Super Bowl ads taking the viral path

Originally Published: February 1, 2012
By Kelley Carter | Page 2

The Super Bowl is almost here.

But the commercials? Some have already arrived.

Yes, these spots -- which can fetch up to $4 million for 30 seconds of air time, not including the cost to actually produce them -- started their watercooler buzz days ago, thanks to the companies' amped-up emphasis on social media.

Take Volkswagen, which followed up last year's hit, "The Force," with a spinoff preview starring dogs called "The Bark Side" (more than 10 million views through Tuesday night), and a just-released-Wednesday full-length video. Or Audi, whose "Vampire Party" spot is currently burning up the Internet (2 million-plus hits).

"We wanted to get the buzz going," Audi CMO Scott Keogh says, "and I think the way we look at it now is we want to put our flag on top of Everest first. You want people talking about your ad coming into the Super Bowl, anticipating your ad in the Super Bowl and then boom! It's sort of like before a race you want to be in pole position, not last."

Keogh -- and other marketers and execs who share his sentiments -- says this is the first time they've been able to use social media in this way and on this large a playing field, so much so that it's changed the landscape of advertising. And that landscape goes beyond just releasing the videos. In addition to accruing YouTube clicks, companies have launched Twitter hashtag campaigns and are aiming to get as many shares as possible on sites like Facebook.

"That's the new conventional wisdom," says Matt Paget, managing partner of L.A.-based sports branding firm, Extension PR. "There are two types of tent-pole Super Bowl commercials today -- the traditional [ones] that grab the audience's attention so viewers remember the brand and connect it with the stature of Super Bowl, and the new category that taps into consumers interfacing with the brand -- be it through social media tags and a call to action or through featuring content that was crowd-sourced in advance."

It's a testament to the modern age, says Angelique Krembs, VP of marketing at Pepsi. It also gives a cheat sheet to how successful Super Bowl campaigns are

Because, although Krembs says it would be unrealistic for any company to expect sales to skyrocket in the hours or days after the commercial, "We'll have a partial answer as we head into the Super Bowl, because we'll already be able to see how the conversation is panning out on social media channels, through our Twitter feed and our Facebook page."

However, this amped-up grab for attention also could provide a little bit of backlash.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find an advertiser who doesn't have some social media component to their advertising; everybody will be trying to drive people somewhere," says Adam Hanft, CEO of Hanft Projects. "But there's only so much social media energy consumers have. Social media exhaustion is going to set in. Not every product or every commercial equally lends itself to community, to sharing, to an extended experience."

Which is where content comes in. Commercial-wise, we're already seeing evidence of slick productions, movie-like moments (Bueller? Bueller?) that will drive people to like -- or "like" -- the company's ad.

"I think you're going to see more fun and more creativity this year," says Bob Horowitz, executive producer of CBS' "Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials," airing Wednesday at 8 p.m. "I think the takeaway from the viewers is that Super Bowl commercials this year will be entertaining, much the same way we feel when we watch a good episode of 'Saturday Night Live.'"

And like a TV show, the drive for an audience -- on television or away from it -- is feverish.

"It's even more intense, more competitive than it's been in the past," says Joel Ewanick, GM's vice president and global chief marketing officer. "Not only do you have to be entertaining, which is fun and interesting, but you also have to be true to what you're trying to sell."

Kelley L. Carter is an entertainment and pop culture freelance journalist.

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Kelley L. Carter is an Emmy-winning entertainment journalist who has written for publications including USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Free Press, Vibe and Essence magazines. She also regularly provides expert pop culture and entertainment commentary for outlets including CNN, E! and the TV Guide Channel.