Super Bowl: an advertising game played on social media

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In February 2010, Pepsi decided not to advertise during the Super Bowl event. After 23 years of presence on the event, a big brand like Pepsi pulling out was a big deal. In 2010, Pepsi invested monies behind the ‘Pepsi Refresh Project’ that year. Other brands like FedEx have also pulled out of Super Bowl too citing high costs [about $3mn for a 30-second spot]. While the event garners huge viewership in the US [reported 100mn in the US] and the advertising generates interest around the globe, the price does [about $3.5mn per 30-second spot this year] seem very steep. So some brands saw business sense in staying away from an event that just lasted a day.

This year, just 2 years later, there seems to a huge buzz around the ads during event. Brands have seeded YouTube and social media sites with their Super Bowl ads weeks in advance. Some have resorted to latest technology [allowing for real-time reaction to Super Bowl in ads] to generate interest, pass along value and involvement.

What’s changed in 2 years? I guess the primary reason is that advertisers have begun to view the event as one that can last a few months rather than a few hours. In the best case scenario, a brand’s Super Bowl effort can be talked about for months, even one full year. Last year’s The Force by Volkswagen is still creating online buzz for the brand [50mn views as of date]; in my view, this year’s Coke effort by W+K is likely to be talked about for months to come.

Another opportunity the Super Bowl offers is to come across as an innovative and therefore likable brand. Since the spots come at such a premium all effort went into making the spot noticeable, different and buzz worthy. Not surprisingly it was common to see humor, bizarre humor, outlandish settings, mind-blowing computer graphics and so on for these ads. This year thanks to the Social Media dimension [sports fans tend to discuss or rant about a sporting event online while watching the game – witness the real time comments on the Ind-Aus cricket matches on Twitter] its become imperative for brands to leverage this medium well. So efforts like Old Spice [pre-Super Bowl of course] makes the brand appear cool. And when you do something unusual yet relevant like what W+K is doing for Coke this year, it has a positive runoff on the brand.

The third reason [which is actually not a new reason] is the fact that the Super Bowl and more importantly the kind of ad that you put on it, is a great opportunity for small brands to make a big impact. Brands that do not or cannot advertise for the rest of the year see this as an opportunity [Interflora comes to mind]. In India, there is a parallel with the IPL – several small or lesser known brands have shot to limelight thanks to their presence on IPL.

In India, will the IPL finals evoke a similar reaction [akin to the Super Bowl] from advertisers? Right now, the entire IPL event is seen as an opportunity – not just the finals. Hope we see some fun advertising & marketing experiments and innovations this year at the IPL like the Indian Panga League.

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  1. Nice piece and some great observations. There’s a curious dynamic in the involvement of brands with the Super Bowl that would seem to augur equally well for their involvement in significant national events including the IPL.

    Most of the time, we view advertising as interrupting the action that we have tuned in to watch. At the Super Bowl, however, the advertising is very much part of the action. That’s a significant difference in my view – because it means advertisers are included in the event at the very least as supporters, and almost as participants. They’re part of what makes Big Sunday that much bigger. Prolonged involvement leading up to, and beyond, the game itself serves to then strengthen that sense of the advertising being part of the atmosphere.

    Equally if Indian and international firms can participate in huge events like the IPL in ways that make the brands feel like part of the excitement, and not an interruption to the action, then it seems to me that they too have massive opportunities available to them in India and across the cricket-loving world.

  2. I believe there is some sense when you translate the calculations into CPM terms. Last year’s Super Bowl had a record-breaking 111 million viewers, and advertisers paid an average $3 million per 30-second ad spot. That means last year’s game averaged a CPM of $27. To put things into perspective lets have a look at the Academy Awards. It had 38 million viewers and an average ad price of about $1.4 million, meaning that the show’s CPM was roughly $37. So come to think of it, if the channels start normalizing the prices on the basis of CPMs – For SuperBowl its still lower than a top prime-time show- the rates would continue to rise.

  3. I think Mark makes an important point about disruptions. It's something I wrote about when I posted about the IPL a couple of years back ( Things like the 'strategic timeout' are a blatant excuse to cram in more advertising and they actually disadvantage the batsmen who are forced to call them. There's an important distinction between being part of the action and interfering with it. It's still early days for the IPL compared to the Superbowl of course, but the approach to ads and sponsorship in IPL games is pretty ham-fisted in my opinion. Too many exposures, too much poor quality copy, too little focus. If the IPL final is going to be an advertising event in the same way than all of that will have to change. Paying a fortune on media and on having Sachin make a stilted testimonial does not an advertising event make.

  4. @mark and AJ: Agree on the same. Superbowl audience is probably much more receptive to the advertisements as mark rightly said 'They’re part of what makes Big Sunday that much bigger.'

    Although most of the execution and copy in India is sad, some advertisers were still able to break the clutter with little-known handset manufacturers such as Karbonn Mobiles and Micromax leveraging IPL to increase visibility. Even established brands such as Pepsi (The Game), Idea (Oongli Cricket), Havell's (lighting major), and of course, Vodafone (Zoozoos) have campaigns designed specially for IPL.

    Also one more point which irritates a viewer is that the advertisement spots appear at the end of each over ( after every 4 minutes approx.) and then they infuse 'strategic timeouts' to cram some more.

    The question is can the IPL here become what the Super Bowl is in America? A tournament where cutting-edge advertising is unleashed? Typically, companies and advertising agencies set aside their best creative work for the Super Bowl. Will that same happen in India as well? Unless Indian advertisers come up with seriously brilliant stuff, going by the current rate I believe the answer lies in the distant future.

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