Super Bowl: The car ads are back

February 1, 2012: 1:46 PM ET

Rising U.S. auto sales and improved financial performance are spurring a vigorous return by carmakers to television's priciest advertising venue, the Super Bowl.

By Doron Levin, contributor

jerry_seinfeld_acura_commercialFORTUNE -- Rising U.S. auto sales and improved financial performance are spurring a vigorous return by carmakers to television's priciest advertising venue, the Super Bowl.

But this XLVI championship-within-a-championship has a new wrinkle this year. The dozen or so carmakers that have bought slots are releasing their ads early via YouTube and other social media platforms. Automakers are hoping that the ads will go viral by kickoff at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Automotive website will this year be able to report which ads likely did well -- meaning which ones motivated car shoppers --and which didn't. Edmunds will be monitoring shopping traffic on its website during the game and afterwards; an account of the winners and losers will be released next week, said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst. "Last year Chrysler scored high with Eminem in 'Born of Fire,'" Krebs said. "The question this year, with so many different manufacturers, is whether anyone will be able to break through all the noise."

Toyota (TM) returns to the big game after a three-year absence caused by multiple mishaps ranging from weak sales to an uproar over accusations of safety defects. Toyota's "Reinvention" is a spot designed to show -- humorously -- how engineers have reinvented the Camry family sedan, comparing it to a Department of Motor Vehicles where customers can receive free ice cream and play mini-golf while waiting for service. As of Wednesday morning, "Reinvention" had been viewed more than 222,000 times on YouTube. Toyota's Lexus luxury division is advertising in this years NFL championship for the first time with a spot called "The Beast," viewed a few thousand times already on various digital sites.

Actor Matthew Broderick will reprise his iconic role as Ferris Bueller from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" in a Honda (HMC) ad for the new CRV crossover. Instead of faking a cold to skip school, Broderick skips out of a day of acting work and goes to an amusement park. As of Wednesday, the new Honda had been viewed more than 6 million times on YouTube. Carrying star power to its luxury division, Honda hired comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno to perform in a skit predicated on what it might take to be the first buyer of the new Acura NSX. The ad had 8 million views by Wednesday morning.

General Motors' (GM) Cadillac division will feature its new entry-level ATS, hitting showrooms later this year and meant to compete with the BMW 3-Series. The Cadillac ad is called "Green Hell," a reference to the German Nurburgring course where GM engineers developed the car's driving dynamics. Hyundai and Volkswagen are also pre-releasing ads for their vehicles.

The lone hold out? Chrysler declined to say whether it is advertising in this year's Super Bowl. At the North American International Auto Show, Chrysler chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne, said the automaker had set a "high bar" at last year's game with Eminem, suggesting that the automaker may elect to sit this one out. A spokesperson declined to elaborate.

As usual, the advertisements promise to be as entertaining, if more so, than the matchup between the two football teams. Here, take a look at the matchup:








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