tools and business practices have been developed, with profit margins for used vehicles now three times greater than that for new cars. Consequently, Sonic Automotive announced in October 2013 that it will be establishing a number of stand-alone pre-owned stores to compete directly with CarMax, which was even more reason for the used retailer to maintain visibility. Finally, auto accessories also got in on the action with WeatherTech airing a spot about its American manufacturing footprint, which is evidence that the aftermarket accessories business is growing alongside the rest of the industry.
It has long been debated whether the millions of dollars spent by businesses on Super Bowl commercials leads to increased sales and revenues, but we have witnessed brands reap the benefits of clever ads in years past. In 2012, Volkswagen and Chrysler were successful in raising their brand images with their respective “Force” mini-Darth Vader and Clint Eastwood “Halftime in America” spots, and both went on to enjoy significant sales growth in the months that followed. During this year’s game, up-and-comers Maserati and Jaguar surprised many with their arrivals onto the Super Bowl ad scene as they each look to develop brand awareness among car buyers.
The Maserati Ghibli “Now We Strike” ad with child actress Quvenzhane Wallis may have been as quiet as an assassin waiting to attack, but it surely made a lot of noise with viewers who rushed to the internet to find out more. Data tracked by AutoTrader.com revealed that visits to its site within an hour of the commercial running shot up 2,143% on searches for the Maserati Ghibli while brand searches for Maserati climbed 385%. Incredibly, visitors to the MaseratiGhibli.us site were so numerous that it crashed and only a link to the Super Bowl spot on YouTube could be accessed. Also winning big was Jaguar, whose “Rendezvous” ad filled with British Villains, featuring Tom Hiddleston, Ben Kingsley and Mark Strong, put the brand on the map for millions of people watching as searches for the F-Type soared 1,460% in addition to Jaguar brand searches increasing by 208%. Such reactions to the luxury automakers’ Super Bowl commercials appear to be huge victories for Maserati and Jaguar and their first attempts at advertising during the NFL Championship look like expensive gambles that paid off nicely.
Although the game turned out to be a blowout, viewership remained remarkably high through its conclusion as the ratings at the closing stages were a mere 5% lower than they were throughout the game according to fast national figures released by Nielsen. That outcome also proved to be a fantastic result for automakers whose many commercials were spread across the game’s four quarters, yet still reached the vast majority of people tuning in. As the auto industry continues to grow, it can be expected that the trend of big spending on Super Bowl ads will continue, especially when considering the recent successes of brands during the game in the past few years. For many car companies, Super Bowl XLVIII seems to have been everything they could have hoped for from a marketing standpoint, but only time will tell which automakers can capitalize on the positive buzz in the months to come.