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February 3, 2012

And Now, An Argument: Pre-Releasing Super Bowl Ads

With the Super Bowl only a few days away, every aspect of the matchup on the field has been ruthlessly dissected, overanalyzed and predicted. Almost equally as important to the action on the field, is the drama that will happen between TV timeouts, namely the commercials. With a record cost of ad placements, the country will be tuned in to watch the best and worst spots and discuss them over bagels at work on Monday morning.

One trend that has been picking up steam as of late is the strategy of releasing these marquee spots AHEAD of the big game and seeding them online prior. Is this a good strategy? As in most cases, there's no simple right or wrong answer but an argument to be made for either side. Today, Matt and Ellis defend each point.

Rainone: Super Bowl Sunday. Advertisers are paying a ton of money ($3.5million) not just to reach the largest television audience each year, but also to create conversations. What's the big deal if those conversations start the week before? In fact, that's actually more coverage for the brand now as opposed to next week when ALL of the commercials are going to be dissected.

Watts: The goal of the spot should depend on the individual advertiser. While some may want the buzziest of buzz, others might simply want tangible results (i.e. sales, drive to web, etc.). While conversations are great, it may not be the end goal.

Take for example the 'Old Spice Guy'? campaign. It debuted during the Super Bowl, had TONS of coverage and viral-ness (virality?), but actually didn't quite catapult sales as much as everyone thought as it was supported by an unprecedented, national couponing effort.

Another factor here to keep in mind is how that campaign / experience was refreshed with a boatload of great content, not just hammering home the same commercial over and over again.

Rainone: If advertisers are confident that they have developed great commercials, it should be good enough the second or third time viewers watch it.

Watts: How many times can you realistically expect a viewer to watch a commercial with complete interest and intrigue? It's not like the audience is watching 'Inception'?. While we industry folks may have a romanticized vision of a captive audience getting caught up in the artistry of a :30 second production ' the reality is anything but that outside of Super Bowl Sunday. The GEICO caveman wasn't funny the first time I saw it, and it won't be on the thirtieth, no matter when it airs.

Rainone: We also have a bit of a skewed outlook on this since we're in the industry and we're actively searching for the spots. In reality, that the majority of the Super Bowl audience probably hasn't seen the commercial by the time it airs. The ad that's probably getting the most attention this year is the Ferris Bueller/Honda spot. At the moment, it is hovering just under 15 million views if you aggregate views across a few sites. Assuming there's probably going to be almost 100 million more people than that watching the game, it's safe to assume that there's no harm in doing an early release.

Watts: I wouldn't look at is as, 'what's the harm?'? but rather, 'how can we make this even better?'? For those that consider an early release, the opportunity to deliver a simple 'refresh'? of the spot, still exists ' that way it's entirely new to new viewers but still rewards those that have seen it. Refreshes can range from introducing a longer spot (from a pre-release :30 up to a :60) with additional scenes and longer narrative to a simple tag that drives online for more info / entertainment.

Doritos has been pushing their user-generated 'Crash the Super Bowl'? contest for a couple of years now and it's possible that some of the best entries won't make it to air (or even as finalists). I'm expecting to see a call-to-action somewhere for viewers to go online and view the other finalists.

Rainone: What's the worst thing that could happen for advertisers that do pre-release? Someone says 'oh, I've already seen this one'? and then gets up to use the bathroom. What's the net loss in impressions there? 0. The best thing that could happen is that someone says, 'oh, I've already seen this one, you guys, quiet down so you can hear the punch line.'? What's the net gain on that? A fully-attentive audience.

Watts: I wouldn't say there's absolute harm in it per se, aside from losing some thunder from the anticipation and reveal when it first runs. With information moving faster than we can even understand, and an era where spoilers are released in the blink of an eye, this shouldn't come as a surprise.

You want to consider the worst case scenario? If the Super Bowl no longer becomes about releasing the latest and greatest, the idea of it being an event-within-an-event is lost as well. How intently did you watch the commercials during the AFC Championship? Imagine that same level of bland interest except that the advertisers paid a fortune for that time when you're planning your next trip to the nacho platter / bathroom (not necessarily in that order).

Boom. Super Bowl ad dystopia. Terrifying stuff.

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