Super Bowl

Newcastle Writes Playbook for Winning the Ambush Bowl

Brand Plays the Underdog With Slick Integrated Effort That Mocks Big-Game Mania

By Published on .

Super Bowl advertising. It's a big deal. But not everyone can play along. Some marketers simply don't have the money. And even some of those that do have the cash have buzz-killing execs who don't see $4.5 million for a 30-second buy as a smart use of their funds.

That $4.5 million, of course, is for the ad time.

It doesn't include costs associated with an undoubtedly higher production budget and the PR and social-media pushes that must accompany modern Super Bowl campaigns. And it definitely doesn't cover the emotional cost of investing all of that money and your good name in the hopes that viewers won't rip your ad to shreds because they have extremely high expectations for what a Super Bowl ad should be.

When you stop and think about it -- and you might not want to -- the whole thing is slightly absurd.

Which is one of the many reasons Newcastle Brown Ale's ongoing campaign tweaking the Super Bowl and Super Bowl advertising is such a delight.

If you get your media only from print and TV (how much is rent under a rock these days, by the way?), the premise of the Droga5-led "Band of Brands" effort seems simple enough: "To produce the first-ever crowd-funded Big Game ad." ("Big Game," by the way, is what marketers and media outlets terrified of NFL lawyers call the Super Bowl.)

But let's back up a little. Last year, Newcastle had a little fun with a teaser spot and making-of video for a Super Bowl commercial it never actually made. This year, it's already created one spot -- allegedly for the Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" contest. That "consumer"-generated Doritos ad just happened to include a metric ton of Newcastle product placement.

Now, about "Band of Brands." This isn't the first attempt at a crowd-funded ad for the Super Bowl. But it is a different kind of crowd-funding. The brand isn't hitting Kickstarter to solicit funds from Joe and Jill Six-Pack. Rather, it's hitting up other brands to help it pay for a group ad. "In exchange for a small contribution, any brand can join Newcastle's team and have its logo and messaging featured in an actual Big Game spot," the brand said in a statement.

Or, as "Parks and Recreation" star and Newcastle spokeswoman Aubrey Plaza says in one online video seeking like-minded companies: "We can help your brand sell tons of whatever the (bleep) your brand sells."

Plaza might not be to everyone's liking, but she's perfect for this effort (and likely for the target demographic). It's all in her delivery. The deadpan, dead-eyed sarcasm makes all of the marketing concepts and clich├ęs -- patriotism, the sharing economy, puppies, democratization, cowboys, consumer power -- trotted out in the Newcastle videos sound like the huge load of crap they really are.

And that includes the championing of small businesses as a rallying cry. "Shouldn't the little guys have a chance?" asks Plaza. While some of the companies signed up so far -- Krave Jerky, Beanitos, McClure's Pickles -- are indeed small, others -- including Brawny and Boost Mobile -- are not.

And Newcastle definitely isn't. The brand is owned by Heineken, which has plenty of money to run a Super Bowl ad, but can't. A-B InBev has exclusive beer sponsorship rights for the game.

So even if this stunt results in an actual ad, it's going to have to sneak in through the back door via regional buys. Get your ad seen in enough regions and consumers will assume it's a bona fide national Super Bowl ad.

This is assuming NBC doesn't decide to clamp down on local affiliates and forbid them from running the ad because it's disparaging to Super Bowl advertisers -- which is an actual reason that networks have used to forbid other ads.

In a way, that would be the cherry on top of this absurdity sundae. Newcastle could then be one of those companies screaming that it's been banned from the big game!

Either way, the brand wins. Newcastle isn't exactly a major player in the U.S. Yet for the second year in a row, it's inserted itself into the game in a major way.

But let's not kid ourselves. It didn't do it with some slapdash shoestring social-media gambit. This is high-quality content generated by an ad agency and pushed out to the appropriate demographic (and the media) via professional PR and social-media efforts.

Newcastle spent money on this. But it was a hell of a lot less than $4.5 million.

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