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Mobile Advertising: The Super Bowl's Big Loser

  |  February 5, 2009   |  Comments

Like Cardinals fans, mobile marketers will have to wait until next year to win the big game.

About 90 million Americans tuned in to Sunday night's Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, FL, according to early estimates. Many of us tuned in for the football game itself, others gathered to watch the spectacle -- Faith Hill, Jennifer Hudson, The Boss, and those much-hyped $3 million commercials. Perhaps uniquely, I was watching to see if any of those marketers shelling out $100,000 per second of commercial time used mobile in any way. I'll leave performance and the commercial content analysis to the celebrity blogs and the "USA Today" Ad Meter.

How did mobile do? Let me put it this way: the Arizona Cardinals could have given some of its near-record 11 penalties to marketers.


NBC ran a spot for the NFL's anti-youth obesity program, Play 60. This program, run in partnership with the United Way, helps to fight childhood obesity by encouraging kids to get out and exercise. Consumers were urged to donate $5 by spokesman Dallas Cowboy Jason Witten by texting the word FIT to short code 864833 (UNITED). The problem here is the ad was way too short. I'm not sure who was being the scrooge here, NFL or NBC, but this was a :15 commercial. That length of time allowed Witten to give a quick stat on youth obesity (one in three kids is overweight) and the SMS instructions -- barely. There was no explanation of where the $5 would go and how it would get there. Heck, the short code was on screen for only about three seconds. This was hardly enough time to pull your phone out of your pocket and type the code in. Also, this ad wasn't on Hulu or in the YouTube Ad Blitz channel with the rest of the Super Bowl commercials.

I was able to track down the commercial on YouTube, though not with the rest of the Super Bowl commercials. From there, I texted the word "FIT" to 864833. I received a text asking me to confirm my donation to United Way Youth Fitness by replying "Y" to the message. The message also included a Web link for terms and conditions. I typed in "Y" and received a thank you and the instructions that I could donate up to five times. There was still no description of how the $5 will get there. I had to go online to the terms and conditions to discover that the $5 dollar charges will show up on my AT&T bill. That's actually pretty convenient, although AT&T's bills are very hard to digest.

While SMS (define) is a great way to make micropayments and donations because of that convenience factor, the United Way would have been better served by a :30 spot that allowed for a more screen time for that short code. In addition, a better description of the mechanism should have been on screen or in the initial text. The ad also should have been online with the rest of the Super Bowl ads.


Monster.com also used SMS in its ad. The spot listed the perks of the director of fandemonium job, which include announcing a pick at the NFL draft, calling a play at the Pro Bowl, and more. It also called people to "apply" online at nfl.monster.com or by texting "Fan" to 24421. This is exactly what several mobile experts have been calling for -- the use of SMS or mobile sites as another point of entry for people. Here again, SMS seems an ideal vehicle because a text can be sent immediately and without really breaking your attention to the TV screen. Monster also has the ad posted on Hulu and YouTube, so it's getting additional views as well from people who may have made a guacamole run when the ad aired. The problem with this execution is there is very little pay off for the consumer for texting.

The text I received back from 24421 -- and I think memorable short codes are better, such as "NFLFAN" -- instructed me to go to the Web site. That was it. While I suppose this could function as a reminder note of sorts, it was hardly worth it. How about asking for an e-mail address and using a reverse lookup to get the rest of my information?


There's one more penalty flag to throw. Anheuser-Busch failed to incorporate its mobile Web site into its slew of commercial spots in the game. The St. Louis brewer has a mobile site housing its "secret spot," a funny and mildly risqué ad called "Magazine Buyer." However, it didn't mention this site in its spots at all. This is a lost opportunity to get traffic to a mobile site and perhaps collect some mobile numbers to market Bud events and specials to later.

It would indeed be overkill for every ad to have a text message call to action, but the United Way and Monster had the right idea to give consumers a convenient and easy means of interacting with their spots, although they fumbled the execution. Anheuser-Busch didn't even get its mobile player on the field, which is a shame. Mobile marketing, like Cardinals fans, will have to wait till next year to win the big game.

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Davis Brewer

Davis Brewer is lead strategist of emerging channels for Spark Communications. As the lead strategist, Davis manages the robust expansion of all Spark client activity in the digital advertising space.

He acts as a client resource for the agency's digital futures practice, providing insights and analytics as well as risk management, for the latest emerging advertising opportunities in the digital media space. In this dual role, he continues to oversee his existing list of forward-thinking clients.

Davis began his career at an online advertising agency in San Francisco at the height of the dot-com boom. He quickly became a successful agent in the digital commerce arena after moving back to Chicago, armed with the unique perspective of a bubble-burst veteran.

A pioneer of behavioral targeting online, Davis was named a 2006 Rising Star in "DiversityBusiness" magazine. He received his degree in English from Dartmouth College.

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