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How Dr Evil and electric vehicles are powering Super Bowl LVI

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By Kendra Clark | Senior Reporter

February 7, 2022 | 10 min read

Automakers including Kia, Nissan, BMW and General Motors are all expected to advertise new electric vehicles (EVs) during Super Bowl LVI, which airs on NBC on February 13. Are we reaching a tipping point in the automotive market?

The glimmer in Dr Evil’s eye as he promises to do something good is a sign of the times. General Motors today unveiled a teaser ad featuring Mike Myers as the internet-beloved Austin Powers antagonist.

Dr Evil

Dr Evil will head up GM’s ad efforts at Super Bowl LVI

The tagline ‘Evil is back for good’ will support GM’s ‘EVerybody in’ rallying cry. GM’s chief marketing officer Deborah Wahl hints to The Drum that the opportunity is more ripe than ever for an EV push in Super Bowl LVI. “Last year, when we came to the Super Bowl with ‘EVerybody in,’ EV consideration in the US was 5%. Now it’s running at about 39%,” she says.

Indeed, US sales of all-electric vehicles surged in 2021, seeing 83% growth, per recent data by ​​Wards Intelligence. EVs now account for some 3% of the market. And while sales of hybrid vehicles continue to outpace sales of EVs, automakers both domestic and foreign are under mounting pressure from consumers, activists and lawmakers to manufacture more sustainable cars. Bloomberg estimates that in 2022 we’ll see a 75% spike in sales of zero-emissions vehicles worldwide.

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As major auto manufacturers unveil their new eco-friendly models, they’re increasingly turning to marketing’s biggest stage to promote their EVs: the Super Bowl. Ahead of this year’s big game, Kia, Nissan and BMW have already debuted flashy Super Bowl spots that put their new EVs center stage. And GM has clearly let us know that more fun is set to come.

Kia and Nissan take the wheel

A-listers including Eugene Levy, Brie Larson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as a robotic puppy, are all on deck to sling EVs during Super Bowl LVI.

Kia’s 60-second Super Bowl LVI ad tells the story of a robotic puppy who, upon witnessing a man charge his Kia EV6, feels he’s found his ideal human buddy, and follows him relentlessly until he makes it into the man’s life – and car.

“Our new brand slogan is ‘Movement that inspires’ and in this case, we were inspired to connect our future with a certain emotion we all know and understand today – the love that can be shared between a human and an animal,” says Russell Wager, vice-president of marketing at Kia America. “Through ‘Robo Dog,’ we hope viewers will find their own inspiration and be motivated to take the leap into the approaching age of EV transportation.”

Wager says the campaign, created by David&Goliath, is more than just an attempt to spotlight the new EV6; it represents a new direction for the brand toward “becoming a sustainable mobility solutions provider [amid] our inevitable shift to electrification.” The 2022 EV6 is the carmaker’s first 100% electric vehicle and the first in a line-up of 11 new electrified models – spanning sedans, SUVs, sports cars and crossover utility vehicles – that Kia plans to roll out by 2026 as part of its Plan S initiative. The South Korean automaker has committed to reaching 40% of all sales from EVs, hybrids and plug-in hybrids by 2030, and 100% by the year 2040.

Super Bowl LVI will mark Kia’s 13th big game appearance; many have included philanthropic commitments as part of the company’s ‘Accelerate the Good’ program, including funding educational assistance for students in need, and projects that expand resources for youth experiencing homelessness. This year, building on the campaign’s theme, Kia is teaming up with Petfinder Foundation to boost pet adoptions.

Meanwhile, Japanese automaker Nissan is airing a 60-second spot at Super Bowl LVI, making its return to the big game after a six-year hiatus. Created in tandem with TBWA/Chiat/Day, the ad – titled ‘Thrill Driver’ – is an action flick-inspired, explosion-filled riot with an all-star cast consisting of Eugene Levy, Brie Larson, Dave Bautista and Danai Gurira. It spotlights the 2023 Nissan Z and the new Ariya, an electric crossover.

