Mercedes-Benz Enters High-Risk Super Bowl Ad Game

This is a strange time for the car industry.

As the public emerges from a crippling recession and attempts to shake off what has been a tough decade for most Americans, even those with jobs have tired of commuting to and from work in the same cars they drove 10 years ago. Just take a look at our highways–they’re filled with vehicles just as weary and worn out as the American public.

Thankfully, that may be changing–Mercedes-Benz is banking on the fact that the public believes the worst to be behind us. The upscale auto brand plans to connect with a new generation of customers by advertising its more affordable CLA to 30 -and 40-somethings during Super Bowl XLVII.

Only brands with something to prove even entertain the thought of advertising during the Super Bowl–and most of the 100-million plus Americans watching the game will even be in the market for a new high-end car–but Mercedes-Benz clearly believes its gamble will pay off.

To help sell its vehicle, the brand has chosen to enlisted the star power of Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton while leveraging the fact that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans will host this year’s game. Selling a car through a TV screen is a big challenge, so advertisers do everything they can to capture brand attributes such as power, comfort and reliability–but will this effort be enough from a public relations perspective?

The public understands why car brands must show their vehicles speeding along exotic highways and climbing craggy mountains, but after a while the commercials disappear into their own collective noise–the game is about which brand viewers remember rather than which brand they understand. Remember the boy in the Darth Vader outfit? Which car was he representing? (Keep reading for the answer.)

PR junkies will watch the Kate Upton/Mercedes-Benz relationship carefully to ascertain its influence on key 30-somethings. Older, more secure consumers are less impressed by celebrity endorsements, because buying a car is much different than buying a beer, razor blades and dye for one’s graying beard.

For most people, buying a car is a major business decision–just like a brand’s choice to advertise during the Super Bowl. And though we wish Ms. Upton the best of luck, her sexiness may have a tough time competing with a tiny Darth Vader and the power of the Force that catapulted the Volkswagen Passat into advertising history.