Sunday, January 21, 2007

GM's Super Bowl ads: Think YouTube, not Madison Ave.

Friday, January 19, 2007
GM's Super Bowl ads: Think YouTube, not Madison Ave.
Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News

What automakers are doing

GM: Chevy will be in the spotlight with a commercial conceived and developed by college students who won a Chevy-sponsored contest.
Ford: F-Series Super Duty pickups will be featured.
Honda: A dancing CR-V SUV will star in one commercial. A second will highlight Honda as the most fuel-efficient car company in America.
Toyota: The redesigned Tundra pickup will be the focus.
Source: Detroit News research

Madison Avenue has dreamed up some classic Super Bowl spots, from the 1984-esque Apple commercial to talking Budweiser frogs. But this year's talker could just as well come from a housewife or a dorm-dwelling college student.

Some big-name companies, including General Motors Corp., are letting regular folks create ads to air during the TV event that has become as much about winning over consumers as winning a game.

It's the latest approach companies are taking to stand out in a world where consumers are getting more control over what they watch and how, from commercial-zapping TiVo to do-it-yourself video on YouTube.

And with a 30-second Super Bowl spot reportedly going for more than $2.6 million, the stakes are high. Especially for Detroit's automakers -- Ford Motor Co. will run ads along with GM -- which are strapped for cash and in a fight to win over American car buyers. More than 90 million people worldwide are expected to tune in Feb. 4.

"It gave us an opportunity to engage," Chevrolet General Manager Ed Peper said of a Chevy Super Bowl ad conceived by a team of college students as part of a contest launched last year.

Peper said the contest drummed up national and local media attention and allowed GM to "get some fresh insight into a younger generation."

"We got to see how they look at some or our products," he said.

800 students compete

To create the Chevy commercial, GM last year launched the Chevrolet Super Bowl College Ad Challenge and enlisted California-based EdVenture Partners to spread the word around the nation's college campuses.

More than 400 teams involving 800 students submitted ad concepts.

The five finalist teams traveled to Detroit to pitch the idea to GM executives. The winning team was allowed to see the concept through to the final product.

Shlomo Goltz, a 22-year-old graphic design major at Washington State University, was among the finalists. A friend pitched the idea of competing and Goltz thought it sounded fun. As one of the coveted young-and-upwardly-mobile set, Goltz knows his opinion matters to companies like GM.

"We don't like being tricked or told to buy something," he said. "Consumers already know what they want. So they can make advertising effectively."

In addition to the college ad challenge, GM plans to run another Chevy spot, one Cadillac spot and an ad touting the company's 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

Firms are getting inventive

GM isn't alone in looking outside for marketing inspiration. More companies are riding the craze that took off with YouTube, the popular Internet video site where anyone can post a clip, be it pirated or self-made.

The trend is prevalent enough to have a name: consumer-generated media.

PepsiCo Inc.'s Doritos and the National Football League have each run contests inviting average people to submit ideas -- or in the case of Doritos, the actual ads -- for the game.

It's not a free-for-all. Each advertiser imposed guidelines to ensure the ads weren't vulgar or obscene and were in keeping with the image it wants to convey.

Chevrolet, for instance, told contestants that proposed ads must end with the tagline, "Chevy, An American Revolution." The tone had to be "approachable, not arrogant or offensive."

"You have to get them invested in the product," said Peter van Stolk, president and CEO of the upstart Jones Soda Co., who was in Dearborn this week speaking to the auto industry about marketing. Jones hooks consumers by emblazoning photos that people send into the company onto its soda bottles. "It's the only way to stand out."

Ads still made old-school way

That's not to say traditional advertising is fading.

The vast majority of Super Bowl ads will be created by ad agencies. Even with the proliferation of digital media, the Internet and TiVo, which allows viewers to record shows and skip past commercials, the Super Bowl remains prime marketing ground.

Ford will likely spend more than $7 million for 90 seconds of airtime, all during the pre-kickoff portion of the broadcast.

The Dearborn automaker will use the time to tout its F-Series Super Duty pickups. The game is attractive because, unlike most of TV these days, viewers actually like to watch the commercials, Ford spokesman Jim Cain said.

The automaker saw a major increase in Internet traffic after last year's ads featuring Kermit the Frog and the hybrid Ford Escape, which is how the company knows viewers are paying attention, Cain said. "People remembered that ad and they had a positive reaction." Still, Super Bowl advertising is a big-money gamble. TSN Media Intelligence estimates firms have spent $1.72 billion in ads during the games over the past 20 years. GM has spent the third most -- $66 million -- of any company since 1987.

Honda, Toyota to run ads

Unlike Ford and GM, DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group won't make a showing on Super Bowl Sunday.

The company doesn't feel like it's worth the money, spokesman James Kenyon said.

Honda Motor Co., however, has decided it is.

The Japanese automaker will make its third Super Bowl showing with spots that will cost more than $5 million. Honda will air a 30-second ad for the CR-V SUV and a 30-second spot boasting that the company produces the most fuel efficient cars sold in the United States. Both have aired previously.

Toyota Motor Co. is expected to run an ad featuring its redesigned full-size Tundra pickup.

You can reach Sharon Terlep at (313) 223-4686 or

© Copyright 2007 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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