“As EVs are becoming a top priority for many Americans, we want to communicate that Nissan is back in a thrilling way, on one of the biggest stages in popular culture, with our newest and most exciting vehicles,” says Allyson Witherspoon, vice-president and chief marketing officer at Nissan US.

Like Kia, Nissan is using the big event as an opportunity to communicate that this is just the start of a much bigger EV movement. “At the end of our commercial,” says Witherspoon, “Brie Larson takes back her keys and gets into the all-electric Nissan Ariya. Since Nissan is moving back into our electrification campaign after the Super Bowl, this makes the commercial’s ending just the precursor to what’s ahead.” Nissan has set a public target to help make 40% of all auto sales in the US electric by 2030.

To add to the electric vehicle hype, BMW will promote its new line of electric models, which include the iX and i4, in a Super Bowl LVI spot headlined by A-listers Arnold Schwarzenegger and Salma Hayek, who play Zeus and Hera respectively. The brand has released a cheeky teaser and plans to unveil the full ad on February 9. BMW declined to comment for this story ahead of the ad’s release.

General Motors says familiarizing consumers is the first gear

While the Super Bowl is tops for quick awareness building, selling EVs requires a bit of an education process.

GM’s Wahl tells The Drum that her general approach to EV marketing is built around three stepwise objectives: “Normalize, personalize and then mesmerize.” Firstly, the brand hopes to get everyone talking about EVs – to normalize them and to shape GM’s brand image as an EV automaker. The next step is personalization, which entails helping consumers envision themselves in an EV. Personalization goes hand-in-hand with mesmerization – showing off the special features of a given model or highlighting the unique thrill of driving an EV. Ultimately, GM’s top objective is familiarizing consumers with EVs at scale, which Wahl says is where the Super Bowl adds real value.

GM has been especially focused on low-emissions automotive development since 2016, when chief executive Mary Barra announced a new vision for the future that involves “zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.” The automaker last year announced that it plans to invest $35bn in EVs and develop 30 new global EVs by 2025. The company says that 40% of its US models will be battery electric vehicles during this period.

“We are determined to achieve leadership to bring to market a variety of vehicles ... so that [consumers] at all price points and at all economic levels will have the opportunity to have EVs – and that’s how we get to zero emissions,” says Wahl.

Tracking other EV efforts

Beyond the traditional automakers, EV tech companies are also making big bets on the big game. Barcelona-based electric vehicle charging company Wallbox is making its Super Bowl debut this year with an ad that aims to demystify EVs for everyday consumers – by demonstrating that even lighting strike survivor Seth Thomas has overcome his fear of electricity and converted to an EV with at-home charging.

Meanwhile, Hyundai has launched a flashy EV campaign starring Jason Bateman ahead of Super Bowl LVI in an attempt to cash in on some of the action without shelling out for an in-game spot (30-second spots reportedly sold for somewhere between $6-$7m this year). Prior to last year – when the brand also sat on the sidelines – the South Korean automaker had participated in five consecutive Super Bowls.

Hyundai’s chief marketer Angela Zepeda told The Drum in late January that the decision to forgo a Super Bowl spot this year was based on shifting business priorities, noting that while the event generates widespread media coverage, the hype doesn’t always translate one-to-one to the bottom line. “We really needed to keep this message and market for a longer period of time,” she said. Still, Hyundai knows that the Super Bowl provides an unparalleled opportunity to get in front of consumers’ eyes. “We know a lot of [car companies] are back in the Super Bowl this year and we assume they’re going to talk about their electric vehicles,” Zepeda said. “We have a little FOMO. So we want to be in and around the Super Bowl in a big way that makes us feel like we’re part of the Super Bowl without actually being in the big game.”

Overall, there is a consensus that we are at a point in climate change discourse that is sure to create a tipping point in terms of consumer behavior – and that EVs are about to take off in a big way.

“We’ll see an explosion in EV demand and consideration,” says GM’s Wahl. “You’ll see that through orders, reservations, all of that. You’ll probably see policy start adjusting to reflect the fact that we have to go faster, and I think you’re going to see less talk about the barriers to EV purchase, and the embrace of how you do it ... faster. By next year, our conversation will be really different.”

Additional reporting by Kenneth Hein.

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