Super Bowl ad previews kick off the spin
Don't misunderstand John Norman, the chief creative officer at TBWA/Chiat/Day Los Angeles. He is excited to be working on a commercial, for Pepsi Next, that will appear during Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday - the biggest day of the year for advertising as well as for football.
Still, he is disappointed that consumers can already watch an extended version of the commercial online, in stark contrast to a decades-old strategy of building anticipation for Super Bowl spots by keeping them under wraps until the game.
"I'm more of the old school; I like the element of surprise," Norman said. "If I ruled the world, I'd go back to holding out and waiting."
His client, the PepsiCo Beverages division of PepsiCo, which makes Pepsi Next, sees it differently. The company is among a long list of Super Bowl sponsors jumping the gun by sharing commercials - shorter versions, longer versions or the versions that will appear Sunday - hours, days or even weeks before the game.
"The world has changed," said Angelique Krembs, vice president for marketing for the Pepsi trademark at PepsiCo Beverages. "The conversation used to happen after the game. Now, enabled by social media, there's a lot of conversation before the game about what's coming up, and we want to be the most talked-about brand in that conversation."
The willingness of consumers to watch ads on social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube - and to discuss and share them with friends and family - is rewriting the Super Bowl playbook for Madison Avenue. Marketers and agencies are deciding that it's better to give up the benefits of surprising viewers during the game in favor of gaining additional attention before.
"We don't see any down side" to forgoing the "aha!" moment during the game, said Scott Campbell, general manager for integrated marketing communications at Colgate-Palmolive, which bought a Super Bowl commercial for its Mennen Speed Stick deodorant and uploaded the spot to the brand's YouTube channel Wednesday.
"I don't think we'll get 110 million viewers before the game," Campbell said, referring to the number of people expected to watch the Super Bowl, "but whatever we get by giving it to our online community is all to the plus."
Another reason Colgate-Palmolive released the commercial early on social media was that it is part of "a campaign that was social from the get-go," he said. The campaign began with a contest on Twitter, and the commercial was produced through Tongal, a company that uses a crowdsourcing model to develop creative ideas for ads.
To be sure, priming the pump before a Super Bowl spot runs does not guarantee success.
"Pre-announcements can build up hype, but if the ad isn't seen as dynamic, innovative or exciting, I don't think the sneak peeks work," said George R. Cook, executive professor of marketing and psychology at the Simon Graduate School of Business at the University of Rochester. "There may not be so much "wow' or positive bounce."
Another risk, Cook said, is that "the message can wear out" before the game, lowering the return on the large investment in a Super Bowl campaign. CBS, which is broadcasting Super Bowl XLVII, is charging an estimated $3.7 million to $3.8 million for 30 seconds of commercial time, with some going for $4 million.
Opening the kimono before Super Bowl Sunday might also backfire if consumers dislike what they see. For instance, Volkswagen of America has been fending off negative responses to its Super Bowl ad since online previews began Monday.
The Volkswagen spot features an actor playing a white Minnesotan who speaks with a lilting "Yah, mon" Jamaican accent, meant to encourage drivers to "get happy." The commercial, by Deutsch L.A., has been denounced as culturally insensitive or racist.
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