Beyond the Super Bowl broadcast, marketers are moving the ball


By William Spain, MarketWatch

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — America hasn’t even seen his company’s commercial running on the Super Bowl yet, and Steven Schreibman is already happy with the returns from Nationwide Mutual Insurance’s purchase of the most expensive TV advertising time in history.

His ad stars Kevin Federline, Britney Spears’s estranged husband, fantasizing about doing a music video while cooking up fries at a fast-food restaurant. The spot has generated publicity and buzz beyond a marketer’s wildest dreams, said Schreibman, Nationwide’s vice president of advertising and brand management.

As of Thursday afternoon, the ad had generated hundreds of stories in the media, leading to 137 million Web viewings — or the number of times people see a brand, he said. “Right now, we are at about $5 million in ad value and there is more than a week to go before the game.”

Already one of the most talked-about ads so far, Nationwide’s campaign got an extra shot in the arm this week when the head of the National Restaurant Association attacked it as demeaning to the industry’s workers and threatened to make his group’s “membership — many of whom are customers of Nationwide — know the negative implications this ad portrays of the restaurant industry.”

Sure, he’s been put on the defensive, but the ad’s a success nonetheless: The response to it did “drum up another week of coverage for us,” Schreibman said.

While Nationwide has managed to reap a standout bonanza, a big payoff in press and word of mouth is what marketers have come to expect — even demand — when they’re shelling out upwards of $80,000 a second for TV time on the Super Bowl, carried this year by CBS Sports.

Officially, CBS is asking sponsors to pay about $2.6 million for a 30-second spot in the Feb. 4 game. However, few, if any, companies actually pay the full rate, according to industry executives.

What advertisers really crave is eyeballs — millions and millions of them. And when it comes to delivering them all at once and in real-time, the Super Bowl has no equal, especially as TV viewership divides and sub-divides among the hundreds of channels now available on cable and satellite.

“It’s fragmentation-proof, or least fragmentation-resistant,” said Jason Maltby, president of national broadcast for MindShare, a media-buying firm owned by WPP Group. “You are reaching almost 1 out of every 2 Americans. Nothing else in any media even comes close.”

In addition, “there is a much higher level of attention and engagement with the commercials,” he added.

Among those lining up for this years’ Super Bowl are longtime stalwarts like Anheuser-Busch Cos. (with nine spots, the largest single advertiser), PepsiCo and Fedex Corp. They will be joined by rookies including Garmin, which makes global-positioning systems, and King Pharmaceuticals Inc. Some advertisers, such as PepsiCo’s Doritos brand and the NFL itself, are even letting viewers create their own ads this time.

‘Meaningful viewership’

There are almost as many different goals and different measures of success for Super Bowl ad as there are advertisers buying time. Some aren’t expecting to see any immediate results and are just building or maintaining awareness of their brands. Others look to drive traffic to their Web sites. And still others want to see an immediate move in the sales needle.

“If you are lucky, your one spot out of 60-something is projected onto the national stage and has people talking about it,” said Peter Stabler, director of communications strategy for Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, a San Francisco-based ad agency owned by Omnicom Group. “You get an outsized awareness beyond [the] aggregated ratings points.”

This year, that awareness could be larger than ever. Minutes after the conclusion of the game, Google will have a link on its home page to a site featuring every single commercial that aired during the Super Bowl — and Stabler expects millions of hits from that.

“For the first time, you are going to have really meaningful viewership of the spots once they have been disconnected from the game,” Stabler said.

Super Bowl ads can also help haul in huge, immediate bottom-line contributions, marketers say. One of Goodby’s clients, Diamond Foods, will be in the game for the third year running. The cost of admission and all the support behind it is a big investment for a company that had less than $500 million in sales in its latest fiscal year. Diamond’s Emerald Nuts, launched in 2004, bought Super Bowl ads in both 2005 and 2006, a strategy it directly credits for boosting sales 56% and 36%, respectively and lifting them into the No. 2 seller in the category behind Kraft Foods’ 100-year-old Planter’s brand.

“They’ve been very happy,” Stabler said. “It has been a very powerful tool for them to leverage their retail partnerships.”

Then there is always simple self-defense. For instance, Coca-Cola will return to the Super Bowl this year after a long absence during which it essentially ceded the field to archrival PepsiCo.

The move, coinciding with Coke’s stagnant soft-drink sales and turmoil in its marketing division, won applause from at least one to beverage industry consultant.

“I thought it was one of the biggest bone-headed moves of all time for Coke to let Pepsi dominate the Super Bowl,” said Tom Pirko, head of consultancy Bevmark. “You cannot allow your ace competitor to have undivided attention in the biggest public spectacle in the country.”

Ads by Joe Six-Pack

In most sporting events, TV commercials aim their message at men. But in addition to its sheer mass audience, the Super Bowl also offers marketers exposure to an extraordinary range of consumers.

“The reach is enormous and you get every demographic,” said Bill Cella, vice chairman of Interpublic’s DraftFCB ad agency. “And it goes on all day, with huge [group] audiences.”

Indeed, the group dynamic can make all the difference, he said, as a lone couch potato tends to be a passive viewer than when he or she is surrounded by friends and family.

“They talk about the ads more. I think they are more engaged,” Cella said.

Some viewers will be remarkably well engaged — some of then actually created a few of the ads this year. General Motors, Frito-Lay and the NFL itself all reached out to the public for ideas and cherry-picked the very best to air in the game.

“That’s this year’s flavor,” remarked MindShare’s Maltby. “It’s definitely a hot-button issue and they are trying to leverage this fascination with user-generated content.”

But is it the wave of the future? Will amateurs knock high-powered ad agency creative teams out of their biggest showcase of the year?

“Let’s just see how it resonates,” Maltby said.