This Sunday, more than 100 million American viewers are expected to tune in to watch the San Francisco 49ers play the Baltimore Ravens as part of Super Bowl XLVII. For some viewers, the ads are even more exciting than the game, and companies have paid a record-setting premium this year to broadcast their spots.
But with a price tag of nearly $4 million for a 30-second allotment, marketers want to squeeze as much value from their ads as possible, and are turning to the Internet as a cheap and effective way to jack up the buzz surrounding their brands. To increase the chances of their ads going viral, the Holy Grail of Internet-based marketing, advertisers are releasing their campaigns long before kickoff.
The Not-So-Secret Super Bowl Ads
Super Bowl ads or ad teasers released on the Internet ahead of the Super Bowl generated over 9.1 million views on YouTube last year, according to statistics YouTube provided to The Financialist. Campaigns that waited until game day or after the game got just 1.3 million views.
According to Unruly Viral Video Chart, known as the Billboard of viral videos, 75 percent of the 20 most-shared ads from last year’s game went up online before game day, and total Super Bowl ad shares increased by 129 percent from 2011 to 2012.
German automobile manufacturer Volkswagen demonstrated the early bird trend when it decided to release its expensive and much-hyped 2011 Super Bowl commercial on YouTube before the game. The strategy paid off spectacularly, with the commercial —depicting a pint-sized Darth Vader using “The Force” to start the family car — becoming an instant Internet hit that has now amassed more than 56 million YouTube views.
The car company’s 2013 ad, which features a man who brightens up his office environment with a positive attitude and a Caribbean accent, was uploaded January 27 and had already received more than 4.7 million hits on YouTube as of Friday afternoon. One-third of Americans will seek out Super Bowl ads before kickoff this year, and half will watch their favorite spots again after the game, according to a recent poll by advertising firm Venables Bell & Partners.
Other popular 2013 Super Bowl commercials so far are Mercedes Benz’s ad featuring Kate Upton with 5.8 million views as of Friday afternoon, Toyota’s teaser with 3.2 million views and Audi’s “Prom” ad with 4.3 million views.
A Two-Way Conversation
“The value of a Super Bowl ad goes far beyond the 30-second spot played during the game, and the reason for that is that they’re now so highly scrutinized by everyone,” said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media.
Adgate said social media allows viewers to instantly comment on ads, and a growing number of polls survey audience reactions.
“The reaction is immediate. You can get a feeling for what audiences like by the number of likes on Facebook, the number of tweets—there are all sorts of different metrics,” he said. “It does bring you more traction.”
Super Bowl ads are super-expensive, so it’s not surprising that companies want to expand the reach of their commercials. CBS is selling 30-second slots at prices averaging between $3.7 million and $3.8 million.
Coke is trying to get as much bang for its buck as possible with its “Chase” campaign, in which showgirls, badlanders and cowboys race across the desert to reach the thirst-quenching Coca-Cola oasis. The brand’s online teaser, viewed as of Friday by more than 1.4 million people, encourages viewers to vote by clicking a button or using one of three specific Twitter hashtags to determine which group ends up winning in the final spot. The campaign also includes animated gifs and “sabotage videos” – content ready-made for sharing on social media platforms.
“The ads at the Super Bowl have to play across all age groups, ethnic groups and genders,” says Adgate, “Sometimes, even the ads that are horrendous, they’re at least part of the conversation.”
Still, Adgate said some companies prefer not to release teasers, waiting instead until the big game to surprise audiences. That was the strategy Chrysler adopted with last year’s successful “Half-Time in America” ad, starring Clint Eastwood.
“If the ad is very good, people are going to want to watch it again afterwards,” Adgate said. “Last year, Clint Eastwood caught everyone by surprise. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all model.”
This year, Chrysler has kept silent about its Super Bowl ad and did not return requests for comment about its strategy to buck the teaser trend and wait until Super Bowl Sunday.
Still image courtesy of the Coca-Cola “Chase” ad campaign