Game Advertisers Spill the Beans

NEW YORK Once upon a time, advertisers treated their Super Bowl ad campaigns like state secrets, keeping them under lock and key in the lead-up to the game. The surprise factor was paramount.

Slowly, but surely, an increasing number of advertisers have been flipping the script by using that time to ignite word of mouth through the Web. This year, they unleashed trailers, behind-the-scenes snippets, social-network profiles and even full commercials, and not just on company sites and campaign microsites, but through YouTube players users can embed on their own sites. The upside in a recession: wringing every bit of value out of a 30-second, $3 million media buy.

“It’s a ton of money to spend,” said Nicholas Utton, chief marketing officer at E*Trade. “This is more than a 30-second ad. … The rules are being written every day in terms of viral on the Internet.”

These pre-game efforts now complement what’s become standard for the biggest day in U.S. advertising: post-game buzz, where the Web now plays the role of the watercooler for dissecting the game’s best and worst spots.

In recent years, a handful of advertisers like Nationwide, Doritos and GoDaddy have successfully created buzz with their pre-game strategies. In 2008, for instance, Nationwide released its commercial starring Kevin Federline as a daydreaming fast-food worker the week before the game. The car insurance company ended up with huge spikes in blog and Web buzz, according to Nielsen Online.

“It’s no longer only about the event,” said Josh Stylman, managing partner of Reprise Media, a New York agency that tracked search and social-media activity around the game. “It’s about building anticipation online and then paying off demand after the event takes place.”

GoDaddy is the most famous example (or infamous, depending on your point of view)  of a brand building pre-game anticipation for its ads online. This year, GoDaddy invited users to vote on which ad it would show. Other advertisers like Denny’s and Miller High Life put teaser clips of their commercials online.

An increasing goal of these tactics is for the buzz to build in social media.

E*Trade, which brought back its talking baby for the Super Bowl, created a YouTube channel with outtakes, a Facebook page for the baby and a Twitter feed, among other tactics. It also bought dozens of related keywords to drive people searching for terms like “etrade baby” to its YouTube channel. Helped along by a home-page ad placement last Friday, E*Trade garnered nearly 4 million views for outtakes of its commercial.

CareerBuilder.com looked to stretch its dollars last week by “leaking” its ad online for blogs to pick up and discuss without the competition of the dozens of other Super Bowl spots that would be dissected post-game. Its strategy included a Facebook ad campaign trumpeting the spot, along with search ads directing people to it. Two versions of the ad gained a somewhat modest 95,000 views. The effort was part of CareerBuilder.com’s desire to build “pass along of our brand,” according to Cynthia McIntyre, senior director of advertising at the company.

Rather than simply reward users with the enticement of a “sneak peak,” Pedigree went a more direct route to encourage people to view and share its Super Bowl spot. The Mars brand released its commercial online last week and offered to donate a serving of dog food to animal shelters based on how many video views it got (and how many downloads it had of its new iPhone application). The Pedigree Web site comes with links to popular social-sharing services like Facebook, Digg and Del.icio.us. The result: over 126,000 people watched the spot by late Thursday.

While the efforts may add up to smart marketing in the age of YouTube and Twitter, they also reflect a less happy truth, according to Jeff Levick, vp of marketing at Google, which is “a large number of advertisers trying to do more with less. [The economy] is forcing marketers to figure out ways to support that investment with less money than they would have.”

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