Super Bowl Advertising: Go Holistic or Go Home

What is it about the Super Bowl, that king of all TV events, that keeps triggering debate and conversation about advertising ROI (define) and the importance of holistic marketing?

When big money’s on the line, brands have no choice but to ponder all options to make the investment pay off…or at least save face. Plus, the event’s so massive that it has the potential to cast a large shadow into every corner of the marketing mix.

That’s why, when folks at the home office asked me for recommendations for the company’s first official blog, I immediately by-passed the usual suspects — the CEO blog, the repurposed press release blog — and recommended the company launch a Super Bowl blog.

What better context for blogging about advertising and marketing measurements’ future? Moreover, it seemed like a great opportunity to pull together diverse voices within the company, most of whom I’d never met, into an integrated conversational exercise. Which is exactly what we’ve been doing.

Such is the Super Bowl’s power. It draws us in. It compels us to talk. It forces us to connect the dots. It catalyzes the conversation and provides a powerful view into marketing’s future. It even makes us a bit uncomfortable and guilty.

Kevin Federline: Advertising ROI Secret Sauce

Still, that stubborn question remains: is $2.7 million for a :30 spot worth it? The honest answer is, “It depends,” as I learned so well in a joint Webinar last week with Steven Schreibman, Nationwide’s VP of marketing and branding, and Mike Switzer, Nationwide’s communications consultant.

Last year, Nationwide ran a Super Bowl spot entitled “Rollin’ VIP.” The spot featured Kevin Federline serving fries in a fast-food restaurant as part of the “Life Comes at You Fast” campaign. While technically behind Budweiser in overall buzz, Nationwide pretty much won — if not swept — the CGM (define) sweepstakes.

The spot and ensuing buzz were so successful in creating incremental free media through PR coverage, online conversations, and still-continuing online video downloads that it generated $23 million in incremental advertising value for the brand, according to Schreibman.

Moreover, that one spot creates as much indexed content in Google SERPs (define) as all of Budweiser’s spots combined for the last several years. Oh yes, and as the presence of over 100 marketers on our Webinar call suggested, we’re still talking about the darn spot!

Go Holistic or Go Home

Clearly, Nationwide had a great spot. It was funny, timely, and memorable — all perfect, if not necessary, ingredients to extend and deepen the conversation.

Beyond having a talk-worthy spot, what’s interesting is that Nationwide managed to light a fire in just about every corner of the marketing mix and enroll the participation of just about every marketing stakeholder in ensuring the ad’s success. Every brand stakeholder group — brand, Web team, PR, internal communications, external communications, business units, advertising agency, legal — converged around the opportunity.

Nationwide’s philosophy was one every Super Bowl advertiser should take to heart in 2008: go holistic or go home. Moreover, the brand managed to embrace a Web 2.0 level of flexibility and agility, which, in turn, enabled the brand to react quickly and opportunistically to early signals in the marketplace, most of them well before the actual game.

For example, when the National Restaurant Association freaked over what it perceived as a degrading message about fast-food workers (a concern the ad’s humor ultimately rendered moot), the brand quickly adapted part of its strategy around this news.

“Not everything was planned, but we were sufficiently agile and primed across the entire organization to turn every challenge into an opportunity,” explained Schreibman.

The Building Blocks

Here’s a short list of building blocks the brand put in place to increase odds of success:

  • Feeding the speakers. Speakers are essentially online content creators, and at least 50 percent of consumers fall into this category. Nationwide empowered the speakers with generous levels of social currency to discuss and spread the ad:
    • Early ad release. Nationwide bucked traditional wisdom and shared the ad before the game on both the brand site and other video-sharing platforms, like YouTube
    • Early spot teasers. Even before that, it put teasers about the ad on the site, including clips of Federline’s rehearsal. This generated a ton of links from bloggers early on, which spilled over into the traditional media.
    • Spot extras. Borrowing a page from DVDs, the company loaded the site with extras related to the ad, which uniquely appealed to online enthusiasts and connectors.
    • Memory lane. The brand put all past advertising, including past Super Bowl spots, in a dedicated section on the site. This helped reinforce the broader messaging in the campaign.
    • Click to share. The company loaded the site with send-to-a-friend links for anything about the ad that screamed, “Pass along!”

  • Greeting the seekers. Seekers are typical consumers (95 percent of consumers) who use Web tools like search to discover and find things. Seekers may not necessarily create content, but they absorb the opinions, testimonials, and content of others in their brand consideration. Nationwide took extra steps to cater to this audience:
    • Generous site real estate. Nationwide made the spot extremely easy to find, to the point of dedicating generous front-page real estate to the brand on the main company site.
    • Smart internal search. Unlike most Super Bowl advertisers, Nationwide’s search tool was easily accessible and wonderfully accurate. If you felt the need to see the ad again, you could find and replay it online in seconds.
    • Early targeted external search. The brand bought smart, targeted advertising on Google against not only Nationwide-specific queries but also broader queries, like “super bowl ads.” This set expectations early on that Nationwide was an A-list player in the ad sweepstakes.

These are all smart insurance policies, but they’re also the new foundations and prerequisites of marketing. They assume a world of holistic convergence. Offline feeds online, and online seeds offline — something the TV networks in particular have been aggressively embracing lately.

Life does come at us fast, so go holistic or go home!

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