NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Consider that $3 million you just dropped on a 30-second Super Bowl spot a waste of money -- unless you've got a smart, calculated search-and-social-media strategy behind it.
Last year, the ads from the big game racked up 99.5 million collective online views, according to Visible Measures, which tallies viral-video data; 98.7 million people watched the game on TV, per Nielsen. It's further proof that while Super Bowl is still valuable because it's one of the last high-profile, mass-media TV events, it's maximized with an ongoing online effort.
"Social media provides a longer shelf life for people's campaigns," said Anthony Iaffaldano, senior director-strategy and innovation at Reprise Media. "It's about who's got a plan in place to take the equity they're building through all this activity and activate it after the game. Social media becomes more valuable as you continue to engage."
About 90% of brands had their Super Bowl ads up on YouTube in 2009, estimates a Google executive, although that's just the bare minimum. A quarter of the brands in the Bowl tapped social networks to try to drive additional comments, ratings and conversation. And more than two-thirds bought paid-search ads against their brands or products.
This year, those figures will be even higher, setting the stage for what might be the most significant study to date on the interplay between paid and earned media. Marketers such as E-Trade are already planning how they're going to extend their spots online.
And while the buzz of the game's commercials will provide a healthy dose of PR value, most of the big winners from past years also relied on paid-media support. Visible Measures said paid promotion more than doubled the reach of a Super Bowl ad on the web. In that regard, brands in the game have come a long way. In 2005, only 21% bothered buying paid search around Super Bowl ads; last year that figure more than tripled to 65%, according to Reprise Media, which creates an annual Super Bowl scorecard rating advertisers' online efforts.
So it's no surprise the online-video-sharing sites are building major programs around the Super Bowl, hoping to capitalize off the dollars marketers will be putting against the game. YouTube is again promoting its Ad Blitz, and Break.com has created an entire editorial channel around the event, complete with its own custom content it can sell.
"One thing marketers are struggling with is 'Do we put [the ad] up on our site and try to drive people there?' or 'Do we put the content on other sites?'" said Andrew Budkofsky, senior VP-sales and partnerships at Break.com. "It depends on the marketer and its goals -- if you're running a specific promotion you might send people to your site and that's why we do the custom content -- so we can speak to a promotion and do editorial plugs. We can create custom content in a video."
Here are lessons from Super Bowl's past to make sure you make the most of the big game.
CAPITALIZE ON PREGAME BUZZAccording to Google, searches for "Super Bowl commercials" start rising about a week before the game at a rate of 10% to 20% a day leading up to the game. (They peaked the day after the Bowl.) Meanwhile, Visible Measures reports pre- and post-game buzz can account for more than 50% of a campaign's reach.
E-Trade is the poster child for a smart pre-game strategy; last year it released outtakes from its talking toddler campaign several days ahead of time. It took over the YouTube home page the Thursday before the game to promote the spots.
E-Trade also bought search terms on YouTube as well as on the main engines and set up a Facebook and Twitter account. Today, the E-Trade baby is still yammering away to its 3,000-plus Twitter followers. (A recent gem: "Can someone give me the 411 for the tooth fairy? Are milk teeth a commodity? If not, mine are staying in my mouth.") No surprise, it's back in the game again this year and already working on its online push.
BUILD VIRALITY INTO YOUR CREATIVEDoritos has epitomized this for the past two years, running contests to see who could create the big game spot. The strategy capitalizes on the fact that friends and families of the finalists spread the word around the web since votes help determine the winner.
GoDaddy falls into this category as well. While its ads appeal to the lowest common denominator, the narrative it's built around them generates interest. Several weeks before the 2008 game, CEO Bob Parsons started moaning that early versions of the ad were too racy for network TV -- but not too racy for GoDaddy.com. In 2009 the ads were approved in advance, but viewers got to vote on which ones they wanted to see in the game. Visible Measures also advises leaving room for social interpretation -- will the ad be spoofed? Is there something for viewers to discuss?
BUY SMART SEARCH TERMSCars.com recognized competition for search terms such as "Super Bowl ads" would be stiff, so it also bought terms related to its incredibly detailed ad about a genius named David Abernathy. Among its more obscure paid-search terms were "Gompers," the name of Abernathy's pet rabbit, and "Aristotle," his guinea pig.
Smart search is also about recognizing what people are likely not searching for the day after your ad airs. "People searching for Super Bowl ads may not be directly interested in peripheral marketing campaigns," said Jerry Canning, finance industry director at Google.
THINK REAL-TIMEGone are the days when a CMO can enjoy an uninterrupted game in the network's luxury box. Today smart marketers will be talking on Twitter, tweaking search campaigns and leaving no rock unturned in their quest to drive impressions. Like E-Trade's baby, the star of H&R Block's spot, Tax Guy Murray, turned up on Twitter and actively reached out to people talking about the ad or taxes -- during the game. "My prediction is this year you'll have armies of marketers fanning the flames of their ads on Twitter," said Pete Blackshaw, exec VP, Nielsen Digital Strategic Services. "'Did you like it? Check out this link. Thanks so much for the high five.' Marketers are getting smarter about taking the earliest signals, even from early PR events, and parlaying those into something that would increase odds."
DON'T FORGET THE CALL TO ACTIONDenny's had one of the most-talked-about promotions -- a free Grand Slam breakfast -- but forgot to offer up a URL or other direction where people could get more information. According to Reprise Media's Scorecard, the marketer's website crashed right after the ad aired and was down for the rest of the game.
And if you're going to do some sort of call to action -- or buy paid media or search -- make sure the landing page fits. In other words, don't do what Pixar did last year. According to Reprise, it had a call to action and a URL with previews -- something the other films in the game lacked. But, it wrote "in spite of this, the actual site was not integrated at all with the Super Bowl ad and there were no paid search ads to help direct confused searchers to the 'right' page."