Super Bowl

Facebook Packages Own Super Bowl Audience for Ad Dollars

Company Will Track Status Updates for Game-Related Keywords

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Credit: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg

Facebook is creating its own Super Bowl audience as the social network looks to intercept the big game's ad dollars.

Starting on Wednesday, Facebook will track the status updates and comments people post to the social network for keywords related to the Super Bowl. People who post something Super Bowl-related will be added to an audience pool -- and the aggregated data will be anonymized -- alongside the more than 50 million people who interacted with Super Bowl-related content on Facebook last year. Advertisers will be able to buy ads against Facebook's Super Bowl audience leading up to and during the Super Bowl, which will take place on February 1.

Facebook offered something similar to advertisers around last year's Super Bowl, as well as for the World Cup. The company grouped together people who had interacted with football-related content, such as "liking" Peyton Manning's or ESPN's Facebook page, throughout the season leading up to last year's Super Bowl.

But unlike last year's Super Bowl and like the World Cup, Facebook isn't looking to offer advertisers an audience of only football fans. It wants to offer a Super Bowl audience, one that extends beyond people interested in the game to also include those watching for the commercials or attending a Super Bowl party.

To deliver that Super Bowl audience, Facebook is leaning heavily on what people are talking about on Facebook, not only what they're liking. And Facebook will be scaffolding the keywords it uses to identify whether people are talking about the Super Bowl. For example, if enough people talking about the Super Bowl mention the word "Arizona" -- where the game will be played -- then that keyword will be used to find other posts that mention "Arizona" but not "Super Bowl" to determine if they're also Super Bowl-related.

There's another twist to Facebook's use of conversation data for Super Bowl-related ad targeting. It will be used in nearly real time. Normally there's a day-long delay between when someone says something on Facebook and when they are added to a relevant ad-targeting group. But for the Super Bowl ad-targeting group -- which Facebook calls the "Big Game" targeting segment -- that person would be added within a couple minutes of posting. As a result, if this year's Super Bowl includes another blackout, brands will be able to promote their clever "real-time marketing" responses to people talking about the blackout on Facebook within minutes.

In addition to people who mention the Super Bowl on Facebook, the company will also take into account people who have "liked" the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks Facebook pages; people planning Super Bowl parties using Facebook; people who talk about Super Bowl ads on Facebook; and even people who share recipes or post about buying a new TV (if Facebook determines their posts are Super Bowl-related).

Facebook appears to be courting two types of advertisers. Brands who shelled out $4.5 million for 30-second spots during the game may be willing to pony up a bit more to reinforce their effort. Meanwhile other brands may have been unwilling to spend that much for on-air ads but don't want to be left out entirely.

"There are a lot of people who want to be involved with the Super Bowl and not pay Super Bowl ad rates," said Horizon Media's senior VP-research, Brad Adgate.

Assuming Facebook's Super Bowl-targeting prices don't give advertisers sticker shock, the company could be using this year's game to seed interest for next year and steal ad spend from TV. For example, some marketers may see the number of auto brands absent from this year's televised Super Bowl, see Facebook as a cheaper alternative and follow suit next year.

"They've been trying to get Super Bowl money even without the Super Bowl," Mr. Adgate said, referring to Facebook's daily user base which exceeds 155 million people in the U.S. and Canada alone. "I think it's part of their strategy to siphon off as many dollars from television as possible. There's probably close to $400 million spent by marketers on the Super Bowl. Why not try and get some of that?"

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