Chevy back in the game for Super Bowl adfest

Torrey Smith of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with the Ravens cheerleaders after winning Super Bowl XLVII.
Getty Images
Torrey Smith of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with the Ravens cheerleaders after winning Super Bowl XLVII.

Chevrolet will be back in the lineup when the teams take to the field in Super Bowl XLVIII, reversing a controversial 2012 decision to pull out of what is television's most watched annual event—and a program that millions of Americans watch as much for the commercials as for the football.

The decision is the latest reversal of a series of widely debated decisions made by General Motors' former global marketing director, Joel Ewanick, before his departure in July 2012. GM has also decided to test out new opportunities on Facebook, another marketing outlet that Ewanick rejected before he was himself ousted because of a controversy involving costly marketing ties to European soccer.

"The timing of Super Bowl XLVIII lines up perfectly with our aggressive car and truck launch plans," said Tim Mahoney, who joined Chevrolet as its global chief marketing officer last February. "The Super Bowl is a great stage for showcasing the Chevrolet brand and our newest cars and trucks."

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According to Nielsen, February's broadcast of the championship game between the Baltimore Ravens and San Franicsco 49ers drew 108.7 million viewers—with over 1 billion estimated to have watched worldwide. But that's only one of the reasons why advertisers have traditionally raced to nab every open second of time during the broadcast.

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According to SocialGuide's 2013 Super Bowl Advertising Report, an estimated 5.3 million people sent out 26.1 million tweets during the game. And millions more subsequently watched Super Bowl ads on YouTube and other outlets.

The downside is cost. While prices vary depending on the deal an advertiser cuts, placing a 30-second spot on the 2012 Super Bowl broadcast, the last GM participated in, ran between $3.0 million and $3.5 million. And the figure jumped as high as a reported $4 million for the 2013 game.

GM initially had nothing but good things to say about its 2012 ad presence, going so far as to claim its spot for the then-new Cadillac ATS was the "most-watched" commercial ever. But in May, Ewanick unexpectedly announced GM was breaking long-running ties to the NFL and abandoning the Super Bowl.

"It's all about efficiencies," the oft-controversial marketing czar explained in reference to the spending of GM's estimated $4.5 billion marketing budget. "Every penny counts," he said. "If we allow any inefficiencies in anything we do, it's actually holding us back."

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It was just one of a series of unexpected moves that included canceling a $10 million budget for Facebook. GM wasn't the only advertiser at the time questioning the benefits of advertising on the social media network. In fact, even Facebook had acknowledged the need to improve its own ad results.

But Ewanick rubbed salt into the wound by making his announcement, and harshly criticizing Facebook just days before what turned into a disastrous initial public stock offering.

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Things took an even more surprising turn when Ewanick subsequently announced a massive deal to sponsor several British soccer teams, including powerhouse Manchester United.

But weeks later, the marketing czar was ousted and while GM only suggested there were irregularities in some business deals, it is widely believed the problem had to do with the way the soccer—or football, as Europeans prefer—deal was handled.

In recent months, GM has taken a number of steps reversing some of Ewanick's most significant actions. The automaker broke up an unusual ad company alliance designed to split responsibilities for the huge Chevrolet account.

In April, GM announced it would launch a new test program to see if Facebook could deliver on a new ad campaign.

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Now it is closing another key chapter from the brief Ewanick era as it readies a return to football mania next winter.

By CNBC Contributor Paul A. Eisenstein. Follow him on Twitter @DetroitBureau or at