For years, General Motors has been the biggest sponsor of professional football, indeed of professional sports. But this year, the automaker is pulling back. No Super Bowl ad is planned, and GM is cutting back on spending on the NFL for the rest of the season. Like every other business, the NFL is facing a tough economic outlook.
The Super Bowl is sort of the Super Bowl of advertising. For about $3 million, a company can rivet a third of the nation's attention for about 30 seconds. It sounds like a high price tag, but the symbolism of a Super Bowl commercial goes beyond the hard sell itself. This year, longtime Super Bowl advertiser GM looked at its showrooms, looked at the balance sheet, looked at the price tag — and opted out.
"It happens that we don't have vehicles to launch during that time, so it makes sense not to launch any ads during the Super Bowl," says Peter Ternes, director of communications for GM in the United States.
This is a contrast from 2007, when GM bought a full minute — not to launch a particular vehicle, but to celebrate a notable brand through song.
It was a reminder of Chevy's place in American culture. This year GM's silence is saying the same thing. But it's just Super Bowl ads; the Super Bowl MVP will still win a Cadillac, and football fans will still get to know the GMC Defensive Player of the Week. Indeed, the NFL is still seen as one of the very best environments to advertise in.
Steve Lanzano, head of the ad services company MPG, says the problem is that marketers have less money to spend.
"The question is how many marketers are going to be out there and what's going to happen with demand? And it's starting to wane a little bit," he says.
The dark clouds on the NFL's horizon were confirmed by commissioner Roger Goodell a month ago when he confirmed that the TV networks were reporting an overall drop in ad revenue. But he also said that advertisers would continue to value the NFL as a premier advertising destination. That's why some companies are saving money on production costs rather than buying fewer ads. GM is using that tactic in its overall 20 percent reduction in advertising costs, says Ternes.
"Maybe not do three commercials, but do two commercials," he says.
That could be the reason why one particular Toyota commercial, "Saved By Zero," has blanketed NFL broadcasts like the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense.
The ad has been played so often during NFL games that it has inspired more than 20 Facebook groups, with 10,000 users dedicated to its demise. Goodell is not one of them.