Pepsi’s Super Bowl Ad Blitz Aims for a Big Payoff

A giant crop circle appeared in fields around Phoenix this week, the first in a series of strange desert sightings expected in Arizona in the days leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl.

The extraterrestrial-like cultivation is not a signal from aliens who have taken a sudden interest in football. The stunts are the work of Pepsi, which is attempting to make a giant splash with a multifaceted, months long Super Bowl campaign that culminates on Sunday with a 30-second game-day spot and its sponsorship of Katy Perry’s halftime show.

“If you want to be part of pop culture, then you have to be part of the biggest event in the country,” said Simon Lowden, Pepsi’s chief marketing officer for North American beverages. “If you want to be part of the conversation, you have to be there in as big a way as possible.”

The strategy illustrates the extremes that marketers are going to in an attempt to get the biggest payoff from the $4.5 million they spend for 30 seconds of commercial time during the big game.

The spotlight used to be solely on those ads. But the web has transformed the marketing game plan: Advertisers now increasingly extend the process, trying to build viewership for the commercials in stages, by posting the spots and teasers for them online before the game, as well as creating social media campaigns around them.

Over the years, Super Bowl marketing has evolved into a year-round exercise, especially for the biggest spenders, like Anheuser-Busch and PepsiCo, which owns Pepsi and Doritos, which also advertises during the game. PepsiCo ranks among the top three Super Bowl advertisers based on spending from 2010 to 2014, paying $76.6 million on network advertising alone in the last five years, according to WPP’s Kantar Media.

“It used to be that the whole thing lived and died based on what happened on game day on the TV in the living room,” said Allen Adamson, chairman of the North American region of Landor Associates, a brand consulting firm. “Now, it is: How do you manage up to the top of the mountain and how do you manage it down?”

Pepsi, which is sponsoring the Super Bowl halftime show for the third time in a row this year, starts planning its marketing blitz soon after the clock runs out on the previous year’s game. The idea this year was to try to bring the excitement surrounding the show to different places across the country, staging events designed to create material for commercials as well as for people to share their experiences on social media.

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