Super Bowl XLVI and Advertising's Big Gamble

By Jen Evans

Being British means that there are certain areas of American popular culture that elude me. The main one being: why is there a restaurant chain called International House of Pancakes if it only exists in America?  

IHoP aside, the biggest cultural conundrum to come my way has to be a low key and understated event called the Super Bowl.

I have spent several late nights watching American Football in a vain attempt to understand it. I had naively assumed that it was “a bit like rugby” - turns out, not so much. My main conclusion is that it is a game designed to accommodate maximum advertising breaks and short attention spans.

On Sunday 5th February, 110 million people across America will tune in to watch the New York Giants take on the New England Patriots. Madonna is set to perform during the half-time show, whilst acts including B.o.B, Gym Class Heroes and the All American Rejects will be playing free shows for fans.

Super Bowl is as much about advertising and corporate sponsorship as it is football. The half-time show is sponsored by Bridgestone tires, the Fan Jam is sponsored by Pepsi, the official Super Bowl website countdown clock is “presented by KFC Hot Wings” and the whole event itself is presented by Chevrolet.

Cultural commentators get very excited about Super Bowl advertising campaigns. They breathlessly describe the huge amounts spent on prime time ad space and the absurd lengths agencies go to for a 30 second spot that will echo down the ages.

Though I’m not exactly breathless, I do find this all rather intriguing. 30 seconds of Super Bowl XLVI advertising time sold for an average of $3.5 million, up 17% from 2011. The San Francisco Chronicle reckons that this is indicative of a growing consumer confidence.

2012 is being hailed as the year Super Bowl ads go social. Brands want users to connect with them via Facebook and Twitter. Many, including Chevrolet, have also developed apps linking in with their TV campaigns.

This rush for social media connected advertising has been prompted by research showing that 60% of TV viewers are engaging with Twitter or Facebook at the same time.

This year’s most ambitious cross-platform interactive advertising extravaganza will be from Coca Cola. Viewers will be able to watch the game in the company of two animated Polar Bears on their iPad, tablet or smartphone. The bears will respond in real time to the events being played out on the field. They will also be sharing their thoughts on Twitter and interacting with viewers. Come the ad breaks, the bears will jump to the big screen to be part of Coca Cola’s three commercials.

It would be easy to go on the snark attack. On a certain level, the idea of conversing with two animated bears is ridiculous and a little bit sad. On another, it is an example of advertising’s huge budgets being used to explore new technologies and creative ways of reaching customers.

Is this the way all Major Cultural Events are going? In the UK, viewers are already tweeting their way through hugely popular shows like Sherlock and Take Me Out. Galleries and exhibitions are quickly incorporating QR codes and apps to deliver an enhanced experience for visitors. How long until brands piggyback on this trend? The London 2012 Olympics will be the litmus test for how well advertisers can exploit/embrace our love of social media.

Whether you’re a football fan or not, Super Bowl XLVI is going to be a memorable one. Social media is advertisers’ Hail Mary pass. The outcome will change how we interact with brands forever.

Image via Keith Allison's Flickr.

Mon, 30 Jan 2012 10:13 (GMT+00)
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