After 2 Years, Volt Sits Out Super Bowl. Return on Investment Not Good.

5 years ago by Jay Cole 9

Perhaps a sign that the relentless marketing blitz behind the Chevrolet Volt is starting to wind down, GM announced this week that there will be no multi-million dollar advertisement for the Volt at this year’s big game.

In fact, there will be no presence whatsoever from the General.   GM’s marketing chief Joel Ewanick said this in a prepared statement:

“We understand the reach the Super Bowl provides, but with the significant increase in price, we simply can’t justify the expense.”

2012 "Super" Aliens

The Chevrolet Volt ad last year cost GM about 3.5 million to air, and unlike the year previous, the ‘alien experience’ was not received well by viewers or the media (both 2011 and 2012 videos cand be seen below).

Adding fuel to the fire, was some backlash about how sales of the extended range electric car did not warrant the amount of exposure it was receiving…which of course, famously brought Fox news back around to their “Government Motors” and “taxpayer’s money” commentary.

Disregarding the sensationalistic none sense from Fox, it is hard not to realize that GM has indeed spent an all-time amount on the Volt versus actual sales.  The fact GM has sent out many hundreds of millions promoting the car, and has gotten a return of less than 14,000 units sold since December of 2010, makes one question the motives behind it?  There could only be two possible reasons for the this kind of prolonged, deep-pocketed ad buy:

  • GM thinks the car is the next Prius, and will promote it until reality justifies the spending
  • GM wants to keep the shine on its self proclaimed ‘halo’ car for the company

Whatever the reason, something has changed at GM, and despite Mr. Ewanick’s reasoning, it is not the cost of the Super Bowl tv time.  Sure, early ad buys this year put the cost of a Super Bowl ad for a one time/one piece buy close to 4 million for a 30 second spot, but that number drops as low as 3.7 for multiple ads (which GM did last year), and lower still, around 3.5 million, for returning advertisers.

201l's "Discovery" Ad

Essentially, GM was getting the same price from CBS this year, as it did last year on NBC.  Past all that, what is a couple hundred thousand to GM’s 3.8 billion dollar ad budget for the biggest event of the year?  Or the fact that GM has spent over 50 million dollars in the last 5 Super Bowls it participated in (sitting bankruptcy year-2009 out).  Like the decision to pull ads from Facebook, this was a signal that times are changing on the way GM does business.

A more likely scenario, comes from GM’s marketing chief himself from before last year’s game, where Ewanick, fresh from just overhauling GM’s advertising department, told Ad Age the following:

“We have five or six other groups monitoring, then we’ll have next-day research,  copy testing, focus groups.  There’s a lot of money involved  here. You have to really understand your ROI to make sure you learn from this,  so you can apply that the next year.”

Apparently, GM has re-evaluated the ROI (return on investment) on its cars, and specifically the value of national exposure for the Volt at large events.  Expect to see a lot less of the car on the air than you have been accustomed to in the past.  From now on, the Volt with have to justify its place in the Chevrolet brand based on the merits (sales) of the car, and not its halo.

2011 Super Bowl “Discovery” Ad:

2012 Super Bowl “Aliens” Ad:

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9 responses to "After 2 Years, Volt Sits Out Super Bowl. Return on Investment Not Good."

  1. Schmeltz says:

    I for the most part agree with GM’s decision to abandon the advertising on both FB and the Superbowl. They spent pretty hefty sums of money, and got some dubious commercials with even more dubious results, and didn’t make enough noise to drown out the naysayers anyway. The alien commercial was silly–and not even a “good” silly. The Tim Allen voice over commericals were “ok”, but then it’s all said.

    I don’t know that I have better advice either, but I think the advertising done up until this point isn’t moving the sales needle for the Volt. If I was a person that had $40000 of disposable money burning a hole in my pocket, and I wanted to buy a new car, would I watch a Volt commercial and be inspired to buy one of these things? Would I go to Facebook to check them out? Probably “No” to both. So I think GM is correct to flee. But what do you do in their places? I guess I would stick with internet browser advertising and traditional magazines and newspapers. Anybody have any better ideas?

    1. staff says:

      Obviously, given our place-and bias, we think target marketing such as on the internet on sites specific to the vehicles demographic is highly efficient, as is traditional auto print media.

      The embeded ads in shows like Hawaii 5-0 for the Camaro seem to be really effective for awareness as well. I think we will see a lot more of this in mainstream shows over 30 second mass blurbs in the future.

