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VOL. 129 | NO. 23 | Tuesday, February 4, 2014

More Than 30 Seconds

Super Bowl ads go beyond traditional to tell story


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It’s official. Super Bowl advertising is no longer a one-night event. The marketing strategies that reigned supreme in Super Bowl XLVIII took the better part of January to accomplish and are still unfolding online even this week.

The real story is what this year’s advertisers did outside of the multimillion-dollar TV spots. We saw more brands than ever taking advantage of real-time rhetoric with their fans, marking a history-making shift in the way companies communicate during the Super Bowl.

With many major advertisers using social media to tease their #SB48 commercials well before game day, the rising ratio of digital to traditional media has never been this high. Official advertisers and non-advertisers alike manned interactive digital war rooms for the duration of the evening. Indeed, this year’s Super Bowl advertising story is simple: It’s what happened outside of the 30-second commercials that is most interesting.

Here are the two major ways we observed brands stepping up their game:

These Companies Smacked Brand Perception in the Face

The first to acknowledge its reputational shortcomings, Radio Shack acknowledged its mundane image with self-deprecating humor and a slew of ’80s celebrities. In the hilarious spot called “The Phone Call,” we watched and laughed as “the ’80s called and said they want their store back.” While the commercial was entertaining and brave, the real conversation happened on Radio Shack’s social media outlets. Just seconds following the broadcast of its ad, Radio Shack tweeted, “Out w/ the old, #InWithTheNew! For the next 24hrs, we're giving away all our old ’80s stuff,” extending their 30-second spot for another day.

In a different approach, Audi introduced its new A3 model, a car at an entry-level price that still boasts premium German engineering. The luxury carmaker needed to foster a more approachable perception to drive sales within an expanded demographic. In a brand-atypical move, Audi chose Snapchat, arguably a Millennial-focused service, as its social media tool of choice, being among the first big brands to show interest in this up-and-coming platform. Twitter simply served to refer consumers to the conversation happening on Snapchat. This isn’t the first time Audi touts a Super Bowl social media first – it claims that in the 2011 game, it was the first company to use a Twitter hashtag in its ad.

These Companies Just Made You Social

Ads were noticeably devoid of traditional “calls to action.” Instead we saw a groundswell of real-time conversation and connection, or at least the illusion of being authentically “in the moment.” Rather than asking consumers to buy, select advertisers gave us something to talk about with a series of risky – but potentially high-reward – stunts.

Let’s start with J.C. Penney. Its brand buzz happened entirely off the airwaves. With just two tweets containing nonsensical typos, J.C. Penney stole attention with what was initially perceived to be a drunken social media staffer. Other big brands even engaged, including Pizza Hut, Coors Light and Doritos, brightening the spotlight as J.C. Penney rode the (odd) wave until it unveiled its #TweetingWithMittens stunt at halftime. The highly retweeted “Go USA” mittens photo painted a thousand words. It’s too soon to tell whether this stunt will translate into increased sales for the struggling retailer, but J.C. Penney certainly claimed relevance at a time when its brand is not top of mind for many consumers.

Another buzz-worthy stunt that helped break up the monotony of the uneventful game was the #HumanDoritosChip photobomb. The snack brand known for its bold style dressed about 50 game-goers in orange jackets, forming an audience blob that when photographed from overhead looking like an oversized chip. With the tweet “Are we making you hungry?” Doritos kicked off a fan conversation online that lasted the entire game and showed immensely more creativity than what it brought to the game through its TV ads.

Newcastle completely bucked tradition. Bragging that it couldn’t afford to purchase Super Bowl TV ads, the U.K. beer-maker owned the realm of online campaigning before and during the game. With its audacious #IfWeMadeIt series, Newcastle capitalized on the sport of Super Bowl ad-watching by releasing parodies of some of the night’s most-talked-about commercials. We’d wager a bet that the brand’s “no bollocks” attitude garnered more attention than a traditional 30-second spot and without the hefty price tag.

It’s impossible in this column to address every brand’s performance. We acknowledge that many advertisers elected to go with the tried-and-true formula for Super Bowl commercials. They appealed to our emotions (Cheerios, Bud Light) and they deployed celebrities to appear as their spokespeople (Stephen Colbert for Wonderful Pistachios, Bruce Willis for Honda, the "Full House" cast for Dannon, and Ellen DeGeneres for Beats Music, to name a few). While the tried-and-true formula had its own winners and losers, we hope you agree – the magic this year took place outside of the 30-second ad spots and on our “second screens.”

Kitty Taylor and Natalie Cunningham are account executives at RedRover Sales & Marketing. Taylor is the lead public relations strategist and Cunningham is the lead digital media strategist for the award-winning downtown agency.

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