12 Feb 2013

Super Bowl kicks brand entertainment goals

An average of 108 million viewers tuned in to watch the Baltimore Ravens take on the San Francisco 49ers in this year’s Super Bowl. The ratings, while down slightly on previous years, secured the event as the third most watched program in US television history behind two previous Super Bowls. Not bad for a football game.

The Super Bowl has always been the most watched TV program in the USA, and has traditionally attracted big advertisers looking to reach mass audiences.

What was once an American football match, has grown into something much bigger with the Super Bowl broadcast live in more than 180 countries and in more than 30 different languages.

As the spectacle has grown, so too has the attention of advertisers looking to reach audiences and with so many jumping on board, they spend big to stand out.

The Super Bowl has become arguably the most anticipated event in the global advertising industry. For good reason too.  Super Bowl ads have gone on to become some of the most iconic in history.

Apple’s iconic 1984 advertisement launched at the Super Bowl and is still largely believed to be one of the most memorable, and arguably among the best, ads of all time.

Ads like Budweiser’s ‘Frogs’ and Reebok’s 'Terry Tate: Office Linebacker', showed how ads could go viral long people the industry had even coined the name as a marketing technique. There was VW's charming 'The Force' and Snickers unforgettable ad starring Betty White. And, let's not forget the global sensation that was Old Spice’s Super Bowl ad.  

This year a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl broadcast was worth around US$4 million - a staggering amount of money for a saturated event. But there's no denying that getting your brand into the event is worth every penny. 

Super Bowl advertising has passed from being a toilet break to becoming mid-game entertainment, some would argue it sits alongaide the half time entertainment. 

In fact 39% of Americans say they prefer the ads to the game, while 73% of Super Bowl viewers see the ads as entertainment.


The explosion of social media means the real time conversations around the event are equally mixed between discussions about the game and the ads. According to after match analysis the conversation turns firmly to discussions about the ads. One social media tracking company said viewers produced 30.6 million social media comments talking about the ads.

Unsurprisingly Super Bowl ads require serious budget. It’s not just the media spend, most ads feature celebrities – this year’s batch included Oprah, Stevie Wonder, Willem Dafoe, Usher, The Rock, Seth Rogan, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Tracey Morgan, Kate Upton, Bar Rafeli and Psy. The production budgets are big, the talent is pricey but the marketplace is cluttered. With so much hype around the spectacular how can brands ensure the ad will stand out? 

This year was an exercise in social media, with almost all of the ads launching teasers online and calling on consumers to get involved, share content, vote or choose content and generally engage and interact with the advertising.

A predictable turn of events but one which helps to further position the Super Bowl - ads and all - as one major entertainment event. Act One kicked off weeks before as brands began teasing and seeding content online. Act Two is the event itself, which in true dramatic entertainment style featured a breath taking twist when the stadium was plunged into darkness when the power went out, and Act Three the aftermath where pundits discuss, rate and dissect the advertising - seriously does anyone know (or care) who won the game? 

As a Brand Entertainment vehicle the Super Bowl packs a punch, laden with brands producing some of the most entertaining advertising you'll see (until next year's event), complete with all the PR and free media coverage a brand could hope for. The strategy is simple: Create an ad to entertain the masses, stand out from the crowd, make 'em laugh and if you can't make 'em laugh, make them feel proud to be American. 

The ads are always standouts and this year was no exception.

From the lovable elderly troublemakers in Taco Bell's 'Viva Young' to VW's infectious 'Get Happy' (even if the TV spot was underwhelming after the brilliant teaser) brands pushed America's heart strings in the emotionally drenched Chrysler Jeep and Dodge RAM ads. There were Space Babies, Genies, Hot girls kissing geeky guys, miracle stains, lucky chairs, astronauts, and even the Devil

Notable mentions also came from Hyundai, Samsung, Best Buy ... the list goes on and on. 

Many of the brands kicked off pre-Super Bowl campaigns to engage fans ahead of time. Audi’s posted three versions of one ad and asked audiences to vote for the ad to screen at the Super Bowl, Doritos continued it’s Crash the Super Bowl contest where fans choose the user-generated ads to screen at the event, Ford Lincoln worked with Jimmy Fallon to illicit texts from fans to incpire the action in its Super Bowl ad.

