Why GM spurned the 2013 Super Bowl

Not long after announcing that it will stop advertising on Facebook, General Motors said Friday it would not be a sponsor in the Super Bowl in 2013 either. What's going on here?

Deep-pocketed marketers typically follow Theodore Roosevelt's adage of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. GM is still carrying a massive weapon — millions of advertising dollars — but it's talking about its marketing decisions to anyone who cares to listen.

"We understand the reach the Super Bowl provides, but with the significant increase in price, we simply can't justify the expense," said Joel Ewanick, the company's global chief marketing officer, in a prepared statement confirming remarks he made to The Wall Street Journal.

The company would probably like its actions to spur a debate on the price of advertising and the ad efficiency of specific media outlets, but there may be other reasons why the automaker is using a bullhorn to discuss its tactics. Just a few years after taking U.S. government funds to keep it from going under, GM is still looking to keep costs down, and Ewanick has been on a mission to wring $2 billion over five years out of marketing costs for the company's flagship Chevrolet.

The announcements also come just as the annual upfront marketplace — where ad buyers strike deals for commercial time in the coming TV season — is getting underway, and could be meant to signal an aggressive pose heading into negotiations. Last year many auto advertisers spent freely at the upfront partly in an effort to make sure they would reach TV viewers even if the NFL lockout affected the football season.

Like Facebook on the eve of its IPO, the Super Bowl is a splashy target for GM. The cost of advertising in the gridiron classic has soared in recent years as marketers place more value on live sports and broad, communal events that draw the kinds of big audiences that are becoming harder and harder to assemble. Each of the past three games has broken the record for the most-watched event on TV.

NBC commanded an average of $3.5 million for a 30-second spot in this year's game, and Les Moonves, CBS's chief executive, recently said he thought CBS's 2013 broadcast should command $4 million. One ad buyer familiar with the pace of negotiations suggested marketers looking to buy multiple Super Bowl spots with CBS could get them for between $3.7 million and $3.8 million each, with longtime sponsors getting a discount to that price. CBS declined to comment.

Despite its colorful actions, GM isn't going to be spending less on advertising going forward, a company spokesman said. "Our overall spend will remain flat compared to last year," said spokesman Tom E. Henderson. "As we've said all along, we're continually reevaluating our spending and will maintain a strong presence in all mediums." autonews.com

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