Sunday’s captive Super Bowl audience did turn the night’s few vehicle ads, including for all-electric offerings, into a burst of online searches for a new set of wheels, according to at least one shopping and research site, Cars.com.
With 75% of the big game’s car ads — only four in all this year — featuring an EV, Cars.com logged a 21% increase in EV page views across its site and apps. Cars.com analyzed site-traffic patterns for advertised car model pages during the eight minutes before each spot aired and again eight minutes after.
Now, whether those searches turn into purchases is much less clear, particularly as automobile manufacturers and consumers struggle with limited EV supply to deliver on what the ads tease during the big game and in extended online campaigns. Fans of the sold-out all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning, which did not advertise for the Super Bowl this year, sat on waiting lists for at least a year before some deliveries were made beginning last year.
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Because car buying is a big-ticket and emotional purchase, manufacturers have a tough sell at the outset. Keep in mind only about 5% of the car-buying market opts for new, said Cars.com. Then there’s the communication challenge facing an industry trying to convince more consumers to give up gas engines
for electric or a gas-electric hybrid
— if not right now, then perhaps for the next purchase, or the one after that. It’s a Herculean task for an ad campaign to balance emotion and education.
“Most car shoppers are very undecided, and become more undecided as they go through the process before they buy a car,” said Jennifer Vianello, Cars.com’s chief marketing officer. “So they might say, ‘Hey, that looks great. I definitely want to test drive it.’ But as they do their research, they find three to five other cars that they want to also comparison shop.”
In other words, it’s a big purchase, period — and adding EV considerations complicates the decision-making. Cars.com
issued an EV buying guide last spring and looks to update that research in the coming weeks.
The site said overall searches for vehicles so far in 2023 are up from the same time last year, in part as supply chains have crept back to life and as an ease in what had been surging used-vehicle prices makes for a better comparison between new and used options right now.
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“It’s the second largest purchase that you’re ever going to make after a home. And then on top of it, you ask, does the charging infrastructure exist for this mega purchase? And on top of that, inventory levels are still highly depressed,” Vianello said.
It’s a plus for the manufacturers that they’re adding to consumer choice in many ways, but Vianello said the industry must recognize that it can no longer play on aspirational campaigns to engage interest; it needs to address practical implications, such as supply and charging infrastructure.
Certainly, vehicle supply chains have picked up from the worst of the COVID-19 impact but remain slow to return to full capacity. Plus, EVs only qualify for the most robust tax incentives when they include more North American-made parts and labor. It’s been a tough road to meet these requirements, especially since it will take tapping overseas suppliers, at least in the short term, to fill an inventory hole. The IRS has released a fact sheet of frequently asked questions about the tax credits.
Your Super Bowl (car-ad) winner
Combine all of these factors and there were two standouts Sunday night, says Vianello — and they certainly weren’t the makers pushing EVs the hardest.
“The real MVP was Kia, which saw a 230% spike in Cars.com traffic following the airing of its ad, ‘Binky Dad,’” Vianello said. That spot promoted the Kia
Telluride X-Pro All-Terrain, recently launched in the U.S. as a rugged variant of the company’s existing model. The commercial’s starring father reached hero status by going to considerable lengths to retrieve a forgotten pacifier — in his gas-powered, rather large SUV.
“Just as a marketer, I found that ad to be exceptionally strong, but we saw it also in the search results,” she said. “In part because the vehicle itself is available for people.”
The second winner? Tesla
which skips such advertising altogether but enjoyed a jump in Cars.com searches any time a competitor’s EV ad ran during the game.
Specifically, Tesla, which recently slashed prices on some models, saw a 26% increase during Jeep’s “Electric Boogie” offering, less than Jeep’s own 13% bump at the same time. And Tesla searches spiked 29% when Elon Musk was shown on the television broadcast watching the game from a stadium box. In addition, used Teslas saw two significant increases in traffic during these moments despite the company not advertising.
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In all, the number of Super Bowl auto commercials decreased this year, with only three manufacturers — Kia; General Motors
; and Stellantis
which makes Jeep and Ram — airing four commercials total.
Compared to Kia’s more than 200% surge, GM’s “Why Not an EV?” campaign drew a 50% search rise on Cars.com as it aired, and Ram’s “Premature Electrification” spot — a polarizing play on the pharmaceutical industry’s erectile-dysfunction treatments and a stab at early adopters — created a 46% search bump.
Still, some broader market boost could be accounted for. Although Ford
wasn’t advertising during the big game this year, the manufacturer’s EV page views saw a 118% increase in EV engagement on Cars.com from RAM’s “Premature Electrification” ad and a 146% lift on Cars.com during GM’s “Why Not an EV?” ad.
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Now, what about the ads’ messages? The point, after all, is to translate searches into purchases.
“I struggled a little bit with Jeep’s story and what they were trying to tell in terms of EVs,” said Vianello, of a spot challenged to stay true to Jeep’s off-road persona against charging and range reliability. “I mean, the consumer-adoption piece of this is going to be one of the biggest challenges that has ever impacted the auto industry.”
How about GM and its choice to have Will Ferrell, in an EV, enter the worlds of “Army of the Dead,” “Squid Game,” “Bridgerton” and “Stranger Things,” in a joint commercial with Netflix
“I really shut down with that and I watched it a couple of times,” said Vianello. “I get what it was doing and it was fun. But introducing the notion that this is the car I’m going to need in the desert, on a safari, in a zombie apocalypse, is maybe not the most satisfying entry point for auto consumers.”