After a one-year absence, Mercedes-Benz is returning to the Super Bowl ad space this year with a modern-day, animated take on the classic Aesop Fables story “The Tortoise and the Hare.”
It’s quite a departure from a brand usually famed for showing off its brawn through its marketing. Even the build-up to the “Big Race” ad — online videos and a TV ad starring NFL legend Jerry Rice and ESPN presenters Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic — takes on a far more light-hearted approach than we’ve come to expect from Mercedes. And it ad itself aired during “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” earlier this week.
Why the change in tack? Mercedes-Benz Vice President of Marketing Drew Slaven told Business Insider it’s because a tentpole event like the Super Bowl gives the brand “permission” to do something a little different.
“[Our Super Bowl ad] is a little unexpected for Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz is a little bit more typified with an angular jaw and seriousness. But this is about a great smile, a lot of fun, and warmth — [but] the storyline still features an aggressive vehicle, the GT that steals the show,” Slaven said. “The Super Bowl itself is a platform that is equal-part strategy, equal-part entertainment. And it’s surprising. We don’t want to be that expected brand [ad]. It gives us permission to step up.”
Slaven tells us the Super Bowl ad isn’t the start of a new direction for Mercedes-Benz’s overarching strategy, which begs the question why the company would pay $US4.5 million for airtime and clearly invest a considerable amount in production costs and fees to its celebrity talk show hosts (Slaven won’t give us numbers on the total investment, but says it is “significant”) for what is essentially a one-off. We asked Slaven how he’s convincing his chief finance officer its Super Bowl activity will provide a return for the company.
He says there’s not one single metric he’s showing to the CFO, but that this week, even before the actual TV commercial has aired, the two have looked at each other, nodded, and agreed all the trackers are going in the right direction.
At the time of writing, the YouTube video of the ad had notched up more than 5 million views, and Slaven said its Super Bowl competition already has more than 8,300 entries, and that overall media impressions are already up to 50 million. (The Super Bowl achieved a TV audience of 115 million last year.)
Here’s the YouTube video:
Beyond the Super Bowl, digital media is carving out a bigger slice of Mercedes-Benz’s marketing budget. TV still remains the automaker’s largest line item of advertising expenditure, but the growth in TV advertising outlay is levelling off.
Slaven said: “You will see the slope of the line being to flatten for us in TV. Dollars are finite and they have to go somewhere. We will see it going to digital and social platforms.”
But Slaven reminded us that while Mercedes-Benz’s spend in traditional TV spot advertising might be decreasing, TV is still high on its agenda. He pointed out that much of the third-party measurement data that looks at media spend often misses out the “below-the-line” spend on TV — product placement, or the brand’s partnership with the Ellen DeGeneres show, for example.
Mercedes-Benz is looking to its Super Bowl to ad to initially surprise the viewing audience. But on the Monday after the game, Slaven is banking on people in the US to become “more aware of the super car called the GT,” its new vehicle in a performance sector the brand has yet to enter before.
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