NEW YORK -- Hyundai Motor Co. is taking a page from Volkswagen AG's Super Bowl playbook. The South Korean automaker wants to "turn the needle a little bit in the direction of more entertainment," John Krafcik, chief executive officer of Hyundai's U.S. unit, told reporters last month while outlining plans for NBC's Feb. 5 broadcast of the championship game of the National Football League. "We'd like a little bit more memorability," he said.
Last year's winners saw big -- and lasting -- market-share gains after putting up spots in last season's final NFL game.
VW Passat interest surged 70 percent on Edmunds.com during the week after it aired a spot of a child playing Darth Vader compared with the prior four weeks, according to Edmunds.com, a Santa Monica, California-based Web site that tracks automotive sales.
Chrysler also benefited from its Super Bowl play. Car-shoppers' consideration of the brand on Edmunds soared 87 percent in the week following its two-minute ad for the 200 sedan that featured rapper Eminem and extolled Detroit's toughness as a possible source of luxury.
"It does raise the bar because the other car companies look at what happened with the 200 and they figure 'We can do that too,' " said CEO Jeremy Anwyl of Edmunds, which also helps shoppers compare vehicles. "It's not that easy."
The successes of VW and Chrysler, which both gained U.S. market share this year, raises expectations, while the growing industry means more is at stake, said Jesse Toprak, an industry analyst with TrueCar.com, another site that monitors auto sales.
Chrysler Group added 1.3 points of share so far this year, the most in the industry, to 10.7 percent, according to researcher Autodata Corp., while VW rose to 3.5 percent from 3.1 percent.
"We expect 2012 to be another year of recovery, reaching to nearly 14 million car sales," he said. "There is more sales potential for automakers to grab during the next Super Bowl than during the past three Super Bowls."
Light-vehicle sales in the U.S. fell to 10.4 million in 2009 after averaging 16.8 million from 2000 to 2007, according to researcher Autodata Corp.
Volkswagen's ad for the new Passat showed a pint-sized version of the Star Wars villain trying to control household objects with his mind. His dad eventually starts the car with a key fob, letting the child believe he has special powers.
That spot and another for the new Beetle were "pretty radical" departures for the Wolfsburg-based automaker, said Jonathan Browning, head of VW's U.S. operations. "It served the purpose of getting Volkswagen back in a discussion and dialogue that it wasn't part of at that point in time," Browning said in an interview.
Not every automaker is planning Super Bowl ads, which each cost about $3.5 million to air. Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz and BMW AG's BMW brand aren't planning spots, the German luxury leaders said. Dearborn-based Ford Motor Co. is also sitting out the big game.
Comcast Corp.'s NBC Universal by Nov. 2 had sold 90 percent of its advertising, the unit said at the time. Those that have had success in the past aren't guaranteed to make magic again, Anwyl said. "The hands-down winner in terms of effectiveness last year was the 200 spot" for Chrysler, he said. "That spot is very hard to recreate, it's like trying to predict where lightning will strike."
Chrysler executives say they are weighing several options for their Super Bowl time. "We don't sit and say, 'We want to make people laugh,'" Saad Chehab, head of the Chrysler brand, said in an interview. "We want to tell the story how it needs to be told organically and truthfully, I think that's what people took away from the last ad: It meant something to them personally."
He declined to say which of Chrysler's brands would get time during the Super Bowl. "We have a lot more pressure on us," Chehab said. The rivalry between automakers is good for everyone, said Joel Ewanick, GM's global chief marketing officer. "Every year there is this huge competition and challenge," he said. "That's actually what makes the Super Bowl so appealing for you as a marketer and advertiser, because all of that energy that's around those commercials just makes everybody better."
While GM hasn't said how many spots it will have during the Super Bowl, Ewanick said executives have already reviewed more than 100 potential ideas. "There are lots of moving pieces," he said during an interview last month. "I'd say 25 percent of it is shot, another 30 percent shot soon and another whatever done a little bit later."
Toyota Motor Corp. is planning two spots for the redesigned Camry sedan and Audi, VW's premium brand, said it will advertise for a fifth consecutive year.
Hyundai was successful advertising in the 2010 Super Bowl, according to Edmunds data. The automaker had the most automotive ads during that year's game and traffic on Edmunds Web site for Hyundai rose almost sevenfold following those spots, compared to average Sundays in January, the Web site said.
For the year, its U.S. market share rose 47 basis points, or hundredths of a point, compared with 43 through November this year to 5.2 percent. Hyundai has purchased ad slots in the pre-game shows and during the contest itself, said Krafcik, the U.S. leader. "For us, it's always been: How do we build consideration for the brand?'" he said. "We're competing with Doritos and Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch. Those are tough competitors from an entertainment point-of-view because they can do some things that we wouldn't necessarily want to do or would be right for our brand."