Super Bowl

How ABC Got in on Super Bowl Action Even Though NBC Has the Game

VW Had Passat in 'The Middle,' Then Ran 'Bark Side' Teaser During Same Episode

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Thanks to changing strategies surrounding Super Bowl advertising, a network that no longer has anything to do with broadcasting the gridiron classic was able to snare a commercial that is part of the buildup to the event on Feb. 5.

Yes, that was Volkswagen 's Super Bowl teaser ad, featuring a now-famous pack of dogs barking out the "Imperial March" from "Star Wars," during an episode of "The Middle" on Walt Disney's ABC last Wednesday, Jan. 18. While not formally part of NBC's coming broadcast of Super Bowl XLVI, the commercial's appearance is part of Volkswagen 's broader Super Bowl campaign, and its presence online as well as on ABC demonstrates how widely Super Bowl ad efforts now extend beyond the game.

Dogs perform the 'Imperial March' from 'Star Wars' to tease Volkswagen 's new Super Bowl ad.
Dogs perform the 'Imperial March' from 'Star Wars' to tease Volkswagen 's new Super Bowl ad.

Volkswagen had only planned to run that canine-themed teaser online, said Justin Osborne, general manager-marketing strategy and media for Volkswagen . But the company realized just before the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend that ABC would be airing an episode of "The Middle" incorporating both the automaker's Passat and a Super Bowl visit by the main characters' neighbors.

Volkswagen hadn't intended to advertise during the Jan. 18 show, primarily because no one was certain when the episode featuring the Passat and the Super Bowl storyline would air, Mr. Osborne said. "Mainly, we weren't sure when it was going to run, whether it was going to be before or after the Super Bowl, or how far before," he said. "The network wasn't entirely sure, either. The date moved a couple of times."

When Volkswagen realized the Super Bowl-themed episode was slated to air just as it introduced its "Bark Side" video online, it moved quickly. It made a decision on Friday, Jan. 13, to air the ad, and its agency, Interpublic Group's Deutsch L.A., had to put people to work over the holiday weekend to format and edit the spot -- made specifically for digital-media viewing -- for TV. ABC didn't see a rough cut of the ad until Tuesday, according to an account of events from Volkswagen .

Indeed, the automaker waited a long while to see the Passat in the Warner Brothers-produced program. "We identified 'The Middle' around the upfront, based on how the show fit the tone of the brand," said Adam Pincus, managing partner-director at WPP's Mediacom Content, which helped negotiate the placement. "ABC talked to the show, and confirmed that they were open to working the VW. We started talking concepts in the summer."

The Super Bowl story didn't emerge until after the two sides had agreed on a concept. "It added a nice angle," Mr. Pincus said.

Running an ad that echoes the exact theme of a TV-show episode remains relatively rare. Even so, Super Bowl advertisers have long relied on marketing before the game, from retail promotions (in the case of Anheuser-Busch InBev) to print advertising, to draw attention to coming Super Bowl spots. More is likely on the way: The recent rise of digital media, mobile devices and social networks now give marketers broader tools to whet appetites for their expensive TV ads and to track consumer response.

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