Having worked on a good share of Super Bowl ad campaigns over the years — from HotJobs to Pepsi — I try to keep tabs on the tools and strategies PR agencies deploy on behalf of their clients to emerge as “winners.” For the longest time, many debated the wisdom of releasing a spot in advance of the game, versus achieving some element of surprise during the game itself.
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Success invariably was measured by the amount of positive pre- and post-game media coverage that a spot generated. Nowadays, that success will likely be determined by the number of YouTube visits or the volume of Facebook posts and Twitter tweets. The New York Times‘s veteran ad columnist Stuart Elliott has been in the game, so to speak, for some 26 years, starting with his days at USA Today. Here’s his latest take.
Few beat reporters bring the perspective that Stuart does to this, the advertising industry’s most prominent and hyperbolic showcase event. As we head into Super Bowl weekend, I thought it would be instructive to get Stuart’s POV on the strategies and history of the Super Bowl ad game.
How many Super Bowl advertising campaigns have you covered?
my first was in 1989, for usa today, i was part of the team for the first ad meter, so this is my 26th ad bowl inside the super bowl (3 at usa today, rest at the times)
What has changed the most since your first campaign story?
the change in strategy, from hiding all the content till the spots ran in the game to the social media influenced tactic of teasers, previews, releasing spots before game, releasing versions of spots, etc, and priming pump through social
What hasn’t changed?
it’s still the biggest day of the year for advertising as well as for football
When I worked on the HotJobs campaign back in the dot-com era, we were the first agency to make our spot accessible to ad reporters online in advance of the game. (Before that, I’ll never forget your requirement to hand-deliver the spots on a 3/4-inch Sony-Umatic tape.) What is the preferred delivery method today?
You cite YouTube visits as one measure of success. Has the social media dimension killed the debate over whether to release a spot in advance of the game? Do any advertisers still count on the element of surprise?
yes, several still want to surprise, like chrysler. some, if they buy 2 ads, will release one ahead of time and sit on the other
Do you have any favorite spots in your years covering the Super Bowl?
favorite: hard to say, maybe fedex 2005 i think, the 10 ingredients for a successful super bowl spot
What have been your least favorite?
least favorite: just for feet, insensitive bordering on racism
Both HotJobs and GoDaddy achieved quite a bit if recognition for having their spots rejected from airing during the game. Would you put the Scarlett Johansson spot for SodaStream in the same category?
no b/c people understand the gaming of the system that the “banned from the super bowl!” marketers are trying to do. even a DJ on wcbs-fm this morning, talking about it, called it a manufactured controversy
Obviously, Twitter will serve as a barometer for the popularity (or lack thereof) of this year’s Super Bowl spots. Do you intend to reflect that in your post-mortem story on the game’s advertising?
yes of course
In your piece today, you use the term “high stakes” to describe the rolling of the dice for a $4 million 30-second Super Bowl spot. I also noticed that the fates of some lesser-known agencies rest on the “performance” of their client’s spots. Are we seeing a move from the big holding company agencies to more nimble and social-savvy digital shops when it comes Super Bowl advertising?
ads come from a mix of agencies, can’t generalize though usually it’s AOR that makes the ad, with help from other agencies with, say, the social elements before/during/after game