Playing dirty might be de rigeur in politics, but it seldom helps in selling products—even dusty pickups ravaged by the apocalypse.
That might end up being GM's tough lesson from its Super Bowl XLVI ad which, to some, spoke less about the strengths of GM products than it did attack Ford's reputation for durability and longevity.
GM's Super Bowl commercial helped Ford
Based on traffic and visitor data collected by the shopping and pricing site Kelley Blue Book, more visitors browsed Ford after the GM commercial—a lot more—even though Ford didn't have a big Super Bowl ad. Whether looking at the controversy in the days surrounding, or specifically at the window of time during and after the ad aired, Ford appeared to benefit most, if an immediate browsing or shopping of new vehicles was the goal.
Full-size pickup truck visitors on Super Bowl Sunday, 2012 - Kelley Blue Book
In comparing consumer interest on kbb.com among the Full-size truck segment, KBB analyst Akshay Anand noted that the share of visits to the F150 surged over 26-percent week-over-week, while the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 saw a 25-percent drop in traffic during the same period.
“Looking at the data for that whole day, Ford did see some lift, and I don't think that's a coincidence,” said Anand.That leads to how some might have heard the commercial...something along the lines of this: What kind of truck do you drive to the impending apocalypse? If it's a Ford, oh you sorry sap, you're just not going to make it.
Advertising 101: Don't make the competing product your punchline
And that hits hard at one very important factor: brand loyalty. To many, the commercial was less a declaration of the strengths of GM products than it was the buildup to an attack on Ford's trucks. And it may have sent Ford loyalists to their laptops and tablets to search for reassurance about Ford's reputation, as their GM counterparts gloated and stayed on the sofa.
“Truck owners tend to be more loyal than those in any other segment,” said Anand, and when a product with that level of loyalty is mentioned negatively in an ad, argued Anand, the response is likely to be one that's on the defensive.
Other potential explanations: Ford was mentioned bluntly and clearly right near the end of the ad, so is that somehow the name that stuck with viewers? Or does the lesson to be learned really have more to do with etiquette?
It is, after all, one of the first commercials in some time to blatantly call out a competing product without mention of a number or metric as basis.Chrysler (mostly) above the fray
Interestingly, Chrysler's Halftime in America commercial, narrated by Clint Eastwood, might have been a little vague in its intent (and seen as controversial in a politically charged, post-bailout Detroit), but it managed to stay above the fray in more ways than one.
Clint Eastwood narrates
Just as the GM ad ends with friends coming together to eat Twinkies, maybe that's what we need in between the bow ties and blue ovals: A Twinkie summit, perhaps?
Please watch the ad, if you haven't already, to see what we're talking about, and be sure to keep that radioactive dust off the snack cakes.