SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Recession may be a buzz kill for Super Bowl-ad hype: Firms tracking online chatter see a significant decline in discussion about this year's crop of ads compared with last year's.
Blog mentions of the phrase "Super Bowl ads" appear to be running at least 20% below the rate they were at the same time last year, according to Nielsen Online's Blogpulse. So far, mentions have been confined to a peak of less than 0.4% of the more than 92 million blogs tracked this month, compared with more than 0.5% last year. Last year's pre-game ad buzz appeared to be consistently higher in the days leading up to the game than this year's.
TNS Cymfony sees a somewhat different pattern at first glance, with overall pre-game mentions of Super Bowl advertising somewhat higher this year than last. But Jim Nail, chief marketing and strategy officer of Cymfony, said, "A big topic in traditional media appears to be the potential impact of the recession on Super Bowl ads -- not exactly the type of topic that is helpful to advertisers."
Dearth of newsworthy ads
Both he and Pete Blackshaw, exec VP-digital strategic services at Nielsen Online, see a lot fewer discussions of individual campaigns prior to the game this year and, anecdotally at least, a relative dearth of newsworthy ads or efforts by marketers to beat the drum for their ads prior to the game.
They said the relative lack of buzz so far for this year's ads may stem from people's preoccupation with the economy and other big news events, such as President Barack Obama's inauguration and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment.
Another factor may be the apparent absence from this year's game of advertisers that promoted their commercials fairly aggressively and often effectively prior to past games, including Nationwide Insurance, Emerald Nuts, Procter & Gamble Co. (with last year's Tide to Go ad) and Unilever (with ads in past years for Degree, Dove and Sunsilk).
Fear of backlash
The economy could figure into a buzz deficit in a less obvious way, as some marketers, fearing a backlash from a public weary of waste and conspicuous consumption, tone down efforts to hype ads, or simply pull back on budgets for promoting their ads. "There may be a little hesitancy to overhype the game in light of the economy," Mr. Blackshaw said. "And it may be a matter of consumers being a little bit distracted right now."
If marketers truly are being intentionally low-key about their Super Bowl investments prior to the game, it's an ironically bad idea, because it will reduce their return on investment and actually add to waste, Mr. Nail said.
More likely, however, he said, "effective planning around Super Bowl ads is another casualty of the economic conditions. Those advertisers who do good PR in traditional media before the game are the ones that get the most social-media buzz, and during that period when they should have been getting their plans together in October and November, a lot of people were just going to the foxholes."
Another problem may be a simple lack of news. "There haven't been any really big, creative, buzz-generating strategies this year," Mr. Nail said. "Doritos is doing their 'Crash the Super Bowl' thing again, but when you do anything the second time, it's not as exciting." Ditto Go Daddy's annual rite of playing on Danica Patrick's hotness, even with the addition of a three-girl shower scene. SoBe's 3-D ad does ad a new wrinkle, he said, but it may not hold quite the allure of a spate of consumer-generated ads from two years ago.
All is not lost, however, just because buzz is muted prior to the game. By far the biggest spike in online buzz surrounding the ads comes the day of and in the days immediately after the game. That's when mentions of Super Bowl ads spiked to more than 2.5% of all blogs last year, more than five times the peak recorded prior to the game.
Rising traffic on Twitter may yet lead to an overall increase in Super Bowl buzz this year, Mr. Blackshaw said -- though that will also raise questions about the quality of the buzz. With a substantial amount of Twitter chatter coming from people in the marketing industry, much of the buzz will amount to inside-baseball talk about the ads on football's biggest spectacle.