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Online Warm-ups: Super Bowl Advertisers' New Game Plan

Online Warm-ups: Super Bowl Advertisers' New Game Plan

There are two audiences for the Super Bowl: one to watch the game, the other to check out the commercials. While those interested in on-the-field action have to wait until Sunday, more Super Bowl ads are getting pre-game reveals online via websites and social networks. The Internet has become an All-Pro player in marketing campaigns, letting brands squeeze more value from their ad spend.

By Enid Burns E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
02/01/13 7:00 AM PT

As the U.S. prepares for kick-off of Sunday's Super Bowl, advertisers already have their plays in motion. Many of the commercials are already viewable online, and ads get support from online components.

Over the past few years, the brands who buy air time for the Super Bowl have begun posting their commercials online in advance. The strategy is believed to help build buzz, though some wonder if it doesn't spoil the excitement of commercials debuting between plays on the big day.

No matter when the commercial is revealed, the Internet has become an important tool for maximizing the investment of buying Super Bowl TV time. Advertisers create websites specifically for the campaign, and many are turning to Facebook and YouTube to host those sites. Wherever the site appears, people will seek it out to be included in the excitement -- before, during and after the game.

Super Bowl Strategies

The Super Bowl happens early each year, and while some commercials are never seen after game day, advertisers use the commercial and supporting marketing efforts for the rest of the year.

"The Super Bowl has a huge reach in the beginning of the year," Max Kalehoff, VP of marketing at Syncapse, told the E-Commerce Times. "It gets you out of the hole on your sales plan much earlier in the year."

Syncapse works with companies to plan social media and advertising campaigns, and also provides metrics. In the days leading up to the big game, Syncapse watched for buzz and released data on the most social advertisers for Super Bowl XLVII. The top Facebook brand pages included Volkswagen, The Walking Dead, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Coca-Cola.

Online campaigns give Super Bowl advertisers a way to get more bang for the big bucks they spend to show the ad during the game.

"It starts the debate earlier and increases the attention their products receive," Josh Crandall, CEO of Netpop Research, told the E-Commerce Times. "Smart advertisers can use online distribution as a platform, or preview, to create additional mystery and intrigue around just what they will show on game day. Advertisers who can leverage the asynchronous, viral aspects of online distribution not only create an advertisement -- they create a multidimensional story."

Super Bowl Plays on Facebook

Facebook is becoming increasingly popular for advertisers, and Super Bowl advertisers have leveraged the social network for game-related activities. This year Doritos is hosting its "Doritos Crash The Super Bowl" fan-based commercial contest on Facebook instead of using a separate website. A visit to Crashthesuperbowl.com takes visitors to the Facebook page.

Doritos asks fans to submit their own commercials, then vote on one of two spots that will run during the Super Bowl. Executives at Doritos' parent company Pepsi select the second spot to air during the game. Five commercials made it to the final round of voting on the "Crash the Super Bowl" page. Winners will work with director Michael Bay on his next Transformers movie. Doritos will award up to US$1 million in a bonus prize if the commercial scores among the top spots in the USAToday ad meter.

"Consumer engagement is at an all-time high for Crash the Super Bowl. We have had double the number of visitors to this year's contest site, and the activity level is up significantly as well," Frito-Lay Senior Director of Marketing Jeff Klein told the E-Commerce Times.

"There are a number of contributing factors including increased publicity coverage and paid media. Paid digital media has been one of the biggest drivers of traffic and we have invested a lot in Facebook this year, as that's where our fans are," Klein said.

While Facebook offers a big boost to traffic and participation, companies should weigh the cost of having their own website versus hosting on Facebook.

"Facebook is sort of renting your presence," Kalehoff said. "It delivers hypertargeted segment audiences, but you don't own the domain."

In the case of Doritos, going with Facebook was the right choice, said Klein. It delivered more traffic than in years past, and Facebook worked with the company to get the page up and running.

"Facebook has been a great partner throughout the process of bringing the program over to their platform. They worked with client and agency partners alike to ensure the best practices across the life of the campaign from a user interface and publishing standpoint," he noted.

The Big Reveal

The question for a Super Bowl advertiser: Does running its ad on online prior to the game spoil the surprise?

Like Doritos, companies can use the ads to build suspense by running a contest. Coca-Cola will run a series of ads where the ending can be changed by viewer votes. Those ads -- without the ending -- are currently being hosted online.

Airing the commercials before the game has benefited Doritos.

"We believe in our fans and want to provide not only the world's biggest stage to showcase their talent but to have the spotlight shine on them well before kick-off," Klein said. "By releasing our spots early and allowing our fans to have a say in which ads airs on game day, we're putting them in control of our brand. We're also creating a meaningful relationship and dialogue with our customers, and that is invaluable."

Post-Game Recap

Most commercials aired during the Super Bowl are over in 30 seconds, but that's not where engagement ends for consumers.

Advertisers who set up online profiles capture audiences before, during and after the game. Doritos captured a crowd before the game with user-generated commercials and voting. It will keep the excitement going with viewers who want to see more of the commercials after the game.

"The gallery of spots within the application will remain live for folks who want to browse through and engage with the content. The winning spots will enter into our TV and streaming rotation following the game," said Klein.

The Super Bowl plants a seed for marketing campaigns to harvest throughout the year.

"You're planting momentum, it's the catalyst," said Syncapse's Kalehoff. "You'll often see Super Bowl campaigns as the launch for the remainder of the year. While everyone has a lot of fun looking at the ads, they don't happen in a silo. They're often designed to take place in the context of the Super Bowl, but also taking context in the annual social media plan."


Enid Burns is a freelance writer who has covered consumer electronics, online advertising, mobile, technology electronic entertainment, and fitness-related trends for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Daily News, Playboy, and Computer Shopper.


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