Brands convert Super Bowl eyes into digital chatter

TV commercials don’t always translate to online consumer excitement, so marketers are tackling new channels this year. Here’s how brands like Doritos and GoDaddy are using social media to build online buzz after the big game.

NBC is selling 30-second Super Bowl spots for a record $3 million a pop this Sunday, but brands’ ad spend on the big game won’t necessarily translate to consumer excitement. [original link at iMedia]

Like all things these days, the economy is trumping everything else. And brands are taking notice. General Motors and FedEx won’t be anywhere near this year’s Super Bowl.

But where big brands have decided to hold back, smaller upstarts are taking the plunge in their place, despite a recent report from Gallup Robinson that concluded viewers’ interest in Super Bowl commercials wanes tremendously when consumer confidence is low. Covering the last 12 years of Super Bowl ads, the firm found that when the economy is on the outs, ad recall is 11 percent lower than average, and 36 percent lower than more prosperous times.

The tools at brands’ disposal for bridging the divide between mass media and digital seems to be growing each year, if even measured by their rise in popularity. Web-only unrated versions, mobile applications, and social-networking campaigns are just some of the plays that digital marketers will be calling for the big game. Some brands are also giving fans a sneak peek of their ads by posting outtakes online.

A division that manages Canadian advertising for Budweiser is testing an interactive TV technology that will give Quebec viewers the chance to click on links embedded in Budweiser ads using their remotes, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week. The ads will be the first Super Bowl commercials to use the technology.

Tracking conversations about ads
While the digital push from brands has been in full swing for weeks, the amount of online discussion about brands’ Super Bowl plans is down by at least 20 percent from last year, according to Nielsen Online’s Blogpulse.

However, pre-game social media activity is up for some brands. Pepsi, GoDaddy, Audi, and Doritos are all seeing a spike in social media activity leading up to the game, according to Collective Intellect. Pepsi is experiencing a 143 percent increase in social media activity from last year, GoDaddy is up 41 percent, Audi’s up 14 percent, and Doritos is seeing a double-digit increase of 11 percent, according to the firm.

The biggest spike in online interest typically occurs in the days and weeks immediately following the game. In 2008, online conversations about the six most popular advertisers’ spots during Super Bowl week – Coca Cola, Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch, Doritos, GoDaddy, and Audi – dropped off significantly in the following week and continued to decline, Collective Intellect found. The number of posts on GoDaddy declined at a slower rate than Doritos and Audi.

“Only GoDaddy was able to maintain its share of conversations throughout the next five months against giants like Pepsi, Coke, GM, and Anheuser-Busch,” Collective Intellect stated.

While the Doritos ads carried much more hype before the game, the Coke ads “nearly completely drowned out Doritos ad discussions,” the firm reported. “Although Coca-Cola had relatively little pre-game hype, online conversation about its Super Bowl ads grew exponentially after the game, and continued to dominate the conversation over the next five months.”

Doritos is giving it another go this year with it’s third consecutive “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign experiment, where consumers are asked to vote on their favorite user-generated ad to be aired on Sunday.

The brand is taking things a step further this year by offering a $1 million prize if the winning ad comes out on top in USA Today’s ad meter. Doritos came in fourth the past two years. This year’s contest, which kicked off in September, has seen more than 2,000 entries narrowed down to five finalists. Doritos expects the winning ad to beat 2007’s vote total of 150,000.

Brands should keep in mind that it’s not always the most-compelling ads that sustain online conversations for the longest period of time. Toshiba, the Drug Council, Sprint, Gatorade, and GM came out on top of the pack for advertisers whose online discussions dropped off the least between the first and second week after the game last year. Garmin, Hershey’s, Planters, Pizza Hut, and Doritos all rounded out the bottom five brands that saw the biggest drop in online conversations in the same period.

Though the online conversation shifted a bit in the following two or three weeks. McDonalds, GM, Sprint, Coca Cola, and Dell came out on top for online conversation drop-off between the first and fourth week after the 2008 Super Bowl. Cars.com, Hershey’s, HP, Hyundai, and Pizza Hut rounded out the bottom five in the same period.

