Identity Crisis 2011: Automotive Re-branding During the Big Game

Each year, three product categories seem to garner a larger share of the Big Game’s vaunted ad time; Beer, Snacks and Cars. 2011 was no different for automakers, as ten brands chimed in with a total of nineteen ads, and each spent about $100,000 per second to do so. Identity was the name of the game this time around, with several brands presenting either a reinforcement or complete change of their public image, while others were used to launch specific models. All in all, these identity-based ads may have been the most notable of the car commercials based on the extent to which they are being discussed well after the Big Game. Let’s look at 2010 to set some benchmarks for measuring 2011.

In 2010, we saw Hyundai tout the latest Sonata as its most aggressive foray to date into the mainstream mid-size sedan market. The South Korean manufacturer split its airtime between three ads, including one – arguably the most popular overall – starring Brett Farve acting out a self-parody. The aggregated effect of the three ads indicated that Hyundai was continuing its upward momentum track, built in its raft of new products, much-improved quality, and contemporary styling. Data from Compete.com below illustrates how well this effort resonated with Hyundai’s audience as the company’s homepage jumped ahead of its rivals in unique visitors between January and February, 2010.

unique visitors to major automotive big game

Picking up on this cue in 2011, Audi, Chrysler and Chevrolet followed suit, each featuring ads which sought to combine enhancing brand identity and launching new products. Audi used humor to break down the stereotype that it’s a brand specifically designed for the blue-blooded, supported by the new A8. Chevrolet used historic and patriotic imagery of American innovation to introduce the Volt, the company’s new electric car. Chrysler put together a striking and emotional ad by defending the reputation of Detroit and unraveling an underdog storyline, with a focus on its new 200 sedan. It even featured Detroit icon, Eminem, effectively linking his own downtrodden past and subsequent rise to fame with Chrysler’s. Even Mini projected a reputation change in its ad which featured a car owner jamming as much cargo into the compact car as possible to reinforce that it holds more than one might expect. Can you even rebrand a car called “Mini” as being big?

Which of these attempts at brand rebuilding will have the greatest impact? Or will Chrysler, Audi and Chevy fall flat to Suzuki’s snowmen or P. Diddy losing his Mercedes-Benz? We can’t wait to see if the notion of rebranding is as powerful as Hyundai made us believe last year and all of the buzz is suggesting that it probably is. But in the digital age, the ability to assign the impact solely to television and the Big Game is far more complex. For example, Volkswagen’s “Darth Vader” ad was posted on YouTube well in advance of the game, with well over 10 million hits before the kickoff. Several other automakers did the same thing. But since they are still ads shown during the Big Game, the question becomes how to split the value between the TV impact and the online impact. This means that to measure the true value, you’ll need to include a loot at online behavior–such as the extent to which in-market auto shoppers visited YouTube before shopping, including before Sunday night’s game. Ditto tracking re-watches of the ad after the game. This holistic view will be key in assigning the true value.

Chrysler:

Audi:

Chevrolet:

About Aaron Smolick:
Aaron Smolick is the Senior Director of Marketing at Compete. Aaron spends his time at Compete building brand awareness and lead generations while managing the PR, the Kantar relationship and the day-to-day marketing efforts--he greases the wheels and connects the dots. Before Aaron joined the Compete team he ran the US division of the Samsung gaming division. He hopes to eventually climb the corporate ladder where the dots become larger.