Ford Motor Co. is aiming to get out ahead of rival automakers on Super Bowl Sunday with a spot featuring actor James Franco that will break after the coin toss but before the kickoff.
After Ford's pregame spot runs and the game begins, competitors such as General Motors' Chevrolet brand, Toyota, Audi, Hyundai and Kia will run more expensive in-game spots.
It's a calculated risk by Ford. On the one hand, buying in the pre-game spot saves money for the Detroit automaker.
Commercials between the between the coin toss and kickoff cost $3 million to $3.5 million, estimated Adam Komack, chief client officer of MediaCom.
Another media executive who declined to be named said spots in that window started as low as $2.5 million. That's compared to an average price of $4 million for ads from kickoff to the final whistle.
And most of the audience will be on the couch by the coin toss and ready to go. During last year's game 75 million people were tuned in at 6:25 p.m. ET, ahead of the kickoff. The game averaged 108.7 million viewers, so that slot between coin toss and kick-off has about 30 percent fewer viewers than in-game play. Getting in front of that audience for perhaps $2.5 million -- almost 40 percent less than an in-game spot -- seems to make good sense.
"It's a good strategy," Komack said. "We have clients who've discussed that strategy as well. It's a way to buy into the game without paying full the full boat. There's also overtime spots if the game goes into overtime. There are advertisers who are not committed to the game, but have signed up to run spots [during overtime]. They would get a discount on that as well. So there's a couple of different strategies you can use to get as close to the game as possible -- without paying full freight."
On the other hand, Ford could be accused of cheaping out -- and avoiding a mano-a-mano ad contest with its Motor City competitors: GM and Chrysler.
GM, for example, will air two 60-second spots in the first quarter from Leo Burnett, said Tim Mahoney, global chief marketing officer for Chevy. One spot will tout the Silverado pickup truck. He declined to comment on what model will appear in the other spot, but it's likely to be the new Silverado High Country: Chevy's answer to GMC's more luxurious Sierra Denali.
The secrecy surrounding Chrysler's Super Bowl plans is Madison Avenue's version of the Manhattan Project. But Chrysler is almost certainly returning to the Big Game after turning the Super Bowl into its own ad showcase in recent years, with critically-acclaimed commercials starring Clint Eastwood and Eminem. Chrysler declined to comment.
Ford declined to comment on which models Mr. Franco will be pitching. But an educated guess would say either the new F-150 pickup truck (America's best-selling vehicle), or the Mustang pony car, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
During the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford unveiled a new, aluminum body F-150 that's 700 pounds lighter than its predecessor. James Farley, Ford's exec VP of global marketing, bragged about the prominent product placement of the new Mustang in Aaron Paul's upcoming street racing movie, "Need for Speed."
Ford has a long relationship with Fox, sponsoring the country's top-rated NFL pregame show and signing up as one of the flagship advertisers for the new Fox Sports 1 cable network.
So it was a natural for Ford to capitalize on that connection during a year when Fox is broadcasting the first New York area Super Bowl, according to Mark LaNeve, president of Hudson Rouge and chief operating officer of Global Team Ford.
"We've had a great position over the years on 'Fox NFL Sunday,'" said Mr. LaNeve at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. "We are a sponsor of the pre-kick show. We're going to use that sponsorship in a very unique way to further the Ford brand -- and get our message out."
As usual, this year's Super Bowl is shaping up to be another Auto Bowl.
Besides Chevy and, probably. Chrysler, other automotive advertisers in the game include: Audi; Toyota, which will feature the Muppets in a spot for its new Highlander; Hyundai, which will use Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki to push the new Elantra; Kia, which will have actor Laurence Fishburne reprise his Morpheus character from "The Matrix"; and Jaguar, which will feature Ben Kingsley, Tom Hiddleston and Mark Strong as a trio of British villains in its first Super Bowl spot.
Mercedes, Nissan and Infiniti are taking pass on the game this year.
The Ford division's full-year sales rose 2 percent in 2013, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
The F-150 continued its reign as the country's best-selling car or light truck. Ford sold 763,402 F-150's in 2013, far outpacing runner-up Silverado (480,414) and third-place Toyota Camry (408,484).