Carmaker CMOs Debate: Does Super Bowl Matter?


Ford CMO Jim Farley may have touched off a new controversy in the U.S. auto industry by telling Automotive News in a new interview, the “Super Bowl doesn’t matter.” He knows General Motors CMO Joel Ewanick, so maybe Farley should clue Ewanick in.

Neither company had a presence during the Super Bowl telecast last year. But while Farley  seems intent for Ford to stay on the sidelines for yet another Big Game when Super Bowl XLV is played at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on February 6, his counterpart Ewanick has already signaled a different game plan: Not only will GM brands re-appear in Super Bowl advertising after a two-game absence, but he plans to use the occasion as the big stage for his new branding campaign for Chevrolet.

So who’s right?[more]

Farley’s essential argument is that the Super Bowl has faded in significance for auto advertisers. Meanwhile Ford has been scoring big points lately with online and social-media campaigns such as last week’s reveal of the 2011 Ford Explorer on Facebook, which reportedly yielded a next-day jump in online-shopping consideration for Explorer that outdistanced the bumps recorded by auto advertisers in Super Bowl XLIV.

It isn’t possible to know exactly what Farley meant because it was an apparent throw-away line at the end of the AutoNews interview – preceded by the comment that the Super Bowl “really doesn’t matter.” Was Farley simply trying to negotiate better rates than the reported $3 million that Fox has been garnering for 30-second slots during the game? Not likely. And it’s pretty clear from its recent success in gaining sales and market share that Ford doesn’t really need the Super Bowl.[more]

What Farley meant, a Ford spokesman told this afternoon, is that “one ad in the Super Bowl doesn’t guarantee that the brand will improve. The point that Jim was making was that we’re taking a more holistic approach to our communications strategy that goes beyond one Super Bowl ad.” Sounds like someone’s been paying attention to the ministrations of brand consultancies.

On the other hand, Ewanick’s experience is Exhibit No. 1 in how a Super Bowl extravaganza can benefit a brand. He was at the marketing helm of Hyundai when the company’s “Assurance” spot in Super Bowl XLIII catapulted the brand into the great performance it has enjoyed in the U.S. market over the past 18 months. So Hyundai went big in the last Super Bowl. And so did Audi, which also has been on a roll in the American market of late. Ewanick wants to get Chevrolet back into the business of emotionally connecting with consumers, and still there may be no better way to do that than pulling off a bravura Super Bowl turn.

Then again, a flailing automaker’s all-or-nothing play, should it fail to deliver, smells of Hail Mary desperation.

So which of these two heavy-hitting CMOs is right? One clue will be to see which other automakers fall into which camp as the game nears. The post-game wrap on this question should be more fun for the brand-obsessed than a trophy presentation.