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Super Bowl is the Party of the Year. Got a Story to Tell or a Joke to Share?

Written on
Jan 31, 2014 
Author
Mike Barrett  |

ADOTAS – It’s Super Bowl season again, and the industry debate is on: Are the ads worth it, or are they a waste of money? No matter which side you come down on, you can’t argue this: with an average audience of more than 105+ million viewers, the Super Bowl is more culturally relevant than ever.

That’s because the Super Bowl isn’t just about football. It’s a cultural inflection point in America and increasingly, what happens around the game – rather than the game itself – is what America pays attention to. Will the national anthem singer forget the words? Will the halftime act keep her (or his) clothes on? Will the lights go off?  This dynamic, which has emerged over the last several decades, means that advertisers have more ways than ever to capture consumers’ attention during those Sunday hours.

If you’re an advertiser, you should think of the Super Bowl as a national cocktail party; there’s plenty of ways to get noticed. You can either grab the center of attention with an incredible story, or you can meaningfully contribute to the party chatter. Whether you aim to steal the spotlight or share the microphone – either approach is valid for making the party one to remember – take into account that there are different strategies for each.

With a Cocktail in Hand, Converse in Real-Time

Increasingly, communicating effectively means communicating within context. Nobody proved this better than Oreo last year. They didn’t swagger into the party and shout, “Look at me!” Their now famous “Dunk in the Dark” tweet wasn’t a big planned stunt, they were just ready to go when the time was right.

You can bet that this year more brands than ever will have social teams at the ready, seeking to be contextually relevant. If they can do it right, they’ll reap big ROI rewards – they will have figured out how to participate in the Super Bowl without ponying up the big dollars that go with paid advertising during the big game.

Executing a contextually relevant, real-time ad strategy is easier during the Super Bowl than at most other times of the year. And it shouldn’t cost you millions to do so. If you’re a smaller brand or your budget is set aside for other events during the year (such as the Olympics), you can still go to the party and mingle with the masses by taking advantage of the biggest thing that people will be watching for (other than the game itself, of course): moments of surprise.
Whether during the game or in the social stream, people will jump on whatever little unexpected event comes up that Sunday. It’ll be hard to see coming and will probably be a surprise when it happens – even better if it is. As Oreo did, brands should wait and pick their moment.

Grabbing the Limelight With a Story

Brands with big budgets typically make the Super Bowl a major pillar of their annual ad strategies. This year, as in the recent past, we can expect to see these advertisers create provocative pieces that tie into current cultural themes and are designed to inspire conversation when the focus of the country is in one place.

For example, Chrysler’s now famous “Halftime in America” spot, two and a half minutes in length, ran during the 2012 Presidential campaign cycle. It used actor Clint Eastwood as a narrator and showed scenes of discord to portray the country’s economic woes, painting the future as brighter. Given the political charge of American culture around the election, it sparked a national debate about the political affiliation of Eastwood and whether the ad was an endorsement of Obama.  It was a touchdown for the Chrysler Group, and a great example of how advertising that meets the moment can succeed.

Advertisers going this route should make sure their content is not just the best it can be – but that its stature matches the stature of the game. It should be epic in scale, and the ad itself should just be a starting point. People watching the Superbowl will want to share ads they that they like in real-time – arranging digital video, search and social strategies to make this sharing easy will be critical to getting your money’s worth from your Super Bowl spot.

No matter which way you choose to go, the Super Bowl represents a unique showcase for advertisers. The cultural infection point that the game has become – an explosion of social media conversations and the expansion of consumers’ focus beyond the on-field activities – means that there’s more opportunity than ever to savvy brands to participate. Let’s party.





Mike Barrett is managing director of communications strategy and media at Heat, a San Francisco-based creative agency that believes in the power of surprise to solve problems, build brands, and turn ordinary customers into raving fans. At Heat, Barrett partners with clients such as EA Sports, the NFL Network Kendall-Jackson and Bank of the West to demonstrate why surprising creative is effective creative. Prior to Heat, Barrett was EVP and North American head of strategy at UM, a unit of Interpublic Group; earlier in his career, Barrett was SVP planning director at Publicis & Hal Riney.

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