B-to-b Super Bowl ads took chances, scored big

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Last Sunday's Super Bowl included b-to-b commercials featuring a wardrobe malfunction, monkeys with whoopee cushions and Burt Reynolds getting kicked in the groin.

A week later, after these highjinks, it's time to capitalize on the hype and turn brand awareness into a branding message, said some marketing experts. But other observers question whether b-to-b marketers even belong at the Super Bowl, where a 30-second spot cost $2.4 million and is viewed by a mass audience. This year's game was watched by 86.1 million total viewers, according to data from Nielsen Media Research.

"For b-to-b, [the Super Bowl] is a pretty big leap of faith. So much of it hinges on how you do the other pieces of the marketing mix," said Pete Blackshaw, CMO of Intelliseek Inc., a Cincinnati-based marketing intelligence company that monitored almost 1,000 posts from 40 bloggers after the game. Experts say it's critical to execute a public relations strategy beforehand and support the ads afterward with a Web site that sells the brand.

Certainly's racy "Broadcast Hearing" spot, paying homage to wardrobe malfunctions and Federal Communications Commission hearings, garnered kudos for getting the most bang for its buck. After the airing of the 30-second spot created by the Ad Store, New York, GoDaddy's market share of U.S. Internet visits increased 260% Sunday compared with a day earlier, reported Hitwise, an online competitive intelligence service.

A week before the game, the domain name registration company's Web site was showing the spot rejected by Fox, and GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons was discussing the controversy in his weblog on Super Bowl Sunday.

Just two days after the game, there had already been 115 broadcast news mentions in the nation's top 50 markets, generating $1.7 million worth of publicity, according to Brent Bamberger, VP-marketing at Multivision Inc., an Oakland, Calif.-based broadcast monitoring service. "From a messaging standpoint, they used the old juvenile trick to generate stories," Bamberger said. "From a PR standpoint, it's ingenious."

But not everyone thought highly of the GoDaddy spot or its message. "They're getting some amount of PR but it's not PR about the brand. It's about the raunchiness of the ad," said Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, an Atlanta-based marketing strategy company. "Are 23-year-old men going to be registering a lot of Web sites? It's probably not hitting the right demographic."

FedEx's 45-second spot featuring Burt Reynolds and a talented bear did little to stress the benefits of the merger with Kinko's but nonetheless was popular for poking fun at, as the spot itself declared, the top 10 attributes of a good Super Bowl commercial. The spot, from BBDO, New York, generated 186 broadcast mentions and publicity valued at $1.3 million, according to Multivision.

"I loved the ad," said Hayes Roth, VP-worldwide marketing and business development of Landor Associates, a strategic brand consultancy in New York. "They were communicating their brand personality rather than their brand."

"Where they nailed it was poking fun at advertisers," said Intelliseek's Blackshaw. However, he said, some people were offended by the groin kick.

Some marketing strategists said walked a fine line in using chimps in its three spots, and some were tired of seeing animals featured in ads. "Tell me what you stand for, except that you work with a bunch of chimps," said Ries, who added, "Do you really want to think [during the game] about how crappy your job is and how you need to find a new one?"

The three spots, from Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago, accounted for more than 250 broadcast mentions, generating $3.4 million worth of publicity, according to Multivision.

Perhaps the most understated ad in the game was a 30-second spot for Microsoft Corp.'s new MSN Search.

"It was just a very simple little message," said Landor's Roth. "Did it break through in that environment? I just don't know. In a shouting match, it's the soft-spoken person who gets listened to."

Staples Inc. was faulted for showing a 30-second "Easy Button Launch" spot, from McCann Erickson, New York, which premiered in January. "The Super Bowl should be where you put forth your best work, new work," said Tim Calkins, associate professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "It's like an advertising film festival."

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