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.

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