superbowl ads - fading away

February 2, 2009 ·

is the superbowl still the cultural beacon for advertising anymore? i vote no.

because i live in canada, we don't get the privilege of seeing the real superbowl ads as they happen. i mean we broadcast the superbowl and try to parade our ads on it, but there isn't the fanfare, novelty and expense associated in doing so. thankfully the internet has made this cultural fascination more accessible. and therein lies why i don't think the superbowl is much more than the game itself anymore. we as marketers are losing the one day where advertising is elevated to a cultural phenomenon, spectacle and curiosity for all the masses to stand up and take notice of our great work. the day where everyday folk put aside their trite statements of "i don't pay attention to ads" and embrace the brandsell as entertainment.

so the day after the superbowl i mosey over to whatever site is making a big stink about the superbowl ads so that i can see for myself. but ever since the first media rumblings of the superbowl bubbled up in the media this year and last, it nagged at me that it's just not the same anymore. the game has changed.

not the destination it was
no longer do we accept content channels making destination viewing. a fixed time and channel for content doesn't hold the viewing audience hostage with the emergence of pvr's, torrents, online video and quicker to market dvd's. the new distribution systems make it so that we are not subject to someone else's schedule, network or otherwise.

we're not beholden to one day of the year anymore to see great work. it's out there, everywhere. brand produced or user generated. hours after the superbowl (or sooner), every ad was already circulating around the internet. by the following day, every media outlet and every joe with a recording device and the ability to encode it as online video has uploaded all the commercials and everyone else has watched them online.

so it doesn't need the big day. if advertisers created great ads and used non-broadcast distribution methods, the pickup is the same. with greater access it becomes less forced on the consumer and more in keeping with their preference to view as they choose. consumers can be more selective and an ad in the superbowl may not be that place anymore. advertisers lose the passive 'push' messaging, but in online get a more valuable engaged audience.

heightened expectations
even more of a factor than a populace consuming on their own terms is the content of the ads themselves. the superbowl used to be the meeting place where the best, funniest, most creative, wacky, random, highly entertaining and cool ads came to show off. that is a bygone time. television, even the superbowl, has been relegated to second fiddle in an internet video era where it is not only the channel of choice, but the new bastion of all that is great in video, ads or otherwise.

with access to the long tail of video content, consumer appetite has changed in what is truly breakthrough and salient with them. they still want the polish of it all, but have a very altered notion of what makes a great 30 second ad. they have been trained to want edgier, more interesting, more entertaining, more emotive, less branded and sell-y type ads. they have gravitated toward the subversive, where the brand is minimized, but the impact is amplified.

when we can take to the web and watch great work from every corner of the world, a tv spot faces greater obstacles to relevance and effect on the consumer. a place where broadcast standards don't apply and the risk/reward ratio is not as severe.

social currency
we still think of superbowl ads as something to be placed on a mantle and revered. truth is, they don't carry the same social currency as before. the ads within are brand messages, directed at viewers en masse, that through media investment, word of mouth can be engineered. the tectonic plates of consumer discussion have shifted though with the emergence of efficient and open distribution methods, and the democratization of content production. consumers are now in control of engineering what breaks through the din of all the brand messages in the media world.

only difference has been that somehow we equated a spot in the superbowl to mean it's going to be a great ad. that's lazy marketing because not all superbowl ads are great and not all superbowl viewers are your intended audience. these spots got attention because they were in the superbowl, not necessarily by virtue of their greatness. with the rise of alternative ways of viewing and a wider assortment of stuff to consume, truly great creative shines and becomes culturally significant because it's not being pushed on us, but because it talk worthy.

there is also how we share these ads and bring them into our own social fold. before we could only talk about them around a water cooler, having seen it just the one time. with the internet, we can go back to it, we can physically share it, we can comment on it, we can elevate it or diminish it in many places. it takes on a life of its own because it lives on, not dying after its lone airing.

the cost equation
every second of advertising in the superbowl costs $100,000. add to that the cost of making the ad, which often comes at a premium because of the special occasion and creative types pulling out the big guns. that's a lot to pay for something that has every chance to be a big success as it does to be a colossal failure. it also runs the risk of just being mediocre and lost in the shuffle. and quite often, that spot airs just the once, making it a pricey one-off.

compare that to online distribution methods. the likelihood of breaking out and having a real impact are just as strong and for 100% less the cost of a superbowl ad. i won't pretend that you can get it for $0, but technically you could. so for significantly less in cost you can put it in the consumer's hand, who always had the final say in just how far an ad proliferated the cultural consciousness.

the timing of it all
as i elaborated already on the distribution side of things, we are at a point where we don't need the big event anymore to debut a new spot. things move faster now and we can constantly innovate our approaches and iterate our creative faster. we can access our consumers quicker and take the great thing we built and release it to the world for accelerated return on our efforts. we can be more nimble in responding to successes and failures. the internet is as big a seeding ground for our efforts on an ongoing basis than any one day or game. the potential for groundswell and expansion on a continual basis is enormous.

of course this won't be the last year of a big commotion being made of the superbowl ads. but i think it will slowly erode and in the not too distant future almost cease to be a talking point anymore. it will be broadcast, it will have ads, but won't have the same fuss about it.


jcmbdn said...
February 3, 2009 at 12:16 PM  

i agree with you 100%, they could cancel the superbowl. BMX rules!!!

night terror said...
February 3, 2009 at 3:37 PM  

the super bowl can stay. but the spectacle around the ads will diminish. it's not like the superbowl exists solely to house the latest in dvertising. or does it?

jcmbdn said...
February 3, 2009 at 3:43 PM  

it's interesting that you didn't touch on how commercials have not kept pace with the increased violence of the game and its players... where were the fighting dogs and the gunshots to the leg? but you make a good point. BMX Rules!!

night terror said...
February 3, 2009 at 3:46 PM  

well, the 'shot' ads



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