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The Big Tease: Getting Us Hooked on Super Bowl Commercials Before the Game

Ready for the big commercials — I mean, game?

I hate television commercials, and I’m willing to bet you do, too. They’re annoying, they’re unrealistic, and perhaps most infuriating of all, they always air much louder than the actual show you were engrossed in before the break.

With my DVR, I can get around this. There’s nothing I love more than being able to fast-forward through the commercials. It makes me feel like I have the upper hand on the advertisers. That I’m beating them at their own game.

And this makes the advertisers very, very sad. Indeed, as traditional television viewership has declined, so has advertising revenue. The television ad market dipped 21.2% between 2008 and 20091, and since then it hasn’t exactly made a comeback.

But there remains one time of year where the advertisers can still beat me at my own game. One very special day where they know that they have nearly all of America’s attention.

Super Bowl Sunday.

Super Bowl Sunday has, amazingly, managed to become a cultural touchstone; a pseudo national holiday. It’s recognized as the second-largest day for food consumption in the U.S. after Thanksgiving Day.2 Even if you never watched a game during the regular season, or even if you can’t stand either of the teams playing, chances are that you’ll watch at least part of the big event. The 2011 Super Bowl clocked in an astonishing 111 million viewers.3 That’s over one third of the U.S. population!

This little championship football game just has that strong of a pull.

And surprisingly, one thing that seems to have just as much of a pull as the game — if not even more — is the commercials. Super Bowl commercials have come to be known as epic, elaborate productions that compete to win the hearts and minds of the audience.

Apple started the trend in 1984 with its unveiling of a high-concept commercial announcing the release of the Macintosh computer that had Super Bowl fans reeling. Since then, the stakes continue to rise. The Super Bowl is the only televised event that some people tune into just for the advertising. This year, advertisers happily shelled out an average of $3.5 million for a mere 30-second spot. Outrageous? Foolhardy? Think again. When you have the eyeballs of the nation on you for one day, you’d better use it to your advantage. You gotta go big or stay home.

For a long time, part of the way advertisers “went big” was to keep their Super Bowl campaign plans under close wraps, believing that secrecy and surprise would draw the most attention. But the last few years have seen a new development: relying on social media to drive up buzz about the commercials in advance.

This is the age of the preview. The teaser. And viewers are absolutely eating it up.

Volkswagen of America has been an early leader in the game. On January 18 they released a teaser video for the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle on YouTube that was also shown on television. The video showed dogs barking the “The Imperial March” theme from Star Wars in chorus. The YouTube video had 1.6 million views within the first 24 hours, and within two weeks it had over 10.6 million views. Volkswagen cross-marketed the teaser with a link to a website where fans could create and send their own customized Star Wars-themed Super Bowl party invitations. Volkswagen posted the full commercial online on February 1, several days before the Super Bowl, in an effort to maintain viewer interest and increase conversation.

Here are some of the other notable previews we’ve seen this year:

  • Vampire Party,” Audi — The YouTube teaser video was followed up by a release of the full video of a vampire party that ends badly thanks to the Audi S3’s new headlights, and marketed on Twitter using the hashtag “SoLongVampires.”
  • Mr. Quiggly,” Sketchers — Viewers only get a brief 16-second introduction to this French Bulldog with an affinity for racing before the big day, but in the meantime fans can “like” Mr. Quiggly on Facebook.
  • Matthew’s Day Off,” Honda — Topping out at a whopping 2:25 minutes long, the extended version of the commercial depicts Matthew Broderick revisiting his role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The video is being cross-marketed on Honda’s Facebook pages and on Twitter using the hashtag #dayoff.
  • Polar Bowl Party,” Coca Cola — Coca Cola is ramping up the hype on Facebook and Twitter for their live game day party. Fans must RSVP for the party, during which they can chat with each other and get real-time updates from the polar bears that can be shared in social media streams. For every reservation to the party, the company will donate $1 to the World Wildlife Fund. The highlight of this huge campaign will come during the Super Bowl, when Coca Cola will air one of two commercials based on which team is leading the game at half time.
  • Crash the Super Bowl,” Doritos — For the sixth consecutive year, Doritos is relying on fans to vote up their favorite consumer-made videos, culled from over 6,000 entries to just five. The video with the most votes will be aired during the Super Bowl, and the winner will get a chance to work with a top agency to create another video. Doritos is promoting the contest directly across social media streams, and indirectly via USA Today’s traditional Ad Meter or its new Facebook Super Bowl Ad Meter by offering a $1 million cash prize if one of their videos ranks #1.

As far as being effective? Let me put it this way: if even me — a stubborn commercial-hater — could get roped into the Super Bowl commercial preview buzz, I have to admit they beat me.

What about you — do you find yourself watching the big game to see the commercials?

 

1 Source: The Yankee Group, 2010.
2 Source: USDA, 2007.
3 Source: http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Bowl#Television_coverage_and_ratings

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