In a season filled with unprecedented challenges, some things stayed the same: Tom Brady leading his team to victory and an unprecedented 7th Super Bowl title.

The change brought about by the events of 2020 was also on display in the much anticipated Super Bowl Ads. As the premier sporting event with an audience of 100 million plus, Super Bowl Ads are an important showcase for new brands, products, and technologies. Last year, the auto industry made clear that electric and autonomous vehicle technologies had arrived and are poised to radically transform the automotive industry. Like Brady winning another title, that message continued as GM promoted its commitment to EVs and its AV technology. Others, recognizing the challenges of 2020, including the COVID-19 pandemic, focused on broader stories of triumph, unity, and the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility. In a frontal attack on traditional new car retailing a leading used car retailer mocked the often painful in-person buying experience to put OEMs and dealers on notice that digital and on-line sales and home delivery are the future.

In its “No Way Norway” Ad GM made clear its commitment to an EV future, enlisting the help of Will Ferrell, Kenan Thompson, and Awkwafina to lead the charge for the U.S. to become world leader in EV sales per capita, an honor currently held by Norway. GM promised 30 new EV models by 2025, including the Cadillac Lyriq and GMC Hummer, and promoted GM’s Ultium battery platform. As for the Lyriq, Cadillac’s “Edgar Scissorhands” Ad focused not on it being an EV, but instead focused on the Lyriq’s “hands free super cruise” capability, referencing the classic 1990 movie but with Edward’s son Edgar behind the wheel.

While Super Bowl Ad regulars like Hyundai and Audi passed this year, Ford, Toyota, and Jeep each focused on uplifting messages, rather than specific products. Ford asked viewers to “hold the line” and “finish strong” in an Ad featuring everyday people contributing to the collective effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to speed the return to pre-pandemic life. Toyota’s “Upstream” Ad features the story of Jessica Long, a 13-time Paralympic gold medalist for Team USA, who overcame the amputation of her legs and ascended to the highest level in her sport, embodying Toyota’s message: “We believe there is hope and strength in all of us.” Legendary rocker Bruce Springsteen made his Super Bowl Ad debut narrating a message of unity in Jeep’s “Middle” Ad, which focuses on a chapel in Kansas that is always open and located in the exact middle of the lower 48 States. Inviting all to meet in the middle, Springsteen states: “We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground.”

In a stark contrast from the Ford, Toyota and Jeep feel good messages,, a tech-based online used car retailer, used its “Dealership Pain” Ad as a direct assault on the way consumers buy cars. Focusing on how many consumers see the traditional in-person car buying experience as form of high pressure torture, the Ad shows a man in a dealership wanting to leave but trapped by a sadistic salesperson with sparking jumper cables. The nightmare ends with the man sitting on his front lawn watching the Vroom truck deliver his car, stating “Well, that was painless”. With its 7-day or 250-mile return policy, Vroom looks to upend traditional car buying with the tagline: “Never go to a dealership again.”

So, what do these ads mean for the evolving auto industry?

  • The COVID pandemic and the events of 2020 demonstrate the importance Corporate Social Responsibility. Making good products is not enough. Being socially aware and responsible is a must.
  • The evolution and commitment to EVs as part of a global effort to reduce emissions and fight against climate change not only require a change in consumer behavior, but also the need for significant infrastructure investment. Will a growing focus on EVs and a Biden administration commitment to tackling climate change be the impetus for a standard protocol for EV charging interfaces and an increase in the EV charging infrastructure?
  • The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies and consumers to adapt to a remote environment and embrace online retailing. As the Vroom Ad makes clear, consumers now want and demand an online shopping experience. Consumer expectations and demand for online retail options should force more OEMs and their dealer networks to transform their customer experience and distribution and selling strategies.
  • Even if OEMs attempt to offer consumers a more technology based and online service experience, in order to compete effectively with companies like Tesla and Vroom, will state dealer laws embrace and allow for this evolutionary change? We reported on how these issues are playing out in various states, including in California, Colorado, Michigan, and Virginia.
  • The technology and online revolution also means more and more consumer data is being collected. How will OEMs collect and use that data and information while still protecting consumer privacy expectations?



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