One of the most reliable trends indicating the economy is improving is the growth of car sales. Last year, car sales increased by more than 10 percent, the best showing for the industry since 2008.
American auto makers did well in 2011 as Japanese car makers Toyota and Honda struggled through a major earthquake and a tsunami that crippled manufacturing, hurt inventory and parts availability and left the door open for a resurgence from U.S. automakers.
2012 is setting itself up as a very important year for automakers. Did American car makers do well just because Japanese car makers encountered obstacles beyond their control? Will foreign automakers come back with a vengeance and push U.S. automakers back into the hole they've slowly been climbing out of since the U.S. government had to come to their aid with the bailout of 2008? These questions have put the car industry on the center stage this year.
From an advertising perspective, there is no bigger stage than the Super Bowl, and automobile manufacturers have purchased almost a third of the spots to be run during the game. In addition, they've pulled out the stops on engagement as well developing apps and social media strategies to get consumers to watch the game while interacting with their brands using their smartphones, tablets and laptops.
Lexus will be advertising during the Super Bowl broadcast for the first time.
Volkswagen is using dogs as a variation of its popular Star Wars ad of last year.
Hyundai also has decided to go with an animal, in this case a cheetah, in one of three spots it will be running on the big game telecast.
Acura has gone deep into its pockets, signing celebrities Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno.
Kia is one of two advertisers (the other is Teleflora) using supermodel Adriana Lima.
Honda has tapped Matthew Broderick in a bit of boomer nostalgia, having him reprise his role as Ferris Bueller.
Chevy, in arguably the most exhilarating Super Bowl spot, makes the car the hero by taking it skydiving and bungee jumping.
Chevy's other Super Bowl commercial is the only crowdsourced spot for auto-makers. The spot, called "Happy Grad," was the winner of a competition that received 400 scripts and 198 films. The winner, Zach Borst, received $25,000 for his efforts.
In all, 12 auto brands have purchased space on the Super Bowl. So, nearly $100 million will be spent, not including production or activation to social media and PR by auto makers vying for buyers.
Last year, Volkswagen's take off on Star Wars was the hands-down winner based on recall and likeability. My vote this year goes to the Chevy Sonic because it best captures the attitude of the car buying audience it is targeting in a memorable way.
This year's crop of Super Bowl car ads have something for everyone as car makers make an appeal for buyers. It's good to see the auto industry regain some of its swagger. Let's hope they are still swaggering when the first quarter sales results come in.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Larry Woodard is a director on the Advertising Week board and chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New York Council.
Get updates via SMS by texting "follow grahamstan" to 40404 in the United States.