A Level Playing Field Online for Super Bowl Ads

While the Super Bowl continues to be the largest annual advertising event, savvy marketers are increasingly going to the Web to both supplement and piggyback on the big game’s massive influence.

This year, advertisers buying spots during Super Bowl XLI are frequently posting those ads online before they’re broadcast to try and create buzz. And one group of self-proclaimed “Web 2.0” companies has formed to create spots that ride the wave of Super Bowl advertising — without actually advertising in the Super Bowl.

Knowing they couldn’t afford a standard Super Bowl ad, six start-up firms challenged each other to come up with Super Bowl-style :30 spots and upload them to a YouTube channel at SuperDotComAds XLI.

The brainchild of Danny Bernstein, head of marketing for Meebo, an instant messaging company, the ads range from streaking employees to animated avatars watching the game from their couch to “Tastes Great/Less Filling” spoofs. The companies involved include Meebo, social networking site Multiply, avatar provider Meez.com, address book company Plaxo, blog search company Technorati and viral widget firm RockYou.

“Instead of spending a lot of money to put ads on the Super Bowl, we’d throw them up on YouTube and try to get as much viral going as we could,” said Michael Lehman, director of marketing for Meez.com. “By letting our audiences know this is up there and sending them to YouTube to see not only ours but also the other videos from the other companies, it’s a great way to cross-pollinate our audience.”

Each ad was created in-house, usually by employees with a knack for video creation, according to John McCrea, VP of marketing for Plaxo. “Our head of customer support has a good eye for cinematography and editing,” he said. “The streaking is a special talent we found in our product management team.”

The idea behind the videos is that the Internet provides a level playing field for ads that will then run side by side against Super Bowl ad repeats. “We can go out and create a video, and if it’s as funny as Anheuser-Busch or McDonalds on the Super Bowl, after the fact it might generate as much of an audience,” said Michael Gersh, VP of sales and marketing for Multiply.

Some companies that did purchase Super Bowl airtime for their advertisements are also using the Web to try and boost the buzz around their spots. Creative agency Fallon Minneapolis not only created a :30 Super Bowl ad for GPS device manufacturer Garmin, but also produced a full :60 second ad and a music video to run online at Garmin.com before the game. The ad itself features a Godzilla style monster made of a paper travel map battling a giant superhero using a Garmin device, with a soundtrack created by Steve Grimmett, former lead singer of ’80s metal band Grim Reaper.

By posting a music video on the Garmin site before the Super Bowl, Fallon is trying to “get more for the investment than just the :30 TV spot,” said Brian Tierney, group creative director for Fallon Minneapolis. “We’re trying not to do traditional television commercial and the strict framework that builds up to a joke. We want this to be an actual piece of entertainment that people can share with each other on the Internet.”

Super Bowl advertising veterans have also posted their advertisements online early to positive results. Insurance firm Nationwide made its advertisement with Britney Spears ex-husband Kevin Federline available on its Web site, and in a seven day period ending January 21, buzz around the Federline ad represented 26 percent of all blog conversations related to Super Bowl advertising, and 49 percent on January 17, according to the Nielsen BuzzMetrics service.

Other companies included Snickers, which posted less than five seconds of its ad online as a tease, and perennial Super Bowl advertiser GoDaddy.com, which put two ads rejected by CBS online at its Web site.

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