Super Bowl 2010

Why the Super Bowl Doesn't Loom So Large Any More

Still the Biggest Thing Going, but Big Brands and Imagination Are Lacking

By Published on .

More Super Bowl 2010 Coverage:

NEW YORK ( -- The Super Bowl has long been -- and probably shall forever be -- known as the Big Game. Yet developments over the past two years make us think it's getting a little smaller.

Yes, ratings for the event are at an all-time high; CBS this morning reported initial results from metered markets that suggest its broadcast of Super Bowl XLIV reached even more viewers than last year's record-setting turn on NBC. Yes, prices for ad time in the game continue to rise, even if the recession seems to have halted an increase for this past contest. And a 30-second spot in the Super Bowl is still the priciest bit of ad inventory on television.

But in other ways, the Super Bowl simply isn't as grandiose as it once was, nor the end-all be-all that we remember. Here's why.

It's getting less important for the biggest players.

A Super Bowl commercial is for marketers who need to generate awareness or require a sense of legitimacy, less and less for those who already have such things.

HomeAway hopes its Griswold's Super Bowl spot will help it gain market share and brand recall.
HomeAway hopes its Griswold's Super Bowl spot will help it gain market share and brand recall.
Did you ever think you'd watch a Super Bowl with just a handful of well-established brands? With FedEx, General Motors and Pepsi beverages out of the contest -- FedEx and GM sat out for the second year in a row -- we're starting to see an event that is increasingly tapped by smaller marketers who have dreams of growing big.

HomeAway, Skechers and many others all hope to one day to control market share and brand recall. But they don't yet -- or at least not to the degree they want. They're upstart brands, not category champions. The Super Bowl gets their names out to the masses, prompting consumers to move to the web and social media to find out more and talk about what they saw.

But if you've got a rock-solid brand, you probably have the heft to go off in other directions, and you definitely have more tools. Just look at Pepsi, which dropped out of the Super Bowl for the first time in more than 20 years and used heavy spending to push a digitally focused social-responsibility campaign, and was still able to dominate word-of-mouth before the game.

A Super Bowl ad is just a start, not the end.

Time was, you put an ad in the Super Bowl and called it a day. These days, the decision to run a spot in this annual event triggers an entire passel of marketing activity.

Denny's: Chickens Across America
Denny's: Chickens Across America
Denny's Super Bowl spots, for instance, are just the beginning of a system-wide effort that will result in hundreds of thousands of Grand Slam meals being handed out to consumers. So employees have to be prepared to put on their best show for hungry customers pushed toward their local Denny's by a Super Bowl ad. Then the chain will need to count up how much customer traffic was affected by its ad and offer, and finally determine how much of that traffic stuck around once the promotion ends.

Digital media in particular has expanded the ways marketers can build on the big commercial, not to mention the ways they might measure success. Super Bowl advertisers now follow the game by busily monitoring web traffic and mentions of their brand in social-media networks.

The spectacle is gone.

Super Bowl advertising is still embodied by Apple's famous "1984" ad that launched the company's Macintosh computer. The spot was clever, engrossing and mystifying. It captured the attention and stopped conversation in the room.

But Super Bowl advertising seems less and less interested in those goals. It has quickly moved from efforts to create a beautiful commercial that fires the imagination to a bunch of jokes aimed at drunks in the back of bars carrying the game.

Coca-Cola: Hard Times
Coca-Cola: Hard Times
How many spots in last night's contest featured guys tackling women, guys prancing about in their underwear, surprise appearances by little people or men complaining about being hectored by their wives and girlfriends? And how many of these themes seem to come back year after year?

Yes, some advertisers are still trying. Coke's ad featuring characters from "The Simpsons" last night aspired to those earlier Super Bowl creative heights with a story about characters helping out a mean old tycoon who had lost his money (like so many of us these days). Google's heartwarming spot also tried to stop conversation, depicting a burgeoning romance through a series of online search queries.

But the Simpsons are borrowed from somewhere else, and Google had to hope its ad -- filled with loads of fine print -- grabbed the attention of not just beer drinkers and chicken-wing eaters but Twitterers too. Super Bowl ads never had to hope like that in the past. Now they do.

Most Popular