The Sins of the Super Bowl Marketer

The last thing you probably need right now is more Super Bowl redux, but bear with me as I outline a few things related to this year’s Big Game that hopefully offer a unique perspective. And hopefully doing so now will save you from making the same mistakes next year.

While I might be the person who authored Life After the 30-Second Spot I’ve often said my ideal assignment would be to work on a Super Bowl commercial. Why? Simply put, everything’s a conversation starter. Given a platform of 90 million viewers, why wouldn’t you want to seize the moment to begin and/or extend a dialogue with your consumers?

And yet we seem to be regressing in our understanding of how to do this. Is it indulgence? Denial? Laziness? Desperation? All of the above? I’m stumped at this industry’s inability to take advantage of a golden opportunity like this one.

Here are a few pieces of advice which you can choose to follow — or not — next year. But seriously … I don’t care how unsexy this might sound, it’s absolutely necessary if you want to be responsible and accountable to your shareholders.

1. You need a URL. This is not an optional extra, and any agency that thinks it is should pretty much be fired on the spot.

2. You need a reason to visit the URL. Not just a call to action but a tangible benefit of visiting. Take a few precious seconds to drive this home.

3. I’d go so far as to display this URL the entire time.

4. This advice is even more important for the handful of advertisers this year that chose to use SMS/text messaging (although you would have been forgiven for thinking this was a subliminal attempt due to the unbelievably short time this information was displayed).

5. Remember that people are often watching the Super Bowl with the sound turned down and/or with a noise level above that of the TV volume. If you think people are hushing each other and turning up the volume when commercials come on, you are delusional. Consider text overlays/supers that drive home key messaging.

The buzz you hear is the sound of crickets

Almost as bad as the lack of Web integration this year was the abysmal influencer outreach and blogger activation this year. How hard is it to realize you’re going to need to rely on these gown-wearing, disheveled, basement-dwelling loudmouths living at their mom and pop’s homes?

And yet, this year there was virtually zero pre- or post-game hype or buzz when it came to the blogosphere. I even blogged myself that with less than a week to go I had barely been contacted by a single company to peddle their wares.

Anheuser-Busch was one company that did reach out within a few days of the Super Bowl. I respected the fact that they gave me a password-protected URL in advance and that they trusted me enough not to share this publicly. I still didn’t check them out. Why would I? If I had, I would have found out that they were just teasers…so much for trust and the number one spot on USA Today‘s Ad meter.

I was also impressed that the folks over at Hulu sent me an e-mail, seconds after their commercial aired containing embeddable HTML code, downloads, widgets and other “shareable” assets.

But what I’m talking about is a lot more strategic and profound than a tactical Hail Mary. Next year, think about reaching out to influencers or content creators months in advance in order to put into place innovative partnership initiatives that involve them in the entire process from start to finish.

Context is king

We always hear about the two “M’s,” medium and message. But here’s a third “M”: mind-set. Put them all together and doesn’t it become just a little pathetic to have CareerBuilder and Monster advertising during this painful recession with preposterous messages including gems like, “Do you cry just a little at your job?”

“No, dumbass, I cry because I lost my job and can’t figure out how to pay the damn mortgage.”

It’s astounding to me how few advertisers this year had the decency to acknowledge the fact that both the economy and the environment are in turmoil. And with the exceptions of Hyundai (with its “lose your job, return the car” promise) and FedEx (by virtue of pulling out), we were left to the devices of Coca-Cola pouring its syrup all over the countryside.

In recent times it would appear that the winner of the Super Bowl is the ad that either sucks the least or, by default, the one that is so outrageously bad that it stands out a mile from the crowd.

This year it was Cash4Gold that slobbered its direct response message on unsuspecting viewers across America, desperately looking at their jewelry as makeshift payroll.

A yardstick or benchmark for the future

This year’s Super Bowl lived up to its expectation of being another nail the coffin of the beleaguered 30-second spot, but rather than belabor its demise, let me repeat the central messages from this piece.

1. Make the most of your $3 million plus production investment. For goodness sake, don’t waste the opportunity any more than you already have.

2. Don’t think about your spot as an end unto itself, but a means to an end: a conversation starter.

3. Leverage the new influencers and content creators to amplify, extend and enhance the word-of-mouth associated with your efforts.

4. There’s always a story behind the story. The making of. The extended or deleted scenes. The director’s commentary. If you’re going to break the production bank, make it count.

In addition — and in the spirit of the late Chuck Fruit — I’d like to introduce a benchmark or yardstick against which to evaluate your Super Bowl spend in years to come. I’d like to propose that for every dollar you invest in both Super Bowl media and production, you counterbalance that with an equal commitment to innovation and/or experimentation.

It’s the perfect yin-yang, if you think about it: for every cent spent on perpetuating the status quo, there is a proportionate investment in the future.

If you have enough money to blow on a 30-second needle in a haystack, you should have the same amount of discretionary budget to hedge your bet-and in doing so, you’re going to go to market with the best of both worlds. Who knows, you might even figure out how to bring these two worlds together.

So, get cracking people. There are only 359 days to go before Super Bowl XLIV kicks off.

Joseph Jaffe is chief interruptor at crayon. He blogs at and can be reached at