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QUID PRO QUO: During the Super Bowl, Mercedes-Benz paid millions of dollars for a spot to showcase its new CLA model before an audience of about 109 million. Condé Nast also got seconds of exposure, but it didn’t cost a thing.

The conceit of the commercial is that the Devil, played by Willem Dafoe, offers an enterprising young man the new Mercedes and a life of fame and fortune in exchange for his soul. Part of the fantasy the Devil’s selling is getting on the cover of three magazines — Vanity Fair, GQ and Details.

This story first appeared in the February 11, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

For the commercial, Mercedes created three fake covers featuring its hero. While it could have made up the magazines, a spokeswoman said it wanted to partner with Condé because its magazines conveyed “the life our hero aspired to.”

The carmaker has also been an advertiser in Condé’s magazines for more than 20 years.

“We stayed in the Condé family because we didn’t need to go outside of it,” said the spokeswoman, Donna Boland.

When Mercedes approached Condé with the idea, the publisher happily obliged.

“Anytime you can reach that many people and reinforce your positioning and influence, it’s nothing short of extraordinary,” said Condé’s chief marketing officer, Lou Cona.

It was the second year in a row Condé’s tony brands had gotten a spotlight during the Super Bowl. Last year, Madonna used the Vogue logo during her halftime show.

Mercedes didn’t pay for the use of the trademarks this time around either, Boland said.

“At the end of the day, both parties agreed it was good exposure,” she said.

Cona said there was no need for a charge. “They certainly invest a lot of money in Condé brands,” he said.

Though Condé has increasingly stepped up its efforts to offer clients creative services — like when it created a shopper for Wal-Mart — the fake covers were created by Mercedes’ agency, Merkley & Partners, though Condé reviewed the art.

Initially, the commercial’s hero was going to appear simply on the cover of GQ — Mercedes was already the sponsor of the magazine’s party in New Orleans during the game. But Mercedes’ creative then decided to expand it to other titles. Though only three brands appeared for seconds during the broadcast, different versions of the ad available online feature fake covers of Condé Nast Traveler, Architectural Digest, Wired Japan and Fairchild Fashion Media’s M magazine. The ad also will appear during the Academy Awards.

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