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Super Bowl Ad Tracker: Hyundai, Lexus Rev Up for Big Game

Posted by Dale Buss on January 19, 2012 08:01 PM

The way automotive brands have come to dominate Super Bowl advertising, you'd think individual brand messages would tend to get washed out amid the cacaphony of automotive pitches. But the reverberant success of Super Bowl ads by Chrysler and Volkswagen last year has car makers believing they might be able to hit the jackpot, even when their industry rivals can't.

Such are the hopes of executives of Hyundai and Lexus heading into each brand's appearance during Super Bowl XLVI on Fox on February 5. But while Hyundai is hoping finally to move up to what it considers the top tier of Super Bowl success, in its fourth consecutive year of Big Game participation, Lexus will be a first-time participant that's just hoping to break through.

The brands are at entirely different spots. Hyundai is riding high after a 20-percent U.S. sales gain last year and having its 2012 Elantra named North American Car of the Year last week, while Lexus is badly in need of 2012 to become a comeback year for the brand, after a disastrous 2011.

But each in a way is dealing with the same challenge: making sure their Super Bowl spots help them achieve their broader aims.

Hyundai of America CEO John Krafcik has been talking lately about making Hyundai's Super Bowl spots (up to five, potentially) "memorable," like last year's "The Force" commercial featuring a "Darth Vader"-loving kid ad by Volkswagen, not just effective — as in Hyundai's renowned spot three years ago in which the brand promised an "Assurance" program that would pick up car payments for purchasers who subsequently lost their jobs.

"It's really a different approach this year," Steve Shannon, CMO of Hyundai of America, told Marketing Daily. "This time we decided to do Super Bowl spots (as) branded entertainment." One possible theme is putting the spotlight on its own employees.

So Hyundai, for instance, gobbled up NBC's slot for the last ad right before kickoff of the game, which brand executives believe is a premium spot. And corporate higher-ups seem to have ensured that a 60-second Super Bowl spot for Hyundai's sibling brand, Kia, won't take a similar tone to Hyundai's; Kia's ad promises a male fantasty involving supermodels and the Optima sedan.

Hyundai plans to focus on fun and performance, for instance via its new Veloster hatchback, instead of luxury and longing that marked its recent Super Bowl spots for Genesis and Equus upscale sedans.

Lexus, on the other hand, is joining brands including Dannon, H&M and Century 21, as well as Japanese auto rival Acura, as a first-time Super Bowl advertiser. The Lexus brand needs no introduction, of course — its customers remain among the most fiercely loyal in the auto business. But it is dragging after last year's supply disaster and a paucity of recent new models.

So becoming a tyro in the Super Bowl seemed to be the right move for a brand that is back, that wants to remind luxury buyers of that fact, and that wants to highlight an important new model for the new year, the GS sedan — hence its Facebook sneak peek of its 15-second Super Bowl teaser, at top.

The automaker released another new spot today, for the Lexus ES, below. It's all in support of its 2012 goal: a 20-percent sales boost in the U.S. this year over 2011, with plans to introduce nine new or updated products.

Asked by the New York Times to offer advice to first-time Big Game advertisers like Lexus, Hyundai's Shannon reminded them that "there is nothing more scrutinized and more measured" than the performance of Super Bowl spots. "And," he added, "the report cards are instantaneous."

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