Super Bowl Ads: A Whole New ‘1984’

Have you noticed anything different about the Super Bowl this year? I’m not talking about the game. I’m talking about the ads. We’ve certainly come a long way from the days when Apple’s blockbuster 1984 ad aired a single time, never to be televised again.

This year, some of the most (already) memorable ads will never appear on the Big Game at all. It’s proof (as if true believers required it) the Internet has forever changed the advertising landscape, both online and off-. Just as “1984” ushered in the era of the Super Bowl blockbuster ad, 2005 begins an age in which a whole new dynamic — the fully integrated, event-driven interactive campaign — will emerge.

Only 7 percent of Super Bowl viewers will watch just for the ads this year, according to a national survey by Eisner Communications. That’s down 2 percent from last year, and is the lowest number of ads-only watchers in years. Why? Part of it may be this year’s advertising theme seems tamer-than-tame. There’s also the reality: you don’t have to watch the game to see the ads. With broadband access and BitTorrent, not to mention advertisers’ own sites, people can watch only the ads they find entertaining — whenever and wherever they want.

The most interesting, nimble handling of this phenomenon, thus far, has been from Anheuser-Busch. Though the company is making a substantial investment in TV ads, one spot that was rejected (the company reportedly insists it was rejected, not a PR stunt) has gotten plenty of play online. The “wardrobe malfunction” parody might be considered offensive to a TV audience, but that’s not stopping Anheuser-Busch from splashing links to the ad onto Budweiser’s home page. The company even launched an online ad campaign, seen earlier this week on TheOnion.com.

The commercial controversy certainly has sparked buzz. A query on Intelliseek’s blogpulse.com shows blog buzz about Budweiser spiked right around the same time the controversial ad was pulled.

Airborne Health has done the same with its nixed ad showing Mickey Rooney’s bare rear end. GoDaddy is showing off a more risqué version of its ad that will appear on the game, exhorting visitors to its site to, “See the Super Bowl Ad that Fox Rejected.” No word yet on whether Ford will host its now-withdrawn ad for the Mark LT luxury truck online. In this case, a whole online component — including several extra spots — had been planned, all riffing off of the main spot’s theme.

You don’t have to have your ad kicked off the Super Bowl to generate online buzz. CareerBuilder has a “teaser” campaign running on its Web site, in advance of the campaign’s Super Bowl debut. Volvo has planned an elaborate sweepstakes (the prize is a trip to space) that encompasses both its TV ad (to be posted online, of course) and its dedicated Web site, boldlygo.com.

Buying a Super Bowl ad was never solely about TV, of course. The PR burst and the water cooler effect were always a big part of the campaign. The difference now is the PR burst can be magnified through the blogosphere, streaming video, and BitTorrent. The water cooler effect can now be measured, through services like Intelliseek and BuzzMetrics.

The broadband Internet has added a whole new dimension, and new opportunities for concocting original breakthrough strategies, that could never have been deployed in 1984. One added benefit: if the recent National Retail Federation survey is correct, and 34 percent of people don’t watch the Super Bowl, you can now reach them, too.

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