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The Super Bowl is no longer about Football Fans


Guest post by Jay Sorrels, Senior Social Media Strategist, Ogilvy Public Relations

The Super Bowl remains a seminal Social event, and not just for the growing fan base of American Football. It is one of the last truly mass reach marketing platforms, and one with a unique relationship between consumers and marketers.

Shouldn’t smart Social strategies embrace, extend and deepen that very special connection?

I’d not be able to name another mass cultural moment where people wait for, talk about and debate adverts.  The increasingly immense costs of booking a spot combined with the size and universality of the audience has always meant that the ads have been part of the experience, and heavily anticipated.

Just think: 100 million viewers glued to their screens and their sofas. Expecting great ads. A marketer’s dream and an ideal proving ground for Social media integration or even “Social first” thinking, right?

Not quite.

Is social really worth $40 per tweet (or more)?

According to the metrics vendors, well over 12 million mentions of the game appeared on 2nd February across Twitter and Facebook, with a slight but instructive majority on the latter, despite it’s lack of fashionability.

Something like 1.2 of the 12 million mentions on the two main platforms were about the adverts in some way.  Typical prices for a 30 second spot are allegedly $4m – just for the media.

Take a moment to do the maths, in any direction you like.

Even assuming mates rates taking that cost way down to $3m, it doesn’t seem like cause for champagne cork popping to me.  Under what circumstances would a single consumer mention of your brand communication be worth $40?  What about $100, $200, $500 or more?

Not many.

If my multi-million pound punt returned such scarily low scores, I’d turn off my phone and be on the next slow boat to somewhere with no Extradition treaties before my clients or colleagues thought something amiss.  But sadly, I’m the odd one out at this tailgate party, despite the cold hard facts.

Do you really have the attention of the 100M+ Super Bowl viewers?

Even if you pretend that the total production, agency and media cost (rather than just media) for a single Super Bowl spot was $4m – and you lucked out with one of the best performers on Social with 100,000 mentions or so – are you sure it was all worth it?  How many of the 100 million viewers even gave it a glance?  Can you be sure they were not cracking open another can, in the bog or attacking the guacamole instead?  And if they did see your spot, are they impressed or amused by the advert, or inspired by the brand?  Will they change behaviour in your favour or even buy something as a result?

Probably not, and the evidence keeps looking worse.

Communicus, an advertising evaluation firm, deftly deployed the news cycle to release research demonstrating that 80% of Super Bowl adverts have no sales effect, and in fact fare worse in recall than regular spots.  This could well be because these sleb stuffed, big budget executions are seen as simply entertainment, rendering the brand unnoticed or irrelevant.

There is a big difference between content “brought to you by” a brand like the original “soap operas”, where the value exchange is clear and the association is long term, and just jamming as many laughs and mainstream stars as possible into sixty glossy seconds of video, slapping a logo on it all.

Social hasn’t brought new thinking to events like the Super Bowl

Social buzz words and beige “best practice”concepts are not ignored by the Super Bowl circus.  They are stuck on to the same old thinking like go faster stripes. 

Surely the internet and memes and all that are mostly based around animals and Kawaii?  Why not make the ads “viral” by releasing them ahead of time?  Genius idea! Build up momentum on Social and watch it peak during the game like a tidal wave of consumer enthusiasm.

So brands previewed and teased their big spots more than before, possibly depressing Social buzz in the process.  Not such a good move. The reality of the “Second Screen”, a much misunderstood and missold phenomenon surely would suggest a bit of live surprise remains relevant?

But what about the most loved ads?

The allegedly most loved advert, and one of the most heavily teased, Bud’s “Puppy Love”, may not have increased purchase intent. At all.

You like Bud, or you don’t.

An interest in puppies exists independently of adult beverage preferences. All the money, cross channel integration and PR around the advert (yes, some people still try to do marcomms about marcomms) and more cannot change this fact. A simpler approach with some kind of incentive and direct response mechanic, even just on Social, would have shifted the needle further, faster for Bud.

We all know that Oreo’s typically genius Tweet in response to a power failure was the highlight of last year’s show.

This time, they offered a related quip and stepped away to let consumers enjoy the game.  Other than that, JC Penney’s accidentally sort of brilliant “Tweeting with mittens”, where the line between demonstrating a product truth and appearing to be dangerously over-refreshed was blurred, is the only stand out for me.

It will take more than smart cookies and woolly typing techniques to call time on this ritual destruction of value.

No one cares about ROI when it comes to the Super Bowl

The back slapping and magical thinking around Super Bowl adverts mirrors how the remains of Hollywood does its risky business. Big budgets mean big efforts to make it work, or at least make yourself think it worked, and even bigger love for your own effort all round. The higher the cost, the higher the hoopla, and therefore the higher the risk of getting little return on investment.

Yet return on investment is not the point here.

It’s all a mutation of the “Sunk Cost” fallacy –  investment decisions and perceptions are shaped by the mental burden of monies already spent.  In the case of the Super Bowl, there is a psychological Sunk Cost to add to the fun – the implied duty of big brands and agencies to participate means that opting out is taking a huge risk.

Shareholders, bosses and media will have an easy thing to point to if any metrics don’t perform as expected.  Second half of Q1 looking low?  Whose idea was it to sit out the Super Bowl?  Q3 sagging like a soggy sandwich?  Well, we didn’t go into the year with strong momentum like our competitor that hired half the cast of The Hangover and sent them to the North Pole in honour of the Super Bowl.  All these would be very “career limiting” conversations.

A codependent conspiracy of self delusion and fear prevents any rational examination of the circus, and therefore the more pragmatic, accountable thinking required for Social media excellence.