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Major car companies sitting out the Super Bowl

It's not very often that auto companies sit out the biggest media event of the year. But this year's Super Bowl is proof even that even the prospect of more than 110 million people watching the Seattle Seahawks face off against the New England Patriots is not enough to persuade car companies they should get in the game.

This year, General Motors, Ford and Audi are among the automakers that have decided not to spend $4.5 million to run 30-second commercials.

Still from Mercedes' Super Bowl commercial "Fable"
Source: Mercedes
Still from Mercedes' Super Bowl commercial "Fable"

"When you look at the auto ads in the Super Bowl, a number of them will be for new models launching this spring," said Jon Swallen with Kantar Media, a research firm which tracks advertising. "The timing this year doesn't work for the product launches from several automakers."

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Ford, for example, launched its new F-Series in the fall, and advertised heavily during football games at that time. All three brands, which have previously advertised during the Super Bowl, said they expect to return eventually when the timing is more favorable.

Still, that's not to say the event will be entirely without car ads.

Kia is one automaker using the Super Bowl to give its new model a very prominent push, by featuring the newest Sorento in a spot with Pierce Brosnan.

"We're looking for people to become aware of our products to go online and shop and ultimately go to the showroom and our return on investment shows that we accomplish that," said Tim Chaney, director of marketing at Kia Motors America.

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This is the sixth-straight year that Kia has advertised during the Super Bowl. Since it started in 2009, Kia's sales in the U.S. have more than doubled; it attributes this growth to greater brand recognition from events such as the Super Bowl.

"We measure all the metrics before, during and after the Super Bowl," Chaney said. "We get many times over our investment so we're very confident."

Nissan's Fred Diaz calls the Super Bowl one of those rare events where you can still make an impression, even if it comes with a hefty price tag. This year, the automaker will advertise during the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years.

"It's definitely money well spent," said Diaz. "When you look at what we're trying to accomplish with our brand, the awareness of our brand, the opinion of our brand, it was definitely a risk reward opportunity for us that we felt was worth taking."

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There's been the suggestion that automakers may be cutting back on the Super Bowl because the auto industry is shifting more marketing dollars towards digital platforms. But while broadcasting is taking up a smaller portion of auto ad budgets, Swallen said the Super Bowl shows the power of big events.

"If you have a new model launch, the Super Bowl is a great opportunity to get your message out," he said.

A still from the Nissan Super Bowl commercial
Source: Nissan
A still from the Nissan Super Bowl commercial

One automaker that has made a big splash during the Super Bowl in recent years is Chrysler.

In 2011 it stole the show with a lengthy spot featuring Eminem and the tagline, "Imported from Detroit."

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So far, Chrysler has yet to say if it will run a Super Bowl ad this year.

In October, Fiat Chrysler's chief marketing officer, Olivier Francois, told the Detroit Free Press, "We will be part of it as long as we have something to say."

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.

Disclosure: CNBC's sister company NBC Sports broadcasts the Super Bowl.