Then there was more interaction off the back of the ads: Budweiser urged audiences to suggest names for the Cyldesdale featured in its ad, Oreo asked audiences to choose between Crème or Cookie and Wonderful Pistachios – which featured Korean sensation Psy - asked fans to upload a picture of how they "Get Crackin' Gangnam Style'" for a chance to win a 12-month lease of a Mercedes Benz convertible which featured in the "Gangnam Style" video.

Was it entertaining? hell yes. Was it largely a lot of adverts with social media strategies strapped around them? well yes.


As branded entertainment goes, the Super Bowl is a Super Brand Event and the spectacle of this entertainment event has begun to overshadow the game itself, so much so that the question must be asked: do the brands need the event or does the event need the brands? 

With the advertising now such an integral part of the experience and the entertainment of the event, will the Super Bowl be able to continue to charge such a premium for an ad spot. Yes the demand is there but how long until it overshadows the game completley. Given the inevitable situation that only two teams are competing for a title and trophy it makes sense that for the majority of viewers of any given Super Bowl, the outcome of the game is meaningless, therefore they are tuning in to be entertained. Whether that is from football, half time enterainment or advertising starts to become irrelevant. This suggests there is a huge opportunity for brands to hitch up to the platform and create compelling branded entertainment experiences.

However, that time is yet to arrive. While the Super Bowl is a master class in brand created entertainment, i.e. very entertaining adverts, transmedia it ain't.

There were, however, three stand out companies which aligned their brands with the Super Bowl beyond creating an advert, and instead created a branded experience that went hand in hand with the event itself. These brands are the Branded Arts Review’s Stars of the Super Bowl:

  • No.3 - OREO

As branded entertainment experiences go, Oreo could not have predicted the brand experience it would create at the Super Bowl. Going into the event, Oreo had created a great ad bought a 30-second spot in the game and aired its 'Whisper Fight' TVC, which encouraged audiences to go online and vote for Cookie or Cream. This was a nice little campaign which integrated social media with a TVC around a major event. The brand is still riding a social media wave after its hugely successful Daily Twist campaign. 

It was this commitment to social media and understanding of the power a tactical message can carry that took Oreo's Super Bowl campaign from entertaining to a mass brand experience. 

When the power went out at the Super Bowl, Oreo created a reactionary tweet that everything changed. The tweet read “Power out? No Problem.” The image featured an Oreo and the line “You can still dunk in the dark”. Social media, and media in general, went wild, the image has been pasted across the globe and Oreo has been crowned the “winner” of the brands at the Super Bowl. 

A brilliant tactical response from a savvy and smart brand. Oreo's ability to create an Oreo branded experience around the events of the Super Bowl in real time was a punchy move that earned it major kudos with a mass audience. Oreo won the black out, it owned that experience and as well as creating an Oreo branded Super Bowl moment, that will not be quickly forgotten. 

  • No. 2 - Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola kicked off its Super Bowl campaign in Late January with an online video for its TVC "Mirage”. The teaser introduced three groups of people, cowboys, showgirls and Mad Max style badlander characters who are racing through the desert in search of a bottle of Coke. The ad finishes with the reveal that the coke bottle was a sign directing them to the drink 50 miles away. The ad directed audiences to join in to an online game where they could choose to support a group to win the race to the Coke with the winning group to be revealed in a TVC following the Super Bowl game. Consumers were encouraged to share the spot on social media to unlock more content and could vote for groups and sabotage the other groups through a series of video content.

As branded entertainment goes, Coke created a compelling, interactive transmedia brand experience. Coke created content across a range of platforms, each telling different elements of the Mirage story from Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Coke claims 910,000 votes were cast, although Coke said there were “intermittent connection problems at the voting site” which crashed during the game around the same time the black out occurred.

A very interesting element of Coke's branded entertainment platform was that it featured a cross promotion for Domino’s Pizza, which saw a Domino's pizza delivery guy appear in three of the sabotage videos online - it was the first time Coke has cross promoted another companion brand in its advertising and suggests the brand is taking its role as a publisher very seriously.  

Overall the campaign felt a little flat. The action was too removed from the Super Bowl activity and there was no real explanation about who these characters were and why people should vote for them. There were more questions than answers and it was a little lacklustre in its delivery.  Overall it felt hugely irrelevant and seemed to fall wide of the mark. This became even more apparent when the lights went out and the site went down and huge opportunities to engage the audience were lost. The drama and entertainment of the Super Bowl outplayed Coke in this instance, as did its major rival.

