By Timothy Cain on March 2, 2012
Aside from the impact football players make on the field, the NFL's Super Bowl is known for its buzz-enducing commercials. Advertisers try to gauge success in many ways, but for automakers the proof is driving off the car lots.
Between plays, Super Bowl XLVI showcased numerous car commercials, indubitably provoking discussion. Whether it was the commercial itself that led to the Honda CR-V's best-selling status or Super Bowl commercial failure that gave way to a Ford Mustang victory, well, that's for the Don Drapers and Roger Sterlings to decide.
A Win for Lexus
Without surveying the 2,396 customers who acquired a new 2013 Lexus GS in February or knowing precisely how many got one after its Super Bowl commercial, it's impossible to know how much impact the straightforward Lexus ad delivered. One thing we do know: Compared with the single best GS sales month from the last two years - December 2010 - GS sales in February were three times better. Year-over-year, GS sales were up 587%. Looking back to January, GS sales rose 2,476%. Of course, relaunching a nameplate with an all-new vehicle does tend to increase the impact of the Super Bowl ad. Yet based on one ad and one month of sales, the GS now seems ready to play in a game dominated by the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series, both of which found more than 4,000 buyers in February with no big-game presence.
Beetle Goes to the Dogs
From January to February, sales of the Volkswagen Beetle dropped 7%. Considering the overall market grew 26%, this may cause Volkswagen to wonder if it missed the mark during Super Bowl XLVI. Obviously, advertising is not the only factor in U.S. auto sales, but one would have thought Volkswagen would get a bounce from their Beetle Super Bowl ad. It may be that the ad’s exercising dog was more memorable than the car.
Chevrolet’s Sonic Sales Boom
"Chevrolet" and "quality subcompact" are terms that didn't work for the now-defunct Aveo. General Motors attempted to change that with Super Bowl commercials featuring skateboarder Rob Dyrdek's slow-motion flip of the Sonic and OK Go's 1,000-instrument "Needing/Getting" Sonic performance. Compared with the Aveo's February 2011 sales figures, Sonic sales were up 186%. The Sonic also far outpaced the market's January-to-February increase by posting a 38% month-to-month jump. Meanwhile, the Sonic finished the month second in its class, losing top honors to the Nissan Versa.
Another Chevrolet was featured in the wildly over-the-top "Happy Grad" commercial. Curiously enough, though Camaro sales were up 21% from January and 11% year-over-year, February was the first month in which the Ford Mustang came out on top in the muscle-car segment since June 2011. Ford sold 7,351 Mustangs in February sans Super Bowl commercial; Chevrolet sold 6,923 Camaros with a Super Bowl commercial.
Did Vampires Slay A7 Sales?
Audi's Vampire Party Super Bowl commercial for the A7 was, shall we say, bizarre. Moreover, the A7 plays in a niche corner of the luxury market where sales volumes aren't expected to suddenly shoot through the roof. A7 sales dropped into the basement in February, falling 9% from January’s 643 to February's 584. In 10 months of A7 sales, including its launch month, this was Audi's third worst for volume. Strangely, February sales of the A7's most direct rival, the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, slid 22% from January levels.
Fiat 500 Sales Climbing
Fiat's sexy 500 Abarth commercial has been attracting YouTube onlookers for month,s and it seems like sex does sell. The 500 climbed to its highest monthly sales total yet of 3,227. That's- 69% higher than January's figures and 4% better than the next-best month, August 2011.
Veloster Sales Get Turbo Boost
A possible Fiat 500 Abarth competitor is the Hyundai Veloster Turbo. The turbocharged model is only just coming on stream, but the morbid, comical "Think Fast" commercial was bound to rub off on the whole Veloster range. Veloster sales shot up 91% from January levels; February was the sporty Hyundai hatch's second-best month in its six-month-long lifespan.
A Hit for Honda
While purists may have decried it, Honda and Matthew Broderick's remake of "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off" was a major topic of discussion. The commercial wasn't laugh-out-loud funny, but the CR-V did end February as the best-selling SUV in America. It also was also the best-selling SUV in America in January -- before the Super Bowl. Nevertheless, CR-V sales were up 30% year-over-year while the market was up 16%. Compared with January, CR-V sales rose 31%. Again, the overall market was up only 26% during the same period, but it's a new CR-V and sales are expected to be strong.
Motley Crue Plus Adriana Lima Equals Kia Optima Sales
One of Cars.com's favorite commercials of Super Bowl XLVI was the Kia Optima spot featuring a fevered dream sequence including Motley Crue, a super model, rodeo star and cage-fighting champ. It also shows off the sleek-looking sedan, sending sales to their highest mark since the design debuted. Sales were up 138.6% from last February and 31% from January.
In the near term, strong results could show that the Sonic, GS, CR-V, and Optima were big Super Bowl winners. This early, it's not safe to say Audi and Volkswagen missed the mark completely, but in a month when sales were strong without multi-million dollar commercials, these two ads' performance doesn't look good.
Check out the Super Bowl XLVI commercials and a bunch more with our post-game rankings here.
Tim Cain is a contributing writer for Cars.com and the editor-in-chief of Good Car Bad Car, a site that analyzes both U.S. and Canadian car sales.