Consumer Insights · Media Strategy · Brand Planning | Los Angeles, CA

Super Bowl Ads: Bueller? Bueller?

If you never got the pleasure of going to school for advertising,

you may not know that whatever we we’re supposed to do in class next week will be cut short by about 15 minutes. Whatever case studies we’re analyzing, taglines we’re generating or projects we’re coordinating will have a little less time in the spotlight than they would on a normal Monday. We’ll have an extra item on our plate.

This Sunday is the festival of pre-millennium-style mass media advertising known as the Super Bowl. For one shining evening, everything we know about the increasingly fragmented media environment, the high cost of television advertising and the importance of an integrated campaign goes more-or-less out the window. Instead, we sit, along with over 100 million of our closest friends, in rapt attention, staring at a single TV broadcast like it’s 1960. Advertisers make it rain on the network and creative shops alike, ponying up over $100k per second for airtime and making big-budget spots. It’s almost enough to make an ad person feel like Don Draper, particularly after a cocktail or two. 


A quick look around industry blogs this week gives one a chance to look at several Super Bowl ads like the Hyundai spot above, released in advance online. Some are teasers, like this Will Arnett Hulu spot*, but many are finished ads. Super Bowl commercials streaming online isn’t new, but up to this point, it has been after the fact. This year’s anticipatory release trend shows a slightly different plan of attack on the part of some advertisers. As Dave Thier pointed out yesterday in Forbes:

“…The price for 30 seconds of airtime is estimated at $3.5 million for 30 seconds. 

“It’s in that spirit that Honda has decided to leak their commercial, trying their best to get as big a section of the most hotly contested attention of the year. At the moment, it seems to be working, spreading like wildfire through the internet. It’s already up to 122,000 hits, and its only been a few hours.”

His article, apocalyptically titled “The Beginning of the End for the Super Bowl Ad?”, highlights how many more exposures the top videos on YouTube get than even the most widely viewed Super Bowl ads, often at a cost to the advertiser of $Free.99. It cites the example of Volkswagen’s “The Force” commercial from last year, which has 49 million views on YouTube as of this writing, (not counting the millions more clicks this blog post will generate for them).

He’s right in his point that new media is full of untapped potential, and that the cost of Super Bowl advertising is astronomical compared to pretty much any other media vehicle. I think perhaps he undersells the importance of the institution of  THE SUPER BOWL, though. His Honda example (up to 4 million+ views as of this writing) is generating a ton of exposure at a low cost, but it’s not exposure in a vacuum.

Most of Honda’s other commercials on YouTube have view counts in the thousands or tens of thousands. What took this spot’s views to an order of magnitude 100x theirs is that this is Honda’s pre-released Super Bowl ad. After all, not many Honda ads get shout outs all over the mainstream press. But to be fair, what about the Broderick effect?

I’m sure that the referencing of a classic movie has much to do with making this newsworthy, as does Matthew Broderick’s presence. However, with millions cashed in to play this spot, I feel it is likely that Honda chose to go this direction because of it being their Super Bowl ad. Plenty of examples of companies putting out some of their most compelling TV spots of the year during the Super Bowl exist (see: “The Force,” above). It is the combination of the buzz-worthiness of a major car company releasing their Super Bowl ad almost a week early, and the ad itself being particularly interesting that has led to its viral success. Arguably, neither would happen without the Super Bowl.

To return to my introduction for a moment, I’m quite sure you could guess ad students would be talking about Super Bowl ads on Monday. Obviously, analyzing advertisements is a big part of what we do, as students. Beyond that, however, most of the nation will devote a few minutes of their day after to talking about the ads. They’re that ubiquitous.

Thier could very well be right that the days of the mega-budget Super Bowl spot are numbered.  However, it’s not because new media provides a vector for ads to go viral. It will be because advertisers feel that the ROI on participating in this event is too small to justify its cost, and decide to do something altogether different. Still, I wouldn’t look for YouTube to replicate the effects of one of the few remaining opportunities to reach a mass audience.

Oh, and go non-Patriots.

*I also like that the Hulu teaser comes with it’s own built-in hashtag, which is already in use on Twitter. Integration!

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