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Was Maserati's $17 million Super Bowl advertising a total waste of money?

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Media-buying executive Antony Young certainly thinks so. "I've always been a fan of Super Bowl advertising, but this buy didn't make sense to me," he wrote in Advertising Age.

[Their] 90-second ad in the Super Bowl went for probably around $11 million. Add to that the production of the spot, the Yahoo home-page takeover, the USA Today cover wrap, paid search and digital display advertising, and it feels like a cool $16 million to $17 million for the week's media buy.

...for a luxury auto manufacturer hoping to sell a far smaller number of units, it seems, well, a luxury.

Paying for the most expensive spot with the highest production values, in the most competitive automotive media event, doesn't strike me as what a challenger brand -- which it claims to be in the ad -- should do.

Better alternatives?

For that money, Young claims, the Fiat Chrysler brand could have bought:

  • 52 full-page Wall Street Journal and Financial Times ads
  • four months of hourly prime-time :30s on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and Al Jazeera America
  • two-minute commercials on the Oscars, Golden Globes and Grammys telecasts
  • 60 two-page color spreads in Forbes and "a load of premium digital placements" on its website.
  • more than 6,000 commercials on CNBC
  • 90-second spots in cinema buys nationally for a year
  • every ad in the New York Times tablet app for six months
  • every promoted tweet to the entire US Twitter base for 85 consecutive days
  • or 10 Yahoo, AOL and MSN home-page takeovers.

In one respect, his criticism makes sense, but in another it doesn't.

For example, the jury's still out on whether tablet-app ads, promoted tweets and home-page takeovers are any good at selling $68,100 luxury imports – even with delivery included.

For another, when you consider that CNN's Nielsen audience ratings are mere shadows of their former selves, MSNBC's have always been in the toilet and Al Jazeera America's have never gotten big enough to even measure, four hours of hourly prime-time :30s there seem like a poor substitute for what turned out to be the most-watched broadcast in television history.

Okay results

Added to that is the fact that while measurable response to the commercial wasn't spectacular, it wasn't disastrous either.

In BrandAds' pre- and post-Super Bowl study of how Super Bowl commercials affected consumer intent to purchase, Maserati scored positively – a little below +10 percent.

According to Automotive News,

Fiat's 90-second opus for the Maserati Ghibli must have jolted Super Bowl watchers, as the vehicle helped Maserati to the biggest jump in brand-search traffic on KBB.com and TrueCar.com of any auto marque advertised in the Super Bowl.

Maserati brand searches increased eightfold on KBB.com during the hour that Maserati's "Strike" spot aired, compared with the previous hour, while searches for the Ghibli jumped more than 40-fold. On TrueCar.com, Maserati brand searches rose more than fivefold from average levels of the four previous Sundays, the biggest boost of any brand that day.

TrueCar doesn't yet have a vehicle page for the Ghibli. But interest spilled over to its stablemates: The Quattroporte and GranTurismo had the largest increases in search traffic on TrueCar.com on Super Bowl Sunday.

And as of this writing, the commercial's gotten 9,479,679 YouTube views.

All in all, not too shabby for a waste of money.

What's more, going into the Super Bowl, Maserati was already on a bit of a roll, with January sales (567 cars) more than triple those of the same month last year (172).

Missing the point

But even those results miss the whole point, as Young's comments do. Because, contrary to Young's assumption, as evidenced by his equating Maserati's marketing to Coca-Cola's, this was not a consumer commercial.

Its story line, about how little guys can beat the giants with stealth and speed, is not a consumer message; nobody buys a $68,100 car to beat giants.

And even if it were a consumer message, it would be hard for many consumers to rush, checkbook in hand, to their local Maserati dealership, of which there are a grand total of 75 across the entire width and breadth of the United States of America.

Maserati is anything but an automotive giant. Last year, the brand sold 4,981 cars in the US, compared to 16,952 Jaguars and 334,344 Mercedes. Last year, Maserati sold 15,400 cars worldwide. Next year, they hope to sell 50,000 – almost half (22,500) here. And that they can't do it without a dealer network.

So at an incredibly high cost per thousand (CPM), the commercial was aimed at a few hundred owners of car dealerships looking to add another brand, swap one brand for another – dealers, perhaps, who've become dissatisfied with, as the voice-over says, giants who "get sleepy [and] so big they can barely move," and want to "walk out of the shadows, quietly walk out of the dark -- and strike."

"What the Super Bowl ad did," said Peter Grady, head of Maserati's Western Hemisphere operations, "was it put us in the game with the other competitors that are out there, and it put us on the shopping list." The dealers' shopping list, not necessarily the consumers'.

Which suggests that Young got not only the marketing objective wrong, but also the difference between media efficiency and media effectiveness.

Efficiency isn't effectiveness, and vice versa

Media efficiency is the measure of how many warm bodies you can reach per media dollar of, measured in CPM. Media effectiveness is the measure of how many qualified prospects you reach per media dollar. And especially for high-ticket items, such as Maserati Ghilblis, effectiveness far outweighs efficiency. There are times when, in order to successfully reach a small and highly qualified group (such as dealership owners), it's worth "wasting" media dollars on hundreds, sometimes thousands, of totally unqualified consumers, as we noted:

Let's say you own a resturant in downtown Richmond...that does most of its business during weekday lunch hours. On the face of it, radio is an incredibly inefficient buy.

After all, the signals carry all the way from Charlottesville to Norfolk, and nobody sane is going to drive that far just to have lunch at your place.

But while you pay to reach thousands of people who can't be customers, you also reach lots of people who could, and at a time and place that other media can't -- at their workplaces, where the radio might be on, or in their cars driving to work or to lunch.

Efficient? No. Effective? Yes.

Sometimes, it's worth paying for a huge waste audience just to make sure you reach a few key targets. After trying unsuccessfully to reach a half-dozen key decision-makers at Microsoft, a client of ours agreed to invest $250,000 in a cable television campaign on the system serving the Redmond, Washington, bedroom communities. As a result, they were able to land a $10 million contract.

In that example, the client paid a $41,666,666 CPM but got a 40:1 return on investment.

If it reaches and persuades car dealership decision makers, the Maserati Super Bowl ad will be not only as effective, but also more efficient.

Let's crunch some numbers.

  • With the current group of 75 dealers selling 4,981 Masers a year, that's 66 cars per dealer.
  • If the new dealers the brand's hoping to recruit match that number, then they'll need 263 new dealers to hit their 2015 goal of 22,500 cars.
  • Let's say they need to talk to three dealers for every one they end up with; that's 789 dealership owners.
  • Spending $17 million on Super Bowl air time, production and related Internet activities to reach those 789 qualified prospects gives you a $21,546 CPM – substantially lower than the successful example above. And while there's no guarantee that those dealers will be reading the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times or Forbes; watching the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the Grammys, CNBC or cable news channels; going to movie theaters; or reading the New York Times on tablets, promoted tweets, or Yaho, AOL or MSN home pages, it's a good bet they watched the Super Bowl.

If Maserati recruits those new dealers, and the new dealers make the 2015 numbers by selling 17,519 additional cars, then Maserati grosses an additional $1,193,043,900 or so on an $17 million advertising investment.

Pretty good for "well, a luxury."

_______________________________________________________________________________________

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