Along with 100 million other viewers, I spent my recent Sunday watching one of the best Super Bowls I have seen in quite some time. For the first time in seven years, my family decided not to host a party, which left me with more time to search.
Every marketer understands how important a Super Bowl ad can be. It can launch new products, build a brand, and generate sales and buzz. It also seems to be the one event that is still steeped in the "Golden Age of TV."
We act like families in the '50s, sitting together around the television watching the show as well as the commercials. We don't TiVo the Super Bowl; we watch it. This is why buying a Super Bowl spot still makes sense. What sets us apart from the 1950s family is that while watching television we're also tweeting, sharing, and - more importantly - searching.
Marketers behave as though we compartmentalize our experiences. It's as if they think television takes place on television while online takes place online. Consumers, however, don't process their experiences as such, and plenty of cross-channel bleed-through is occurring.
If you have a good television commercial, we want to continue that experience online. Marketers largely ignore this idea rather than try to embrace it. One of my colleagues pointed out that of the 104 total commercials he counted, only 55 displayed a Web site at some point in the spot.
Despite the huge uptick in video usage, several brands had no call to their video assets. I understand that YouTube and Hulu have dedicated sections for the Super Bowl commercials, but why not control the experience with your own brand channel? If you couldn't afford a YouTube channel, why not at least optimize these assets for universal search?
"Robin Hood" and Tim Burton's creepy looking "Alice in Wonderland" were the only two movie ads that had videos within their titular search results. However, neither had updated images, which reminded us how many Robin Hood movies have been made over the last 20 years.
Another aspect that I couldn't track but found odd was the lack of competitors' presence. If you chose not to advertise during the Super Bowl, why not at least buy your competitors' terms and steal some of the demand that they were driving?
Speaking of trying to pick up the scraps, TurboTax employed an interesting strategy. Almost every commercial I searched for included a paid search ad in which they acknowledged that you were watching the Super Bowl and likely saw one of those commercials. I'm not sure it was effective, but it was an intriguing way to attempt to capture demand that the Super Bowl ads were driving.
Winners and Losers
What defines a successful Super Bowl marketing experience in the digital age? To answer this, I came up with a few criteria for a winning collaboration. A brand needs to do more than just have a presence in the search engines. It had to account for such things as:
Even though it was the clear premise of the commercial, the advertiser didn't show up for the keyword "House of Beer Cans" or other brand terms in search. While good for television, the commercial offered no way to engage a brand experience online. Why not let me construct my own virtual house of beer? I found the Bud Light commercials entertaining but was miffed that they didn't let me continue the experience online.
Boost Mobile brought back the "Super Bowl Shuffle," but - in addition to the '85 Chicago Bears being way too old to repeat their performance - the mobile company did very little in search. Boost was only present for its brand term in organic. For example, it could have appealed to Google News by issuing a press release about getting the team back together. Lastly, Boost didn't buy any of the Bears players' names or even the phrase "Super Bowl Shuffle" in paid search.
In general, Doritos had some humorous commercial spots, and "Crash the Super Bowl" appeared in the first listing organically in Google for the keyword "Doritos commercial." This is great for those of us who searched for "Doritos commercials" or simply "Doritos." Still, Doritos could have done more to expand its online coverage.
Motorola failed miserably. Using Megan Fox in a commercial should be online gold. Instead, Motorola held no real presence outside of its brand terms. The premise of the commercial was: "What if Megan Fox sent out a picture of herself in a tub?" There was nothing, however, online to help extend this experience.
I almost put Dockers in the losing category since I don't need to see that many men in underwear at once. (In a related oddity, how did the folks at CBS think to schedule two underwear ads back-to-back?) The movement around "free pants" created a tremendous amount of buzz - including a huge spike for a phrase that had no volume prior to the game. Dockers delivered on the experience and found a way to build a database so that its investment will have a long-term impact.
This was an encore performance of last year's success. During the previous Super Bowl, Hyundai ran an ad for the Sonata, which not only had paid listings but multiple ones. This year, Hyundai pulled off a repeat as it offered paid and organic coverage along with a geo-targeted paid ad. The car manufacturer also capitalized on having Brett Favre in their ad by buying a paid search ad for his name.
Audi was a big winner in how it handled its "Green Police" ad. The topic was timely in that we are all looking for ways to be more environmentally safe. The search results included two Audi-owned domains, a link to a third-party article, the Audi Facebook Page and the corporate site. My only knock was that Audi could have used some better titles and copy, but in general it controlled the brand experience.
Some of Audi's competition even responded to the advertising fanfare. Mercedes was present for some terms, but the listing that was the most interesting was the appearance of the Plastics Council. The Plastics Council ad for "Green Police confused" poked holes in Audi's claims and explained how plastic makes the world better.
Kia put forth a solid effort. The brand capitalized on paid, organic, and local search. It even accounted for the use of the children's show characters in its commercial by purchasing a paid listing for "Yo Gabba Gabba."
HomeAway had it all. The company did a fantastic job of owning its brand experience by including its videos, Twitter page, and blog within search. HomeAway also had separate organic listings just for the Griswolds. Extending the "Vacation" experience online proved not only savvy, but entertaining as well.
The Final Report
Football aside, marketers often use the Super Bowl as a barometer of the current state of industry innovation. With the presence of extensive online experiences from big brands like Hyundai, Dockers, and Doritos, one can assume that integrated marketing experiences - tying offline to online in robust, searchable ways - hold promise for the future.
At the very least, seeing brands take search into consideration shows a new level of maturity in the marketing field. In time, one hopes that integrated, multichannel offline-online campaigns become more commonplace. Digital is being taken seriously by key players. And we're all getting a better picture of what marketing integration can really look like.
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Joshua Palau is the vice president of Search for Razorfish. In this role he is responsible for the global strategy, product development and operations of their paid, organic, and feeds offerings.
He helps clients to understand how search fits into the overall marketing plan and constantly researches the rapidly changing industry to help clients anticipate, and respond to, changes in the landscape.
Joshua is an active writer who has authored several Razorfish POVs on topics such as managing paid and organic search, reputation management, and social search optimization. In addition to writing his SEW column, he serves as the editor of Razorfish's weekly newsletter, Search Marketing Trends.
Joshua began his digital career in 1996 and has a diverse background working on the publisher, client, and agency side. Prior to joining Razorfish, he has worked for Hearst Magazines, About.com, and Johnson & Johnson.
His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
March 19, 2014