The Super Bowl is behind us, and in keeping with consumer expectations the big brands didn't fail to entertain. Coca-Cola brought us an epic race and asked consumers to help pick the winner online. Audi took us to a teenager's prom, while Taco Bell took us out on the town. All of these ads were memorable and resonated with us by exciting, emboldening, or making us laugh. But did they send a clear message about the product? Were they well executed? Did they do a good job of tying into digital media?
Post-game, this is the question all digital marketers should be asking, whether they paid the $4 million or not. By looking at this year's Super Bowl ads and the consumer response they incited, you're seeing a best (and worst) practice guide for merging digital media with TV. Here are your 2013 takeaways.
1. Use your hashtags wisely and make sure they're seen. Incorporating hashtags into TV spots poses some challenges. The tags are tiny and typically posted at the very end of an ad. They're easily missed - what's more, they can turn on a brand if they aren't selected and employed carefully.
Consider the #15yrWinningStreak hashtag used by Subway in its "Congratulations Jared" ad. The tag was on screen for about a second, and its purpose wasn't clear: what were consumers expected to do with it? How could they apply it to the brand, or to their own lives? If the intended use of a hashtag isn't implicitly clear, consumers will go it alone and make a mess - or worse, a mockery - of your campaign.
Compare Subway's cumbersome hashtag to the #GetHappy tag used in VW's spot. This has much more practical applications, and because it appropriates an exciting mantra, it's likely that the tag will help attract a new audience of ad viewers through Twitter.
2. A set it, forget it mentality will ruin you. Ask anyone who has used a social tool to schedule tweets or Facebook posts for months at a time and you're likely to find a horror story about the perils of lying down on the job. A brand's best friend is a social strategist who's always online and always aware, because vigilance (and the ability to stall posts in response to current events) can make or break your brand. Walgreens didn't officially partake in "brand bowl" on Sunday, but when the Superdome lost power it was quick to tweet, "We do sell candles" with a #SuperBowl hashtag. It was an ad disguised as a tweet, but its humor and timeliness drew a slew of positive consumer remarks.
Likewise, Cars.com and Oreo didn't just sit back and watch the data roll in after running their ads. Cars.com leveraged the outage, Twitter, and its #NoDrama hashtag to ask Twitter users to compare the drama of the blackout with the drama in its ad, while Oreo tweeted an ad that read, "You can still dunk in the dark." In less than 14 hours it was retweeted more than 15,000 times.
3. Technical problems are unforgiveable. Within seconds of airing its spot and the related CokeChase.com URL, Coca-Cola was on the receiving end of an onslaught of Twitter complaints. The campaign's site wasn't functioning as it should on mobile, and the voting feature was wonky. Suddenly consumers were using the brand's #cokechase hashtag against it to post complaints.
This may seem unfair, and Coke's troubles may have been beyond its control, but the importance of quality assurance testing can't be overstated. Whether your campaign will be delivered to a few thousand people online or a few million on Super Bowl Sunday, you simply must test until you drop. If it fails anyway, have a contingency plan in place and be prepared to post updates to your audience. Consumers may remember a great ad, but they're sure to remember a glitch.
4. Make them laugh only if it makes sense. A favorite ad of the Super Bowl was Taco Bell's "Viva Young" spot featuring some rowdy octogenarians out for a night on the town. The premise of the ad - which features a Spanish-language version of "We are Young" by Fun. - is absurd, but the message is perfectly clear: Taco Bell has Mexican food, it's open late, and you should equate it with a good time.
These days, the quest for the Holy Grail of digital marketing ("going viral") can steer us wrong. Consumers love humor in ads, but funny doesn't fly with every brand, and it's important to know which side of the fence your brand falls on. Sometimes it's better to be serious than to release an ad that only incites a smirk. Consumers can tell when you're trying too hard, and that can backfire on your campaign.
5. Merge social media to increase engagement. With the rise in popularity of Twitter, many brands are using their Super Bowl spots as an opportunity to drive viewers to a social network. Why not drive them to several social platforms at once instead? Tide's "Miracle Stain" ad included a URL by the same name that took consumers to its branded YouTube channel. There, they could watch additional Tide videos, link to Facebook and Twitter, or join in the brand's #MiracleStain conversation through the embedded commentary field.
By inviting consumers to a central social media depository, a brand can extend engagement and encourage interaction and shares, along with additional ad views. Twenty-four hours after its Super Bowl ad aired, Tide had racked up nearly 530,000 YouTube views. A TV ad that airs without a URL is an opportunity wasted.
As consumers, we look forward to being entertained by Super Bowl ads. As marketers, we look for them to inform us. This year's ads did an excellent job of both.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.
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