Super Bowl: Why The Ad Kickoff Starts Earlier Each Year

Social media has extended Big Game advertising into the regular football season

Super Bowl Ads Cost

By one measure, the Super Bowl started last weekend.

If the so-called “Big Game” is something that includes not only a football broadcast but also the outsize advertising that supports it, well, kickoff has already taken place. On Sunday, Jaguar, a freshman sponsor of the event, unveiled an ad during broadcasts of NFL football and on BBC America that gave away some of the big themes of the automaker’s Super Bowl entry.

“You think of the Super Bowl as a big tentpole event, a focusing event, but there’s a lot leading up to it,” said Jeff Curry, brand vice president for Jaguar North America. By running an ad that nods to the company’s Super Bowl commercial, slated to contain references to film and TV villains played by Brits, Jaguar can start a longer conversation with viewers that plays out on Twitter and other social-media venues.

It’s exactly that chatter that is spurring more Super Bowl advertisers to start their campaigns earlier with every passing year. But mid-November?

“With the cost of a Super Bowl ad, you want to be able to make sure you’re getting bang for your buck by building up to the event,” said Mark Evans, managing director and head of social media at MindShare, a media-buying firm that works with Jaguar. “You will probably see more of that.”

The advent of social media has changed the tone of Super Bowl advertising, perhaps irrevocably. Marketers fear consumers stop talking about Super Bowl commercials within 24 to 48 hours of the game’s end. But by running video teasers weeks or even months before game time, they can generate tweets, posts and likes – and perhaps even collect names, email addresses and twitter feeds for future marketing purposes, suggested Evans.

Launching early can be “a gamble,” he acknowledged. What if consumers reject the early ad idea or just find it boring? But, he added, “this is how the audience is coming now.”

One advertiser, Chrysler Group, has for the last three games held to the opposite tactic. It has surprised and entranced millions by running bold ads featuring Clint Eastwood talking about “halftime in America,” a Dodge-inspired ode to farmers, or Eminem rapping in service of a commercial about an economic resurgence in Detroit. There’s still an argument to be made for keeping with the traditions of the past.

More often than not, however, advertisers have moved on. They see a chance to get instant reaction for their efforts and use that consumer response as a sort of monetization of the cos of getting a Super Bowl ad on the air. This year, Fox is said to be seeking around $4 million for a 30-second spot in its February 2nd telecast from New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.

For decades, Super Bowl ads were kept shrouded in secrecy, unveiled only at the right moment during the pigskin classic. The reveal of a funny joke, celebrity cameo or bit of outlandish behavior was a reward to millions of TV viewers who stuck around during the ad breaks. Unless the ad was a smash on the order of Apple’s famous “1984” spot from the same year.

Starting in 2011, however, that all changed. Late that year, Volkswagen generated tons of reaction by streaming online a clever Super Bowl ad featuring a little kid pretending to be Darth Vader. Before the Super Bowl had even started, the ad had notched 10 million online views.

A bevy of other marketers followed. As the days leading up to Super Bowl XLVI dwindled, Honda released a preview of an ad featuring Matthew Broderick reprising his role as Ferris Bueller, while General Motors unleashed a spot depicting a recent grad losing his composure after thinking his parents bought him a car. Acura previewed an ad starring Jerry Seinfeld.

Making things even more confusing, the teaser ads were often a minute or more in length – a prohibitive amount of time during the game itself, when 30 seconds cost $3 million or more. Because they had more story and script, however, the uncensored videos were often funnier and more fleshed out than the 30-second counterparts that showed up on Game Day.

Preparations for Super Bowl XLVII brought more of the same, with Mercedes-Benz, for instance, teasing sexy shots of model Kate Upton. Coca-Cola unveiled a video on Facebook to call attention to a Super Bowl spot that asked viewers to vote on which of three teams should win a desert chase.

One marketing observer believes advertisers these days have to get started a month or two ahead of schedule.“A good strategy is to begin trade promotions approximately 60 days out and consumer promotions about 30 days out,” said Kelly O’Keefe, professor of brand strategy in the VCU Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The advance promotion has proven to be a great way to leverage the investment over a longer period.”

In the 2014 Super Bowl, an ad has to last far longer than just 30 seconds.