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Super Bowl

What lessons can UK advertisers learn from Super Bowl XLVI?

By Joe Fernandes

February 7, 2012 | 6 min read

Super Bowl XLVI became the most-watched television programme in US history on Sunday night with a peak audience of 111.3 million viewers. For a chance to reach such a big audience, many marketers shelled out $3.5m (£2.2m) for 30 seconds of commercial time — the equivalent of $116,667 (£73,751) a second. But what can UK advertisers learn from this mass investment vehicle?

While the glitz and the glamour of this extravaganza cannot be denied, UK television has struggled to achieve such a peak. The nearest it gets to creating such hysteria is The X Factor Final, where in 2010 ITV charged an asking price of £250,000 for a 30-second slot in the final, reaching a peak audience of 19 million viewers. Domestic sporting battles, such as the FA Cup, have simply lost their allure with audiences.

Yet, there is much that UK advertisers could learn from the efforts being made across the pond to capture the attention of viewers, gripped by the sporting occasion and elaborate half-time show.

Jo Boyd, managing director, UK at Anthem Worldwide, says: “The main thing the Super Bowl advertising phenomenon teaches us is to invest in more in PR and hype. The ads themselves appear, on the whole, to be fairly unexciting. Nothing that takes my breath away or makes me think, "I've never seen that before". However, what we can probably not really comprehend is the cultural significance of the Superbowl in the USA and how the advertising within it has become almost as significant as the match itself.”

One such opportunity for brands to exploit the opportunity for capturing viewer attention will be the London 2012 Olympics. Much like the Royal Wedding of last year, it has the potential for making British creativity a global talking point.

Tim Hipperson, chief executive of G2 Joshua, notes: “UK brands have become increasingly effective at capitalising on national events over the last few years, much in line with the advertising you might experience at the Super Bowl. The Royal Wedding is a prime example. Many companies were quick to take advantage of the country’s sentiment surrounding the event in order to promote their brands. T-Mobile’s spoof of the wedding ceremony is a fine example of a brand that effectively tailored its advertising around the occasion, becoming the most popular advert among British viewers on the internet in 2011.

“With the Olympics upon us, UK adland has already begun its pursuit of capturing the imagination of the British people and as the Games draw closer we are likely to see an advertising frenzy not far removed from that which surrounds the Super Bowl.”

But what is it about the Super Bowl ads that really make viewers sit up and pay attention? For many, it’s the sheer entertainment offering which really makes it worthwhile.

David Bicknell, creative director, Echo, comments: “Advertisers put aside many of their own marketing rules and concentrate on giving the masses what they’ve grown to expect - pure entertainment. It’s likability and a talking points they’re interested in generating rather than product recall, a trend made more poignant by the fact that many campaigns were preceded by their own on-line trailers and ‘teasers’.”

Lauren McDermott, senior project manager, Siegel+Gale, adds: “Brands actually have an opportunity to create an experience around themselves. They have a chance to demonstrate their personality, what they are all about, without having the audience feel that they are being targeted. If you're going to grab viewers' attention during a timeout from the game, it's not going to be to splash facts about financing options for your potential new car. We see that every day. They need to entertain, rather than jerk viewers in and out of the excitement of the game.”

Super Bowl commercials are made with the internet in mind. The additional PR coverage and web impressions, generated through such high profile spots, are seen as an incentive for brands and their agencies to produce relevant, funny and engaging content. McDermott notes that this year there were more teasers than ever, some YouTube clips pulling in millions of viewers leaving them excited, or at least curious, to see the full-length spot on the Sunday night.

That interactive theme continued right up to the game itself. Twitter revealed the event broke all records as fans worldwide sent more than 10,000 tweets per second during the climax of the sport showpiece. Meanwhile, InMobi says that nearly 40% of respondents used mobile devices in response to TV ads and 45% estimated that they would spend 30 minutes or more on their mobile devices during the game.

David Fieldhouse, chief marketing officer, Mobile Future Group, predicts that a trend will develop from this.

"In time, could the mobile channel begin to inform TV planning? I wouldn't bet against it - especially with huge TV events coming up such as the European Football Championship and Olympics."

Steve Peters from Code Computerlove, says the move proves that there are opportunities for brands to create multi-platform experiences, but warns: “The skill here is not interrupting the viewers’ core objective– to watch the football. Therefore brands need to create really tangible experiences extending ideas that complement the viewing experience & make it brand-relevant rather than try and hijack ‘a big audience’.”

This buzz is something brands and adland would have to create. But does UK advertising really need a specific vehicle to do this?

Andrew Hawkins, managing director of DCH, says: “Surely the industry should always be looking to produce the most compelling work it can, regardless of where or what media it is shown. Compelling work will generate its own interest and light the collective synapse of the twitterati - the annual John Lewis advertising being a case in point, which has had over 4m YouTube views to date. Can we learn anything from the Super Bowl advertising circus? Yes, a brand and their agency should always aim to produce the most compelling and engaging work it can.”

Yet the old adage of practice makes perfect needs to be put into action to ensure that it is not a dud. As Simon Robinson, integrated creative director at Kitcatt Nohr Digitas, concludes: "I'm not sure that agencies ever say: 'what this brand needs is a Superbowl spot'. But I'm jolly sure that clients do. (I'm pretty sure that '1984' was Steve Jobs's idea, rather than the agency's). So what you get are briefs for ads that don't really have a purpose other than to appear either side of Madonna. Sometimes they're amazing; but more often, like Valentine's Day, they go wrong because they're trying so hard to be special."

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