      1. James says:

        Jay – Statik

        Just one bone to pick re: Your choice of headline. InsideEVs.com is getting some cred as your Fisker investigation was picked up by Motor Trend. This means people are visiting the site – which is great!

        By ending your headline with “RETURN ON INVESTMENT NOT GOOD”, it sends that message onto Google and other search engines and is picked up by many as: “VOLT NOT A GOOD RETURN ON INVESTMENT”. I wish you would change the headline pronto.

        I know this isn’t the intent of the article.

        Most Volt owners and many out there believe Volt is turning out to be a better return on investment than expected.

        1. Jay Cole says:

          HowDee James!

          Perhaps not the ‘bestest’ choice of titles in hindsight. Would be tricky to do a change at this point after we blitzed out the copy.

  2. Schmeltz says:

    Just thinking a little more about this…if GM had a classic commercial such as the VW mini-Darth Vader commercial the other year for the Superbowl, that would be one thing. But their advertising efforts were mostly just ok and acceptable, but largely forgettable. No grand slam homeruns.

    They have compelling products, they just need compelling advertising.

  3. Delta says:

    I want to see a Volt ad with a bunch of German engineers taking apart a Volt trying to reverse engineer the magic in the ‘European car of the year’.

  4. James says:

    From the article: “There could only two possible reasons for this kind of prolonged, deep-pocketed ad buy………..”

    I don’t think it’s either of your two choices.

    We all know Bob Lutz and John Laukner envisioned Volt as Bob said, “to leapfrog Prius”, but I don’t believe with cost considerations and realities, anybody believed first gen Volt would touch any Prius’ bumper in sales success or profitability.

    I remember the heavy-handed 1st gen Prius ad campaigns for a car that got rather anemic U.S. distribution. Remember the monkeys in the green jungle climbing all over the Prii with big monkey smiles and the lovely clean-grean occupants all smug with smiles all around? When you have something completely new that works in a way nearly nobody understands, the onus is upon you to inform the masses and big splashy ad campaigns are one of the best ways to get a message out fast. While GMs CHOICE of ad material has been absolutely horrible to iffy — They still had to spend a considerable amount to create buzz.

    Today, Volts can be seen on our roads. There is no better advertisement than this. Also Volt owners are touting the joys of Volt ownership from the rafters. This is why the current Volt ad campaign FINALLY has struck a chord. Just real Volt owners with that silly “Volt Smile” just telling folks what a gas the car is ( no pun, really ) to own and drive.

    I’d say momentum is one primary reason GM is throttling down on ad money for Volt. The message has been effectively saturated, even thought it’s a very mixed message due to A) Questionable marketing decisions by GM, not the least of which a very slow rollout. B) Political activism using Volt as a “red flag”.

    Seeing a Volt, PHEV or EV on the road forces one to think about what he/she is paying for a gallon of gas. $4.39/gal unleaded today here in Seattle – near same in S. California. Toyota is a model. When a new Prius model arrives they market the snot out of it – later, the car speaks more for itself.

    We obviously are not going to see ( standard ) Prius-like sales from a $40,000 PHEV in today’s economy.Second gen Volt may well be the next Prius if GM plays it right. Second gen Volt will have gotten a nice “PUSH” from GM’s ad campaigns of the past, and I’m sure II gen Volt will get a spot on that year’s Super Bowl.

    GM seriously needs a smack upside the head – to watch what Toyota ( and to a smaller extent Ford ) is doing to target the full hybrid and PHEV market towards buyer segments that will truly buy the car – i.e. crossover buyers and the budget hybrid crowd.

  5. James says:

    “Thou shalt not covet” Dept.

    I put $36.00 worth of gas in the Prius yesterday. That wasn’t a full tank.

    As I smelled the stench of gas and thought of toxins and oil barons,

    I began to feel jealousy well up inside me against those lucky Volt

    owners. Our driving style and patterns would have us gas-free 98% of the time.

    If I only had $40k in my 4 year budget to drop on one, I’d

    be at the dealer today. No need for slick ad campaigns.

    RECHARGE!

  6. Narg says:

    I agree with all here. If the Volt were $32K instead of $42K it’d be a much different World. I still don’t understand the thinking behind a premium Volt. The Prius is anything but a premium vehicle. GM aimed a bit wrong on that one. At least they should have made a extended range lesser cost version of something to go along with the Volt. That’d shown some REAL interest in this whole concept.