  • No. 1 - Pepsi

Pepsi came out all guns blazing for this Super Bowl and the hard work paid off. A sponsor of the Super Bowl for a number of years, this year Pepsi was keen to make a big splash and no doubt overshadow its often louder voiced rival Coca-Cola. This year Pepsi had a major card to play too: Beyonce. The drinks brand signed the artist as a global brand ambassador last year in a US $50 million deal which includes Beyonce appearing in a TVC, her image on limited editions cans of Pepsi as well as tour sponsorship and funding of the artists’ “creative projects”.

While Beyonce’s Super Bowl half time appearance deal was already inked before she signed on with Pepsi, the brand's existing sponsorship of the event, and now the performer, seemed to suggest Pepsi was really onto something. 

Beyonce’s performance at the Super Bowl formed one of the central pillars of Pepsi's Super Bowl promotions, Fans were invited to post images of themselves to be used in the "first ever crowd sourced halftime introduction" to welcome her to stage. A select number of fans could also win tickets to dance on the sidelines during the show. It was a savvy strategy getting the fans involved and that little bit closer to a star like Beyonce was a win for everyone. It gave Pepsi the hold on the event, the Super Bowl entertainment, brought to you by Pepsi and you the fans.  

It certainly cemented Pepsi's presence and role at the Super Bowl - a rare treat for the brand which is often locked out or outgunned by its flashy rival. Beyonce's role as global ambassador could easily prove unsuccessful, however her appearance at the Super Bowl gave Pepsi the ability to really own the event and own the entertainment, in a manner which stretched beyond pure naming rights sponsorship. 

Beyonce’s show was sensational and it created a huge halo effect for the Pepsi brand. Internet meme’s such as this one: “I heard there’s a football show at the Beyonce Concert on Sunday” showed the huge fascination and interest with her performance and Pepsi was able to ride her coat tails and bask in the glory.

The brand didn’t stop there either. Pepsi’s also used the event to create buzz for its Pepsi Next product which launched last year. The brand created a teaser video “Shopping” which it released online ahead of airing its ‘Party’ ad during the Super Bowl. Pepsi also launched a Pinterest contest and encouraged fans to sign up to receive a free Pepsi Next drink.

Pepsi also showed it was willing to take on it’s rival with a cheeky online ad which spoofed Coke’s Mirage campaign. 'Vending Machine' was a great sucker punch from the brand, which proved it was savvy, cool and had a great sense of humour.

Coke’s response on the other hand fell short and lacked humour, again a rare stumble for this over achiever. As Branded Entertainment goes, Pepsi kicked a big goal through its Beyonce sponsorship, the halftime show was a massive event and Pepsi’s association with Beyonce and Super Bowl was clearly defined.



Steve Walls

16 Sep 2014

I have a real problem with SuperBowl spots... in that too often they're spots designed to fit into an expected SuperBowl format - rather than to stand out from the crowd.

Brands lose themselves in the rush to put Betty White on a Farting Horse, to go long on the humor and short on their own tone. And as a result they start to blend into an endless sea of 'meh'.

Blame BBDO (I do) and their, until recently, successful formula of entertainment first, brand message, voice, tone and consideration a distant second.

Of course the stuff that's broken through recently has broken the format. VW with 'Vader", Chrysler buying out a whole break, changing the tone and using Clint to talk about 'Half Time in America', Oreos with a simple, free, tweet.

Try telling that to people hell bent on creating a 'SuperBowl Spot' though. Their disrespect for the audience is mind boggling. Ask why there's no thought, no nuance, no real care and you're told 'the people watching are drunk, they're dipping pretzels in guacamole, they're screaming at their friends and they're drooling - what they want is stuff that exploded, girls with big hooters in slo-mo and Betty White on a Farting horse'

So here's a suggestion. Rather than trying to drive an audience that you denigrate to re-watch the ad that's way off strategy on YouTube the day after the game - why not do something that has meaning, purpose, integrity, an idea... you never know, people may look up from the trough and pay you some real attention
Jon McKie

16 Sep 2014

As a show case for the best of american advertising I found the quality of the ideas really disappointing. To your point, the campaigns all seem to conform to the same formula which seems to make the event an exercise in $$ fire power rather than genuine creativity.

Its a cliche, but ideas/content developed around an engaging human insight are the ones that are stickiest and this is severely lacking in most of the campaigns.... what's the human truth or brand idea in the Coke campaign for example and what's the use in having mediaversal high quality content if it it's not engaging or relevant? Despite the fact they are cheesey/schlocky, I'd rate the VW, Dodge and Jeep ideas over and above the Coke and Pepsi ones any day.

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