Annually, the Super Bowl, the most watched event of the year, has become a spectacle where ads are showcased nearly as much as the game. Roughly 112 million people watched the game last year and experts expect similar numbers this year. Who wouldn’t want to spend $5 million for 30 seconds to reach an audience that size?

Carmakers certainly do, spending millions to tell their story and launch campaigns. Chrysler’s classic two-minute Imported from Detroit commercial went viral after it aired at the end of halftime in 2011. (It still gives me chills, even though it’s for the discontinued Chrysler 200.)




This year, Mercedes-Benz has released its Easy Rider-inspired commercial for the AMG GT and Buick has released a spot featuring Cam Newton and Miranda Kerr. Those alone will cost $20 million to air and likely cost a few more million to make. The Mercedes commercial aims directly for Baby Boomers with a touch of humor and nostalgia as Steppenwolf tells us they were born to be wild. In the Buick commercial, a struggling Pee Wee football player turns into Cam Newton after the Buick Cascada pulls into the parking lot, and hilarity ensues as that slightly annoying Buick music plays.

Is it all worth it? It depends. Many times, these commercials serve as the base of a long, thought out campaign for an important vehicle. The Super Bowl bump could inspire people to check out a vehicle and even go to a dealership. Obviously, marketing people believe the return on investment is so strong they write $10 million checks to speak directly with consumers for one minute.

And even that one minute can stretch into a lot more time. The media, including myself, write about them. There will be initial analysis on which ones worked, which ones didn’t. You can already see more than a dozen of them online days before the kickoff. In the past, it’s been difficult to predict which one captures lightning in a bottle and which one is just a lightning bug.

A $10 million investment for a vehicle that sells 100,000 units a year costs $100 a vehicle.

In the case of Chrysler’s Imported from Detroit campaign launched at during the Super Bowl, sales jumped 38 percent the next month, the company reported at the time. So maybe it was worth it. Usually, however, I wonder if carmakers are just burning through money. A $10 million investment for a vehicle that sells 100,000 units a year costs $100 a vehicle. A drop in the bucket really.


Ford has a 90-second spot that promotes the brand and its mobility efforts. Lexus will feature the LC and compare it to a dancing athlete. Honda will hawk the new CR-V with some neat graphics and special effects. Melissa McCarthy tries to save whales, trees, ice caps, and rhinos while driving her Kia Niro.

Audi features its S5 briefly in a commercial of a father contemplating his daughter’s future and how she may be measured by her gender instead of her skills as she barrels down a hill in a cart race. And Hyundai will use football legends to further its brand in a commercial that will air right before the winning team is awarded the trophy.

So, is it all worth it? Carmakers say yes with their wallets, shelling out millions for the chance. And it does make for an interesting evening of television watching, even for people who don’t normally watch football. These commercials, whether serious or funny, may not change the way people think of a particular brand or inspire them to head to a dealership the next day, but they might. And that’s why carmakers are making million dollar bets.  


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