Want to crash the Super Bowl without an official commercial? Start planning now
The Super Bowl is four months away, but ad planning is well underway. Time is also of the essence for brands looking to make a significant splash without buying a Big Game ad. That’s because with so many brands angling to seize on advertising’s biggest day of the year, successful Super Bowl “crashing” takes a lot more planning and resources than it used to.
Playing around the edges of the Super Bowl might not cost the $5 million to actually buy a spot, but doing it right can cost at least $1 million, when you add in Google search, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube advertising. That’s according to Steve Parker, CEO of Levelwing, a Charleston, S.C. shop that’s backed Super Bowl efforts for game advertisers (e.g. Bridgestone) and non-advertisers alike over the past 12 years.
Here’s how some successful Super Bowl crashers have pulled it off.
Get a strategy
“What we do every year is inspire brands to figure out what they want to do with the Super Bowl and innovate in terms of how they do it,” says Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble Co. chief brand officer. Often, that means spending big on in-game spots, like P&G did last year for Olay, which ran a big-budget spot horror-themed ad called “Killer Skin” starring Sarah Michelle Gellar.
But the marketer is pleased with the results it got from other brands that capitalized on the game’s spotlight without shelling out millions for commercial time. That includes Pampers, which launched a “#StinkyBootyDuty” digital video during the game that celebrated the role dads play and generated 40 million online views in the first 24 hours and more than a billion earned impressions. Of course, the Pampers effort was hardly cheap. It featured celebrities John Legend, Chrissy Teigen and Adam Levine and was backed by paid social media.
Surfing the Super Bowl hype
Brands such as Heineken’s Newcastle Brown Ale have succeeded in getting ads swept up in Super Bowl hype by releasing noteworthy spots days before the game. Such ads get often get discussed as “Super Bowl ads” in social media, even though they aren’t. “You can insert yourself into the conversation,” Parker says. “Consumers don’t know who the 50 or so Super Bowl advertisers are, and it’s hard to keep up.”
But the window for that conversation is small and getting smaller. Google Trends data show people begin searching for “Super Bowl ads” about two weeks before the game and stop within a few days of the game. While search for Super Bowl ads has remained heavy over the years, it peaked in 2007.
Strong creative and production help
Skittles, a Super Bowl advertiser from 2015 to 2017, has sat out the past two years in favor of highly publicized alternative programming. This included a Super Bowl spot shown to only one person in 2018, and a Broadway musical earlier this year, both from DDB Chicago. The “Broadway the Rainbow” stunt generated 2.5 billion impressions, beating some of Skittles’ prior paid Super Bowl ads, a Skittles exec told Ad Age earlier this year.
But results like that require investing heavily in production, talent and creative, says Jeremy Mullman, partner with ICF Next, which handled publicity around the Skittles efforts the past two years.
“The scale and ambition of what you’re doing is often as big as ads in the game, or bigger,” Mullman says.
A good, unusual story makes a difference, like the Skittles Broadway effort, which blasted advertising. One number, called “Advertising Ruins Everything,” included lyrics like “it ruins the web and it ruins TV and it fills our inboxes with spam.”
Celebrity talent can help
Celebrity talent also can help get attention for ambush ads: Be it Pampers’ 2019 video, Newcastle enlisting Anna Kendrick in 2014, or Skittles hiring David Schwimmer to star in its 2018 Super Bowl ad “for one,” which the brand plugged as being shown to a single fan, teenager Marcos Menendez of Los Angeles.
But celebrities alone don’t do the trick. Making your non-Super Bowl ad unlike a Super Bowl ad might be the best idea, simply because Super Bowl ads have consistently underperformed others in creative effectiveness scores since 2013, says Gary Getto, president of ad-measurement firm ABX. Super Bowl ads have done well in likeability vs. ads generally but ranked lower in message delivery and “call to action,” including purchase intent.
Last year, Avocados From Mexico might have been better off sticking with its January preview ads and ditching the February game ad, Getto says, given that the previews scored much better on inducing people to buy avocados.
Gimmicks get old; not all jokes work
One of the oldest tricks in the Super Bowl ambush book is making an ad that’s risqué, controversial or otherwise violates network or NFL policies, getting it “rejected,” then promoting it as a “banned ad” even when there was never any intention of buying time for it. But the tactic is getting old and thus less attention-grabbing, as evidenced by GoDaddy’s move away from the approach.
Jokes can backfire, too. A Zaxby’s ad run in some local markets this year featured ex-jocks Jeff Saturday and Rick Monday poking fun at Chick Fil-A for being closed on Sunday. It was widely panned in Southeast markets where it ran and was seen as a shot at Chick Fil-A’s religious beliefs.