5 Super Bowl Car Companies Driving Ad Spending

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- It takes millions of dollars for Fox to bring the Super Bowl into U.S. homes, but the auto industry is more than willing to give it a lift.

According to Kantar Media, the Super Bowl has generated $2 billion in ad sales since 2004. Total ad spending climbed from $149.6 million a decade ago to $292 million just last year. The cost for a 30-second ad also skyrocketed from $2.15 million to $4 million during that span.

The amount of Super Bowl commercial time has increased from 41 minutes and 55 seconds in 2004 to 51 minutes and 40 seconds last year, while the number of commercials aired has risen from 88 to 97 during that same period. Commercials of a minute or more made up 15% of all ad purchases last year.

Automakers are driving a whole lot of that spending. Of the five companies who spent the most on Super Bowl ads in the last five years, two of them were carmakers. Of the $437 million those five companies spent during that span, $132 million was spent by auto manufacturers.

Those sales have only accelerated since the recession. While only three car companies bought ads for the 2009 Super Bowl, seven brands from five different companies have bought ads this year. Car companies have been the top Super Bowl ad buyers since 2011, and seem to only be gaining momentum. With this year's Super Bowl commercial field already choked with cars, we take a look at just how the companies buying those ads have been faring and whether their results justify the traffic:

Toyota
Number of ads: One 60-second ad
Number of cars sold in 2013: 2.24 million

The good news for Toyota is that it kept momentum going with a 7.4% U.S. sales increase in 2013. The downside? That still didn't keep its market share from slipping from 14.4% to 14.3% last year.

The Detroit Three and competitors such as Nissan are seeing sales recover and taking small bites out of Toyota's third-in-the-U.S. market share. There's only one thing that can cheer a company up when it wins, but still loses: Muppets.

This year, Toyota has decided to focus all 60 seconds on its Toyota Highlander with help from actor and driver Terry Crews and some of the nation's favorite felt pals. Thanks to some trouble with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band's tour bus, Crews is stuck commuting Gonzo, Rowlf, Zoot, Animal, Pepe The Prawn and a whole lot of chickens through a rousing musical number. His neighbor, Kermit The Frog, is not amused.

Hyundai/Kia
Number of ads: Three ads (including one 60-second spot for Kia)
Number of cars sold in 2013: 1.26 million

Back when Chrysler and General Motors were taking government bailouts, Hyundai thought it would be a great idea to capitalize on their Super Bowl absence and snap up some market share. The company spent $67.4 million over the past five years trying to take a larger cut of the U.S. market and kick domestic competitors while they were down.

It seemed like a good idea on paper, but there's a reason they play the games. Hyundai's 60-second ad last year only helped increase U.S. sales 2.5%. With the competition posting far greater gains, Hyundai saw its U.S. market share slip from 4.9% to 4.6%.

Kia, meanwhile, got a 4% downturn in U.S. sales for its investment and saw market share dwindle from 3.8% to 3.4%. This year, Hyundai is going to try using Johnny Galecki from CBS' The Big Bang Theory to sell Elantras with help from comedian Richard Lewis, while taking a softer approach with a father/son ad built around the emergency braking system in the Hyundai Genesis. Kia, meanwhile, is leaning heavily on Lawrence Fishburne and a decade-old Matrix reference to introduce its K900 sedan that will serve as the line's flagship.

The good news is that, going into Super Bowl Sunday, Hyundai/Kia's combined 8% market share is now roughly that of Nissan and within reach of Honda's 9.8%. The bad news? Those companies' sales are accelerating faster than either Hyundai or Kia can.

Volkswagen/Audi
Number of ads: Two 60-second ads
Number of cars sold in 2013: 565,000

Volkswagen wants to be a big player in the U.S. market, but its sales here have been a story of two brands.

Audi saw sales jump more than 13% last year as it continues to gain on Lexus, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Meanwhile, this year's 60-second Super Bowl spot is already looking like one of the best of 2014. Sarah McLachlan pops up with a desperate plea to help the poor misunderstood Doberhuahua breed of dogs concocted by a couple that couldn't make up its mind. The big-headed, small-bodied dogs go on a rampage and terrorize the globe before the couple, safe within the confines of their Audi A3, learns a valuable lesson: Don't compromise... ever.

Volkswagen's namesake brand wishes it was that personable. Volkswagen sales plummeted nearly 7% last year as its market share dropped to less than 3%. Its ad, meanwhile, cribs from It's A Wonderful Life as a father tells his daughter that each time a VW hits 100,000 miles, a German engineer gets its wings. Seriously, that's the entire premise.

The key difference is that while Audi has ingratiated itself to the luxury car buyer and made an attempt to relate to the U.S. market, Volkswagen has largely forgotten its '90s strategy of Jettas, tunes and Fahrvergnugen and adopted both styles and a public persona buyers are quick to shrug off. Audi may be a player in the U.S. market, but Volkswagen needs to stop playing around and get back to basics.

Jaguar
Number of ads: One 60-second ad
Number of cars sold in 2013: 16,952

The last time Jaguar was a huge ad account in America was in a Mad Men storyline.

Jaguar hadn't bought a Super Bowl ad until this year and seemed content not to do so. It makes up just 0.1% of the U.S. market, but saw sales take off 41% last year. It's a leap from 12,000 cars to nearly 17,000, but it's significant for a luxury brand of that size.

Obviously, the company feels it's a reason to celebrate. It's hired on British actors Mark Stong, Tom Hiddleston and Oscar winner Ben Kingsley to play a group of British villains explaining how the merits of the craft are similar to those of a fine British automobile. Precision, a stiff upper lip and the ability to eschew the pronunciation jag-wahr in favor of jag-u-ar are all seem as a common thread between great British villains and their luxury cars, and we can't help but agree.

In the low reaches of the tiny luxury auto sector, Britain's bad guys are winning.

General Motors
Number of ads: Two 60-second ads
Number of cars sold in 2013: 2.79 million

General Motors spent $97.2 million on Super Bowl ads alone between 2003 and 2013. It's just part of the reason the company found itself in bankruptcy and government hands for its trouble.

Though it's back and has bought out Uncle Sam's stake in the company, it's treading lightly on Super Bowl Sunday despite a 7.3% uptick in U.S. sales in 2013. It sat out last year completely, but now has at least $16 million invested in two 60-second ads. That's not a bad plan, as six auto manufacturers who weren't GM bought ads in 2013. Exactly two auto manufacturers did the same in 2003.

With all of those competitors stacked against it, just about the only good news GM's received is from its Michigan neighbors Ford and Chrysler, who appear to bee sitting out this year's festivities. Time to push some Silverado pickup trucks and tell the U.S. carbuyer that "Government Motors" is out of business.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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