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Stolen Thunder: Super Bowl Ad Questions Arise

Posted by Dale Buss on February 8, 2012 09:03 PM

The TV ratings for Super Bowl XLVI enjoyed a bump from last year's game, making it the most-watched telecast ever. Depite a riveting game, most pundits believe the advertising wasn't particularly riveting on Sunday, despite such hits as the Doritos' "Sling Baby" Crash the Super Bowl fan fave

Did brand marketers do themselves a disservice by giving away much (if not all) of their TV commercials before the game? This question surely will be examined closely in the days and weeks to come as marketers deliberate on the real value of spending $3.5 million or more for those 30 second ad units during the Big Game. Still, it's also possible that marketers won't care about the size of the ratings increase for the game because they got so much promotional mileage from the attention to their ads beforehand, on mobile, Twitter (witness the profusion of hashtags in commercials) and Facebook during, and ongoing debate and discussion this week.

There are other questions that not only brand marketers but the TV networks and the NFL will be grappling with long before Super Bowl XLVII:

Celebrities, and humor: Seems like celebrities were more in evidence in the Super Bowl ads on Sunday than ever before. That means their use will be re-examined more than ever before. Did Mark Cuban really help sell Skechers? Did the Pussycat Dolls really have to appear in the Go Daddy ad? Was Adriana Lima really the only woman in the world attractive enough to anchor two brands' advertisements, for Teleflora and Kia? And will Betty White come back to haunt viewers again in Super Bowl XLVII ads?

As far as humor is concerned, marketers are facing the fact that a lot of it just didn't work this time around. Plus it's harder to break through when practically every Super Bowl ad now goes for the funny bone, in one way or another. Consider that a usual huge provider of frat-level humor, Anheuser-Busch, refrained from adding to the glut of "comedy" because it's taking a new, more sophisticated tack in its advertising.

The risks of being cutting edge with funny stuff on such a big stage are much higher than going for a serious tone, of course; perhaps that's why some have pulled back. And after PETA and Anjelica Huston get publicity for criticizing chimpanzee 'actors' in the CareerBuilder.com ad, do viewers feel guilty if they laugh at the little guys?

Pre-game warmups: Super Bowl advertisers and their competition are picking through the metric results of releasing TV spots and teasers before the game, in terms of online traffic and social-media mentions they generated. It's possible they'll find that they've already gone too far and robbed TV viewers of the traditional anticipation that riveted them to their couches for the surprise of Super Bowl ads.

But before the game, brand executives weren't voicing such concerns. "We led the industry in terms of getting out ahead of the game," Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen of America, told reporters last week, "by going out even earlier" than its competitors in promoting Super Bowl advertising before the telecast.

Extending the play: More important than pre-game teasing has become the Super Bowl as a jumping-off point for an intense marketing campaign. Auto makers have become used to consideration of Super Bowl-advertised brands and models jumping significantly on sites like AutoTrader.com and Edmunds.com beginning during the game itself. Combined, auto-retailing sites saw their traffic jump by about one-third on Super Bowl Sunday compared with a week earlier, according to a just-released study by Jumpstart Automotive Group.

And there are more gambits such as that executed by Comcast/NBC's Universal Pictures on Sunday with the trailer for its new movie, Battleship, which kicked off an online ticket promotion with Fandango.

Once more removed: Do advertisers really have to advertise before, during or after the actual Super Bowl anymore to benefit significantly from the buzz surrounding it?

So extended has the run-up and cool-down become around the Big Game — with early release of the actual ads, and teasers, and an overwhelming amount of discussion about same — that maybe all a marketer needs to do is just join the general conversation in January to get some attention, without intending any actual outlays related to the game. That appears to be the strategy that Mazda has followed, for example, by launching a new ad campaign today.

So while the end of Super Bowl XLVI has begun closing discussion on marketers and that Big Game, they've already begun plotting strategies for Super Bowl XLVII. It's kind of like the week after Election Day.

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