Super Bowl

Super Bowl Commercials Lose the 'Ta-Da!' Factor

Viewpoint: Super Bowl Marketers Today Let People Behind the Curtain

By Published on .

John King
John King

A decade ago, when I was part of a team here at Fallon creating the Super Bowl spots for Electronic Data Systems, the culture around Super Bowl advertising was still "Loose Lips Sink Ships." We treated both "Cat Herders" and "Running with the Squirrels" with extreme secrecy until they aired. We shielded even many people within our own agency from details. The goal was to maximize headlines and buzz by completely surprising viewers.

Ten years later, Super Bowl advertising has become a radically different game. VW's "Force" ad is going Genghis Kahn on YouTube this week, with over five million views and gaining at a clip of 100,000 per hour. General Motors' Chevy and their agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners also made the decision to release the Chevy Super Bowl spots on Facebook and elsewhere prior to game day. Teasers and trailers have become standard pre-release strategies.

The explosion has been replaced by the fuse.

So, why the change? There seem to be three major drivers.

Fingertip Video: It makes me laugh whenever I see hasty proclamations that "TV is dead" when video is so clearly alive and well.

The rise of smart phones and tablet computers has changed the entire distribution model. I remember first noticing this change when I watched Burger King's "Tiny Hands" commercial hijack a summer barbecue because my burgers were no match for what guests were watching on their devices. Video is thriving because it's off the chain.

When I was growing up, "TV rooms" and "computer rooms" were real places in people's homes. Well, those walls have been knocked down, and it's just one big video world today. That means people are catching up on the State of the Union from the bus and people are seeing Super Bowl spots debut the Thursday before the game from their desks at work.

Like many, I first stumbled upon the "Force" spot while browsing the most-viewed on YouTube yesterday. This morning, as my kids were getting ready for school, I pulled out the iPad and shared the spot with my wife, daughter and my daughter's friend. As high-quality video arrives in every hand, we should only expect the pace of idea-sharing to increase.

The Editor Effect: Much has been made of the 1/9/90 rule of the Web. One percent of us are creators who make stuff, nine percent are "editors" who participate and share, and ninety percent remain the audience who lurk and consume.

The "pre-release" strategy of Super Bowl advertising is designed to leverage this Editor Effect. By allowing 5 million people to see their spot before Sunday, VW has effectively placed people in countless living rooms who, when the spot actually airs during the game Sunday, will be able to say, "Be quiet, you guys have to see this!"

And better yet, if the spot has an interesting back story, these editors will be empowered to share it. Imagine the explosive potential a spot like Wieden & Kennedy's "Cog" video for Honda would have right now as editors share the behind-the-scenes footage on the social web.

With 10% of people sharing and participating in ideas, one wonders if the Super Bowl pre-release strategy can't still be improved. Would it make more sense to pre-release a spot the week prior to the Super Bowl but cap the number of views so that, at a specific threshold -- say five million views -- you pull the video down to maximize the conversation effect on game day? After all, if everyone's already seen the spot, then no one has the necessary social capital to make it bigger than a commercial.

The Ownership Principle: Transparency and access in advertising is simply a more modern approach. The future belongs to generous brands that give as much as they take. Today's consumer won't tolerate information on a need-to-know basis. So, if your Super Bowl commercial is done, and you're confident it's great, why not share it and let the public discover it on its own terms?

The old model (awareness = trust = buy) has been shattered. Today's strongest brands aren't "known" by the consumer, they're "owned" by the consumer. Sharing early and often, letting people in, and doing more all allow people to feel that they're a co-owner in your idea and brand. And, it turns out, feeling like you're part of something is even more powerful than mere trust. The new math (generosity = ownership = buy-in) gives power to the people, and that's essential in a world where "Ta-Da!" is dead and sharing is simple.

In the end, the Super Bowl is going from "Cat Herders" to letting the cat out of the bag.

John King is Chief Communications Officer at Publicis Groupe's Fallon.

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