What If Brands Needed the Super Bowl Now More than Ever?
For Sunday’s big event, people have already expressed their anxieties: the weather might turn, there may be security problems, hell there may even be a power outage like last year (although I doubt it). One thing is for sure: for the die-hard football fans, the game will be exciting to the very end, and for the die-hard advertising junkies, those high-profile ads will continue to set the year’s trends.
Of course, there are some people in the industry who are questioning the relevance of advertising at the Super Bowl. According to a thought-provoking piece in Advertising AgeSuper Bowl ads “don’t work”. Using data from a study conducted by Communicus, stating that 60% of Super Bowl ads do not increase product purchases or purchase intent, the article calls into question the entire enterprise of Super Bowl ads. Although I think that the Communicus study is revealing, I do not think brands should give up advertising at the Super Bowl. First of all, I don’t think that advertising should be expected to simply increase sales. Advertising serves to publicize a brand and to generate positive feelings about the brand among a target audience, today and in the future. Good advertising increases a desire to buy a product or service, however the timeline is not exact. Some people might want to buy the product the day after seeing the ad, other people, maybe in 20 years. If Apple’s 1984 ad were measured in terms of short-term sales, it would be unremarkable. However, the impact that this Super Bowl spot had for the brand 30 years on has been massive.
Without further ado, here are my three reasons for mega brands to stick with the Super Bowl.
You can improve your ad in real time
Do you remember Oreo’s Super Bowl ad last year? Anything coming to mind? How about Oreo’s Super Bowl Tweet? This perfectly done response to the 15-minute blackout during the game was not only witty and perfectly aligned with the brand’s strategy of creating daily content but it also garnered a huge amount of attention on social networks and in classic media. Today, being at the Super Bowl doesn’t just mean purchasing 30-second spot but actively participating in the event on social networks.
Oreo’s savvy Twitter strategy did not go unnoticed. Other major brands have gotten in on the pop-culture tweeting. Perhaps the most recent example of this is Arby’s tweet during the Grammy awards about Pharrell William’s hat.
You can create lots of buzz before the big day
The Super Bowl is an iconic event in the American media landscape. What’s more, it is one of the few remaining events that gather a large audience (around 160 million viewers tune in). A Super Bowl ad has become different than an ordinary ad and brands can use the buzz around the big day to their advantage. I personally think that Dorito’s “Crash the Super Bowl” initiative is very smart. By encouraging people to submit their ideas for ads the brand is able to get lots of people talking about Dorito’s products ahead of the big event.
Likewise, the so-called “banned” SodaStream ad featuring Scarlett Johansson has already attracted more attention than the planned ads of their big soda rivals. Even if the company doesn’t end up at the Super Bowl, this has generated lots of conversation for the brand.
Look at what happens when you don’t go
The 2009 Super Bowl took place at the height of the recession in the US. Consequently, many advertisers cut back on the usual ads—leaving space to brands that otherwise would not be present at the event. Cash4Gold, the mail-in refinery that normally advertises very late at night on cable, had a flashy Super Bowl ad featuring celebrities who had famously lost it all. Five years on, we can look at this ad as a “period piece” but at the time it seemed to signal a new kind of Super Bowl advertiser. Indeed, the New York Times jokingly wondered if the 2010 Super Bowl would feature ads for “Cash4Blood”, Jon Stewart had a similar, if more fowl-mouthed reaction to the spot as well. The companies who chose not to participate let other brands take their place in the cultural conversation.
Which is all to say that to this day, the Super Bowl remains an extremely important event, not just in the US popular culture, but worldwide, thanks to YouTube and Twitter. My belief is: if a mega brand can afford to go, and has an interesting story to tell (and a good agency to help tell it) they ought to go for it. The Super Bowl is still one of the few events where companies can enter into the cultural conversation. It’s not everyday your ad gets reviewed by the likes of the New York Times!