The Super Bowl has long been the biggest day of the year for advertising, as more than 100 million Americans watch television’s most expensive and daring commercials. But one thing will be mostly missing this year: surprise.
That’s because many of the premier ads for Super Bowl XLVI on NBC on Sunday have already turned up on Facebook, YouTube and the sponsors’ own websites.
Volkswagen, for example, had one of last year’s favorite commercials, featuring a boy dressed as Darth Vader. The company released a teaser for the sequel — about a slimmed-down dog, with a “Star Wars” twist at the end — on Jan. 18 on YouTube, where it has already been viewed almost 11 million times. An extended version of the sequel was uploaded to YouTube on Wednesday; by Thursday afternoon, it had been seen more than 1.3 million times.
The increase in pre- released commercials is another indication of how marketing has changed in the social network era. Once, companies tried to build anticipation by holding back the ads, which this year cost sponsors an average of $3.5 million for each 30 seconds. Now, they try to generate excitement by making it easier for consumers to see, share and discuss the ads — essentially moving the water-cooler conversation that takes place after the game to before the game.
“This is the first Super Bowl where social media has been an integral part of marketers’ plans,” said Adam Schwartz, associate director and sports specialist at Horizon Media in New York, which buys time on television shows, because they realize “you can get more bang for your buck.”
The arrival of Super Bowl commercials before the game reflects a broader media trend of sharing content with consumers ahead of time. Magazines release big articles early, to draw more readers to newsstands, and networks like NBC are offering opportunities to watch online the first episodes of series like “Smash,” sometimes weeks before the shows make their television debuts.
By some estimates, almost half the 50-plus commercials that are scheduled to appear in the Super Bowl are already online in one form or another. Many of those sneak peeks are for car ads, seeking to stand out amid the clutter in the automotive category. Spots for 11 automotive brands will appear in the game, along with ads for related products like Bridgestone tires.
“So many people are launching commercials early to feed the beast,” said Don Springer, founder and chief executive at Collective Intellect in Boulder, Colo., which analyzes conversations in social media.
The first full Super Bowl XLVI spot to be shared early, for the Chevrolet Camaro, went online Jan. 19 — 17 days before the game. Kia Motors even began showing its entire Super Bowl spot Thursday in more than 18,000 movie theaters.
In addition to the actual ads, there are teaser videos, preview clips and, in some cases, extended versions with more content that sponsors hope will provide fodder for pregame conversations and media coverage, including articles like this.
“This is the one time of the year people like to talk about advertising,” said Greg Artzt, founder and chief strategic officer at the Charlotte, N.C., office of General Sentiment, another company that analyzes interactions in social media. “There’s millions of dollars of unpaid exposure being gained, before the ads are aired.”
In some instances, sponsors are choreographing the prelude to the Super Bowl as carefully as a halftime show. American Honda Motor sought to build interest in its coming commercial for the Honda CR-V, which features Matthew Broderick in an homage to his 1986 movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” by uploading to YouTube on Jan. 26 a mysterious 10-second teaser. It has been watched more than 5 million times.
Four days later, an extended version of the commercial joined the teaser on youtube.com. The mega-version, which had been watched 8.6 million times as of Thursday afternoon, runs 2:25 — almost 2 1/2 times as long as the 60-second commercial to be shown during the Super Bowl.
Concerns have been raised that, by being so forthcoming before the game, advertisers may dampen enthusiasm for watching the commercials in the game. As Collective Intellect gathered data for its pregame report, called the CNBC/Collective Intellect Super Sunday Ad Tracker, a small number of people “said they are almost a little disappointed they’ve seen the ads early,” said Jennifer Roberts, marketing manager.
That does not worry sponsors like Brian Smith, vice president for marketing at the Lexus division of Toyota Motor Sales USA. Lexus, a first-time Super Bowl advertiser, is offering computer users a chance to watch its full commercial, for the 2013 GS sport sedan, on Facebook and YouTube.
Smith likened Super Bowl Sunday to Christmas Day. As much fun as it would be to come downstairs and find presents without knowing it was Dec. 25, he said, it is “a lot more fun when you’ve gone through the buildup, the anticipation, when you know what’s coming.”
Another Super Bowl ad newcomer, MetLife, is turning to social media to drum up discussion of its coming commercial, which features more than 50 familiar cartoon characters joining the longtime MetLife endorsers from the “Peanuts” comic strip to promote a new campaign, themed “I can do this.”
Recent visitors to the MetLife fan page on Facebook may have noticed that the almost 153,000 people who “like” MetLife include, in addition to Snoopy, characters like Scooby-Doo and Voltron. Those characters are teasing fans on Facebook with cryptic comments; for instance, Scooby-Doo declares, in his unique patois, “Rook out for me and Shaggy on TV Feb. 5th!” Between now and Sunday, “it’ll build and build,” said Beth Hirschhorn, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at MetLife, until “people figure out why the characters are talking.”
After the Super Bowl, the social media outreach will continue, she added, with make-believe outtakes from the commercial uploaded to YouTube.
The MetLife commercial is being created by Crispin Porter&Bogusky, part of MDC Partners. A reason the spot is stuffed with cartoons, said Henry Gonzalez, vice president and account director at the agency, is to give viewers something to talk about in social media.
“It’s designed to be seen over and over,” he said, “so that every time you see it, you’ll see more.”