Super Bowl a huge boon for marketing

You’d think it’s impossible that anything —anything— could be getting as much hype as Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints.

Think again.

Super Bowl XLIV advertisers are giving the game itself a serious run on the hype-o-meter. Desperate to rebound from the recession — and sensing glimmers of hope for the economy — the nearly 40 advertisers that bought ad time in the CBS broadcast are serving up supersized self-promotion. There is almost nothing they aren’t trying to get the game’s massive audience to watch their Super Bowl ad — then click on the brand’s website and share the brand’s message on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.

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“They’ve deputized an entire population via Twitter and Facebook to spread the news of these ads,” says Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “Folks do it absolutely for free. It’s astounding.”

Success at that is now how many marketers justify spending $2 million to $3 million per 30 seconds of the Super Bowl’s traditional TV commercial time.

“It’s almost as though the Super Bowl is the last Tyrannosaurus roaming the Earth,” says Thompson. Its TV commercials “have become traffic signs to herd you into other digital places where the price is a lot cheaper.”

This will be the Super Bowl where everyone measures everything to see if they got their money’s worth. Advertisers will count tweets. They’ll count the number of folks who visit their Facebook pages. They’ll count visits to the brand, with some adding extra incentive to come with the lure of free stuff. They’ll measure the “buzz” factor online — seeking a running tab on how often their company or their Super Bowl ad gets mentioned.

“Coming from recession to recovery, advertisers are looking for bang for the buck,” says Jo Ann Ross, president of network sales for CBS, which sold out its ad space Monday.

Spreading the word

Here’s the Super Bowl math on spreading an advertiser’s message: Nearly 100 million viewers are expected to watch the game on Sunday. About 40 million Super Bowl viewers plan to watch the ads online, too, according to a survey by ad agency Venables Bell & Partners. And 26% of those folks expect to share their favorite ads via e-mail or social-networking sites.

Super Bowl advertisers no longer rely on day-after-the-game office banter for buzz. Few workplaces have water coolers where folks can stand around and shoot the breeze about the Super Bowl ads, says New York ad agency chief Linda Kaplan Thaler. “So they go to their digital water coolers.”

The eager Super Bowl advertisers are scattershot in the ways they are clamoring for attention around that cooler.

Boost Mobile went for nostalgia and humor with a reprise of the Super Bowl Shuffle— a rap song recorded by members of the Chicago Bears before Super Bowl XX in 1986 — including some of the original rapping Bears.

For many, however, that means offering social-networking tools. For example, E-Trade, in addition to its spokesbaby ads, will offer an application that lets folks create talking-baby messages to share.

Doritos and CareerBuilder (partly owned by USA TODAY parent Gannett) turned the game over to consumers with a make-your-own Super Bowl ad promotion and consumer voting that decided which ads will air in the game.

Teleflora, a second-year Super Bowl advertiser, expects gobs of folks to go to its site after the game not just to again watch the ad — which features Don Rickles as a smart-alecky, talking flower — but also to send an e-card with Rickles’ voice to another person.

“It’s never about a Super Bowl ad itself,” says Lynda Resnick, Teleflora’s chairwoman. “It’s the best online buzz for the buck.”

Laying the groundwork

Savvy Super Bowl ad agencies have spent months doing Internet-related groundwork for clients, says Jeff Goodby, whose agency, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, helped Doritos, Emerald Nuts and Denny’s plan Super Bowl strategies.

That explains why Denny’s is doubling-down this Super Bowl.

Never mind that last year’s effort — when Denny’s gave away more than 2 million Grand Slam meals two days after the Big Game — may have been a fine image enhancer but didn’t grow sales. While Denny’s sales picked up briefly after the game, sales at Denny’s franchise units open at least a year were down 4.5% through the first three quarters of 2009.

This year, instead of broadcasting one 30-second spot in the game to promote another free Grand Slam day, it bought two 30-second slots, along with a 15-second slot.

“This is the largest one-day expenditure that Denny’s has ever made,” says CEO Nelson Marchioli. “If there was another quarter available in the Super Bowl, I’d buy that, too.” founder Bob Parsons prays annually at the Super Bowl altar for online traffic.

His site had a 16% share of the domain name business six years ago when it aired its first racy Super Bowl ad. Today, GoDaddy‘s global market share is more than 48%.

“I attribute that, in large part, to the Super Bowl,” says Parsons.

Parsons hasn’t varied his formula: drive traffic to his site by promising racy outtakes and “banned by the network” ads that didn’t make the Super Bowl broadcast. In the game again this year will be Danica Patrick, the race car driver who stars in its ads.

“We know that our ads polarize people,” Parsons says with a laugh. “Any time people see something as polarizing, it gets passed around.”

King of hype

Perhaps the king of pass-around ads is the “King of Beers.”

For Anheuser-Busch, Super Bowl marketing is a multimedia shopping binge.

It’s the game’s largest advertiser with five minutes of ad time during the game — 30 seconds more than last year— in which it will air nine commercials.

“But there will be an awful lot of brand communication beyond the TV spots,” says Keith Levy, the brand’s marketing chief.

A-B bought animated “billboards” in each of the quarters, when quick nods will be given to an A-B brand within the game. It’s also paid for six on-air “mentions” of brands to be made when the overhead blimp shows aerial views of Miami, where the Super Bowl is being played.

A-B also has temporarily taken over the Surfcomber Hotel in the South Beach area of Miami and renamed it the Bud Light Hotel. There will be concerts, parties, sports exhibitions and broadcasts from there.

A-B also has Super Bowl ad teasers and outtakes on its Facebook pages for Bud Light and Budweiser. It’s letting visitors to its Budweiser Facebook page pick from among three ads for one to air in the game.

A-B is doing e-mail “teaser” blasts for its Bud Light spots.

It created a site at where folks can see some of its Super Bowl ads already.

And for two weeks after the game, when consumers search online for terms related to Super Bowl ads, and will pop up in Google‘s sponsored-links section with links taking users to the ads.

“Marketers who invest in their brands during difficult times will come out ahead,” says Levy. “We have the accelerator to the floor.”

Engaging with ads

Dockers, too, is ramping up for attention during and after the game. It’s airing a spot with 30 men marching and singing in their underwear. Folks who want to purchase the song — or win one of 5,000 pairs of Dockers — can do it via a smartphone during the game.

Viewers who have the Shazam app on their phones can tag the spot and be taken to a site where they can win Dockers duds or buy the iTunes music.

“It’s not an act of desperation,” insists Jennifer Sey, vice president of global marketing at Dockers, where sales were off double-digits last year. “It’s a way for people to engage with the ad.”

Buzz for passing on the game

Perhaps the worst fear for the broadcast networks and the National Football League is that more marketers will follow veteran Super Bowl advertiser Pepsi-Cola’s lead.

Pepsi is skipping the Big Game this year, with executives saying the ad buy no longer makes sense for them when their target consumers are hanging out in digital space. “Brands should not blindly anchor themselves to history,” says Frank Cooper, chief “consumer engagement” officer at PepsiCo Americas Beverages. Future Pepsi-Cola marketing “will be less about a moment, more about a movement” — ad-speak for fewer TV commercials, more attempts to get consumers buzzing via social media.

In fact, Pepsi’s getting more pregame online buzz for not advertising than most Super Bowl ad buyers are getting for being in the game, says social-media-tracker Alterian.

Which leaves NFL and network executives this to think about before next year’s Big Game: Is Pepsi-Cola’s Super Bowl scuttle just a moment — or a movement?

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