Advertisers bet on pre-game plays to dominate the Super Bowl

Super Bowl advertisers are escalating their pre-game marketing for this year’s Super Bowl following the realisation that their ads can now gain engagement not just reach in the weeks leading up to the game.

At $4.5m per 30 seconds, commercial time during this year’s Super Bowl on Sunday (1 February) is by far the most expensive air time on television in the world. But it is no longer just a three-hour event in the evening. It has become a three to four week dash for advertisers, leveraging more channels in the run up and beyond the match itself.

TV is still the focal point of the investment and yet it is viewed increasingly as a down payment for a wider marketing programme. Those brands that have guaranteed 200 million eyeballs with their prized TV slots are being forced to explore additional media exposure and social media chatter in order to stand oout from the crowd.

This shift in media mindset is reflected by Super Bowl broadcaster NBC taking longer than usual to sell out all its TV inventory, only announcing it had just days before the match. Despite charging a record average (see above), the broadcaster trailed last year when Fox sold out the ad time almost two months before the game was shown.

Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar Media Intelligence, said the disparity was due to advertisers spreading their Super Bowl spend over a longer period time to justify the increasing price for commercial time. Real time, digital interactions are attracting the additional outlay, which has seen hashtags overtake URLs as the most popular call to action mechanism on game day, according to Kantar.

“The old strategy of putting my commercial up on YouTube a week before the game and hope people see it no longer works,” added Swallen. “The tactic is still used but its part of a much bigger marketing programme now”.

It has caused many traditional Super Bowl advertisers such as Audi, Volkswagen and Ford to hit the brakes this year. The engagement the event can now deliver means marketers are under more pressure to go beyond having a memorable ad, devising an actual strategy that exposes the authenticity of the brand rather than just disruption.

The theme of fatherhood coming through the ads for Toyota, Nissan and Dove highlights this approach. And while pushing authenticity can be a lot more boring in comparison to creative going for fame, in the long run those ads are more likely to chime with viewers on a deeper level.

The blend of pre-game planning with a more robust advertising strategy appears to be chiming with viewers. AB InBev, which began leaking Super Bowl content at the start of the month, had more than 49,000 mentions online as of the 29th Janaury, the most of any brand linked to the event, according to BrandWatch. Pepsi ranked second followed by its Doritos brand with 27,500 and 23,000 mentions respectively in the period.

Simon Gill, chief creative officer at DigitasLBi, said: “It feels like this year brands are realising they can’t keep peddling the same old Super Bowl rubbish. There’s a confidence about saying no to the Super Bowl but there’s also a confidence in saying that if we’re going to do it then it’s going to be on our brand’s terms. I think it means that advertisers are having to think about how they use the game to communicate their purpose and no longer use it as a one time, fun gimmick.”

The maturity of the event has encouraged advertisers to tell a deeper story and further engage viewers. Some 40 per cent of the paid ads during the 2014 Super Bowl were 60 seconds or longer, the highest share since at least 1984, according to Kantar. It has been enough to tempt first time advertisers to gamble on Sunday’s match with rookies like Skittles, Carnival Cruises and Nissan hoping to draw from the global nature of both the web and increasingly the Super Bowl.

For many other brands, there are good reasons not to pump millions into TV, especially when they can harness digital to hijack buzz around the event.

The only real difference between Newcastle Brown Ale’s approach to the big game and the approach of all other brands that spend $4.5m to be part of the game is $4.5m. The brewer can’t afford a main ad slot during the match so ingeniously convinced 37 other brands to crowd fund its campaign in exchange for their logos and products crammed into a 60-second spot. It will air online and in some local NBC television markets during the game.

Nick Maschmeyer, strategist at Droga5 New York, which created Newcastle Brown Ale’s Super Bowl ad, said: “Some people have referred to our big game efforts as “ambush marketing.” I don’t really understand that. It seems to suggest that we’re trying to hone in on something we don’t “officially” belong to because we didn’t pay for national network airtime.

“But the same factors that make the pregame so important to “official” big game brands equally apply to Newcastle - if not more so. Like everyone else, the best way for us to be heard above the din is to start early, seed our content through paid and owned channels, encourage our fans and new audiences to engage with us and drive earned coverage through PR. This year we’ve even secured airtime during the game in a local market.”

Industry experts observe believe the hidden upside of working within the constraints of a shoestring budget is the idea that brands have to force themselves to distil everything into a simple, undeniable truth, which is then packaged in an integrated fashion. It is why many advertisers are pumping money into Facebook and YouTube with both launching tools and services to offer better targeting around the event.

Natasha Markley, creative strategist at The Brooklyn Brothers, said: “The Super Bowl is one of those rare occasions where people are actually looking for brands to step up and entertain. The brands that win are the ones who use both online and offline to create stories and ideas that people want to be part of, talk about and share, before, during and long after the event itself is over.”

What this means is that brands need to effectively be sitting alongside their customers watching the games, getting involved in the banter if they’re going to get the most out of these occasions. It is the unexpected that will catch people’s imagination.

Sam Fenton Elstone, head of media at iCrossing, added: “Using data to identify possible spikes in conversations will give brands a helping hand, but pre-prepared activity will only get you so far. Brands have to get in there and live the moments with the fans if they’re really going to crack big sporting events."

Brands of all sizes are gunning to become part of the biggest media event of the year in one form or another. To come out on top, they will need to double down on strategy in a market traditionally judged by creativity. They can’t afford not to.

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