Social Media Co-Opts the Super Bowl

With more than 100 million tuning in to watch each year, the Super Bowl has long been a mecca for advertisers. Brands have historically unveiled some of the best commercial spots of the year during the game, which they’ve kept under wraps for months. These ads are pricey; not only are production values high (read costly), but the average expense for broadcasting an ad this year is $3.5 million per 30 seconds.

Watching the Super Bowl used to mean hanging out with your friends, eating lots of fattening appetizers, and being glued to the widescreen TV to not only watch the game, but to watch the commercials, too. This time around, the element of surprise is gone — advertisers have been posting their ads on Facebook, YouTube, and their own websites, some for weeks. About half of the game commercials are estimated to be online now. Instead of holding the spots back this year, advertisers have been trying  generate excitement by making it easier for consumers to watch, share, and discuss the ads ahead of the broadcast. This has moved the next-day buzz and the discussion everyone usually has (which ads were great, which weren’t) to the weeks leading up to when the game is actually played.

The sharp increase in pre-released ads speaks volumes about how social media has changed the marketing landscape. A broad media trend has many outlets sharing content with consumers ahead of time, including magazine articles and prime-time TV shows, in an effort to draw in more readers and viewers.

“This is the first Super Bowl where social media has been an integral part of marketers’ plans,” said Adam Schwartz, associate director and sports specialist at Horizon Media, which buys time on television shows, because they realize “you can get more bang for your buck.”

Among the advertisers who have launched their commercials ahead of time:

  • Chevy Happy Grad, a Chevrolet Camaro spot went that went online 17 days before the game, on January 19th.
  • Kia Motors began showing its commercial, A Dream Car For Real Life, on February 2nd in more than 18,000 movie theaters around the country.
  • On January 18th, Volkswagen posted a teaser on YouTube called The Bark Side that features a group of dogs barking out the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars.
  • Honda posted its its game day commercial for the Honda CR-V, Matthew’s Day Off,  on YouTube on January 26th. It features Matthew Broderick in an homage to his 1986 movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
  • Coca-Cola is bringing back its popular polar bear ads. The company has posted a series of teasers to ramp up buzz ahead of the big game.

To create buzz, it’s no longer enough for the NFL and game advertisers to simply get people talking at the water cooler the morning after the game — they also want to engage people who are posting on Twitter or Facebook or texting their friends. Many brands have carefully crafted social media campaigns to accompany their TV ads, using hashtags and contests to increase engagement with viewers. These carefully orchestrated initiatives by advertisers, along with the NFL’s Social Media Command Center,  have changed the face of advertising for big events.

It remains to be seen how all of this works out. What will people be talking about on Monday morning? Since many have already seen the Super Bowl spots, with they be as much of a topic of conversation? And what about viewers who don’t especially care for football? They tune in for the sole purpose of watching the ads with their friends; with many of the pre-released spots getting so much attention, will they even tune it at all?