Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Big Game, Spoiled

With a general viewership of roughly 100 million people, advertising during the Super Bowl has become, well, the Super Bowl of advertising.  Just buying the airtime costs millions of dollars, and that doesn't even include the production costs.  Many firms spend the entire year working on a Super Bowl ad, all to enjoy the shining glory of those thirty seconds when the world finally sees the magic.

At least that's the way it used to be.  Gone are the days when Super Bowl ads were a closely guarded secret.  No longer do we wait in anticipation to see how companies will dazzle us.  This morning on "Today" Ann Curry was running through a list of ads for Sunday's game - and she was showing the ads!  Some of the ads have been released for a week already.  Many of the ads are circulating on the internet, and there does not seem to be any mystery or surprise about it.

So why spend the money?  Why are companies spending millions of dollars to air an ad that is already playing for free online?  Yes, the potential viewership is there, and that's hard to argue against.  At the same time, are consumers going to feel as riveted to the TV if they know the same ads are available online?  If a viewer is not fearful of missing the ad because it's relatively accessible, doesn't that diminish some of the rationale for buying the spot in the first place?

Many arguments have been made that by showing the ads online and by revealing their content early it will generate buzz.  This buzz will extend to social media, which will extend the life of the ad (and justify its cost over the long term).  Seeing how much social media can make or break a campaign, this is certainly a valid argument.  At the same time, it seems a bit misdirected to use a Super Bowl ad to launch a social media campaign to support a Super Bowl ad.  It's fine to extend the life of a campaign via social media, but that will happen regardless.  

A good ad (or a very bad one) will take on a life of its own.  A truly stunning ad that amazes 100 million people will garner its own following on social media, without any prompting or prodding from ad-folk.  Instead of making ads that need to be propped up by social media, advertisers should be making ads that stand on their own.  If you do something amazing (or amazingly funny or amazingly stupid), it will get attention and the buzz will follow.  Stop showing us the ads early, start bringing back some of the mystery, and get back to making ads that are really worth talking about.  After all, we can all run to the bathroom during the game.

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