Super Bowl Advertising Champions vs. Challengers: Winning Attention

How to Think Like A Challenger to Become a Champion with Super Bowl Ads

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When it comes to Super Bowl advertising, the champions are purportedly the favorites. They outspend the industry with one or more in-game TV spots and win customers, while the rest of the industry players -- who can't afford or justify a big-ticket TV ad -- watch from the sidelines as their share of consumer attention plummets precipitously. According to Visible Measures' online viewership trends from the past seven Super Bowls, brands that stay on the sidelines can surrender up to 80% of their online share of attention to the champions during the Super Bowl season.

With the emergence of challenger strategies from the likes of Newcastle, Volvo and others who can get TV-grade awareness and attention without paying for in-game TV spots, the decision for an advertiser is no longer as simple as, "Should I run a Super Bowl TV spot?" The more important question is,"Do I want my brand to be part of the consumer conversation around Super Bowl?"

The digital/social/mobile landscape has opened up the playbook with amazing possibilities for marketers who want to be part of the game to maximize their advantage with or without the in-game TV spot.

As one would expect, champions and challengers approach the game with different capabilities, resources and expectations. Here are four ways to think like a challenger in order to become a champion with Super Bowl advertising:

1. Challengers focus on earning consumer attention. Challengers invest in video content and paid online distribution with the primary goal of earning tons of impressions online and on TV without explicitly airing a TV spot during the game. Imagine an online strategy that is mainly focused on optimizing press pickup and top-10 chart mentions. This requires a pre-game social media blitz to reach critical mass for earned efficiency, followed by mass native distribution across the open web as a way to amplify share of attention across screens.

Newcastle's non-Super Bowl online videos with Anna Kendrick were more newsworthy for the press and popular media than the in-game Super Bowl TV ads from competitors, and generated over a billion earned impressions on TV and online. Chevy's fake blackout spot that aired during the pre-kick session on TV and was socialized online achieved a similar earned media effect at a far lower on-air expense, since the spot was not officially an in-game Super Bowl commercial.

If the in-game TV ad impressions have value, then the earned impressions from the press, influencers and viewers have even more value, and not just because they are free. Our brand effectiveness study of two dozen Super Bowl advertisers in partnership with Millward Brown Digital shows that earned impressions (TV talk shows, online editorials, top 10 chart mentions, etc.) are two and a half times more persuasive than paid impressions.

2. Challengers highjack consumer attention during ad breaks. According to the IAB's "2015 Mobile Video study," over 50% of the survey respondents in the U.S. admitted to watching videos on their smartphones while watching TV.

Volvo was one of the first marketers to grab the attention of TV viewers around Super Bowl ad breaks early this year. The advertiser announced a promotion with an online video released before the game, inviting viewers to participate in a social media contest exclusively during ad breaks while competitors' ads would be running. This was a brilliant social conquest scheme that gained share of attention for Volvo, exactly when viewers would be more inclined to drift away from TV and to their smartphones and other mobile devices.

Challengers like Volvo are marginalizing the value of competitors' in-game Super Bowl TV ads the same way that Nike has done in the past against official World Cup and Olympics sponsors like Adidas by dominating share of attention outside of official arenas like online and outdoor public channels.

3. Challengers ride the waves of consumer attention in real-time. Consumer attention ebbs and flows throughout the football season, and especially during the two weeks pre- and post-Super Bowl. The difference in the peak-to-trough viewership for the 2015 Super Bowl season was almost 15X (with a peak of 95 million views occurring on game day).

Challengers fully capitalize on this behavior by using paid media to gain share of attention in low-noise windows when there are fewer distractions, and then jump in selectively with enthusiast-targeted social media flights to capitalize on the rising tides of consumer engagement as a way to efficiently build on the trending conversations and behaviors.

4. Champions can do better with a challenger mindset. To run smarter, more efficient and higher-impact campaigns, advertisers can benefit by thinking like challengers in pursuit of consumer attention. Challenger strategies are generally rooted in new insights and evolving consumer behaviors (e.g. building consumer anticipation with paid media support behind online content in advance of major events).

At other times, this requires a proactive pursuit of emerging behaviors beyond the main screen (e.g. mobile or social). Such thinking can help make or break the ROI of your overall marketing investment around major events.