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GM Punts on the Super Bowl

John Rosevear
May 21, 2012

Hot on the heels of its very public decision to defriend Facebook (Nasdaq: FB  ) by pulling its ads from the social-media giant, General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) dropped another marketing bombshell late last week: It's punting on the Super Bowl.

Just as bidding for next year's Super Bowl ad slots was about to begin, GM announced -- loudly -- that it won't be participating. Company officials say the slots have become too expensive -- but the company's booking strong profits, and the Super Bowl is well suited to GM's marketing needs.

What's going on?

A big move from a very big ad player
In the insular little world of advertising, this is a big deal. You may not realize it, but GM is a huge consumer of ad services: The automaker was America's third largest advertiser last year, with a $1.8 billion budget that trailed only consumer megaliths AT&T (NYSE: T  ) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) in terms of total U.S. spending.

GM ran several different ads during the most recent Super Bowl, including a much-talked-about piece for the Chevy Volt that featured a visit from confused aliens. These were just the latest in a string of GM entries going back years -- the company skipped the event during its death spiral in early 2009 but spent $82.8 million advertising in the Super Bowl from 2002 through last year.

It has been a particularly good platform for GM, as rival Ford (NYSE: F  ) hasn't advertised during the event for several years. So why is GM skipping this year's round? It's unclear.

Is it just about the money?
GM's chief marketer, Joel Ewanick, said in a statement that GM "simply can't justify the expense" . Prices for the coveted Super Bowl ad slots are expected to increase significantly -- about 9%, to around $3.8 million for a 30-second spot, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Is it just a matter of saving money, maybe to help boost GM's stock price? That's one possibility: GM is still partly owned by the U.S. government, and CEO Dan Akerson would dearly love to see the feds sell their shares. That's unlikely to happen until the stock price rises significantly.

But I don't think that's a complete explanation. It's true that Ewanic