GoDaddy puts it up for a vote
GoDaddy is one standout brand that’s carved itself a particularly noticeable presence in the Super Bowl, with risqué ads clearly created to generate buzz, regardless of the tenor.

“Every year, we’ve had varying degrees of difficulty getting our GoDaddy-esque ads approved, ” GoDaddy’s EVP Barb Rechterman told iMedia. “GoDaddy-esque is a term the media coined for our commercials back in 2005. It means the ads are fun, edgy, and ‘slightly inappropriate.’”

The company is trying something a little different for its fifth-consecutive appearance in the big game this Sunday, and it’s either because its ads have lost some of that slight inappropriateness, or network censors have grown less prudish.

“Network censor approval usually comes at the last minute. That’s not what happened this year,” Rechterman said. “This year, we had two ads approved earlier than ever. We loved them both.  Since we couldn’t decide internally, we just came up with the idea to let the viewers help us decide with an online vote at GoDaddy.com.”

GoDaddy posted both approved ads online in mid-January and has been asking its online audience to weigh in ever since.

“We will also, as we have in the past, post a continued version of our Super Bowl ad to our website on game day,” Rechterman said. “We call these the internet-only versions. This year, whichever ad ends up airing in the Super Bowl broadcast will have its own internet-only version. This material is too risqué for broadcast but is a big draw at GoDaddy.com. People really have come to expect our un-rated internet-only versions on Super Bowl Sunday.”

Rechterman wouldn’t say how much GoDaddy is spending on its Super Bowl campaign this year, compared to previous years, but all of its commercials are produced in-house, which helps the company keep costs low.

As for the most effective way to drive TV viewers online, GoDaddy is building on years of success following Super Bowl spots.

“In 2007 we generated a 543 percent increase in traffic to GoDaddy.com. Last year, we had more than 1.5 million people visit our site during the Super Bowl game itself,” Rechterman said.

“It sounds simple, but the secret is having interesting content people want to see,” Rechterman said. “You have to give television viewers a compelling reason to log on to your website.”

Snubbing the TV audience
As many as 98 million people watched the Super Bowl last year. More are expected to tune in this year, but even that number is unlikely to trump the number of people who watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama just a week and a half prior. Perhaps that, alongside ad budget cuts sweeping across the land, is forcing big brands to opt out of the expensive TV spots and hedge their bets on alternatives instead.

ChaCha, an SMS advertising platform, reports that brands like ESPN, which isn’t appearing in a TV spot during the big game, are turning to them to reach that coveted younger demographic in a medium that probably captures their attention more than TV.

But just because some brands are making that call doesn’t mean most are following suit. As of Jan. 20, NBC still had as many as 10 or 11 spots left to sell, but just four days before the big game, it had only two.

NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol said the network was able to keep economic concerns at least at an arms length because of an early push on the part of its sales team. With 85 percent of the inventory sold in early September, it “isolated us from a lot of the pain that the rest of the broadcast industry is feeling,” he said in a conference call. “This Super Bowl, because it was sold so early, is largely immune to that pressure.”

Ebersol said the network has gone through a “tough slog” selling the remaining 15 percent of ad inventory. Moreover, only a dozen of its commercial spots were sold at the $3 million asking price, while all of them have been sold at prices above $2.4 million. When Fox carried the 2008 Super Bowl, it put out an asking price of $2.7 million per spot.

Taking the vote online
There’s also a growing field of online properties trying to build up interest in Super Bowl ads by letting people watch and vote on their favorite spots online. AOL’s FanHouse is running its Super Sunday Ad Poll where all of the game day ads will be available in their entirety for fans to view, comment, and vote on their favorite commercials.

The ad poll will begin shortly after kick-off and the winning commercial will be announced Monday. AOL said Budweiser’s “Rocky” commercial, which won the top spot from last year’s game, had more than 40 million streams. YouTube will also be running its Super Bowl AdBlitz where viewers can vote on their favorites.

Despite the doom and gloom that hangs over Wall Street and Main Street these days, there’s plenty to suggest that, if done right, the $3 million some brands are plunking down on an ad spot this Sunday could live on for months online after the game is long over and everyone has made their trip to Disneyland.

Matt Kapko is deputy editor for iMedia Connection.

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