Super Bowl’s Longest Yard

NEW YORK Somber music plays as a chimpanzee looking pretty in pink nonchalantly picks its nose. Sweetly looking into the camera, she repeatedly sticks her finger in her nose and then licks her finger.

“It’s tough working with monkeys. And we’ve had enough,” reads the on-screen copy. “Watch the CareerBuilder ads evolve. Feb. 4 on the big game.” The ad ends with the chimp giving the camera a proud, toothy grin.

That 30-second commercial is one of two new spots from the Chicago-based company that began running two weeks before the Super Bowl to heighten anticipation for its new campaign, “It’s a jungle out there. “The Super Bowl preview campaign is running on network TV and the client’s Web site.

Super Bowl advertisers have long touted their game buys with leaks to the press and partial previews of their spots in an effort to stretch their ad dollars. Controversial spots historically garner media attention that can add millions of dollars’ worth of “free exposure.” This year, however, an increasing number of advertisers are employing all sorts of supplementary efforts pre- and post-game in order to maximize the value of their $2.6 million ad buy. The approaches are varied, but the intention is the same: generate buzz early and prolong the shelf life of the commercials long after the game

It seems that 90 million viewers just aren’t enough anymore to make the multimillion-dollar buy worth it. So, advertisers are resorting to every form of modern marketing, from user-generated ad contests, video-sharing sites, blogs, mobile advertising and Webisodes, to additional content on brand sites.

The hoopla began earlier than ever this year, when Doritos, the NFL and Chevrolet introduced their Super Bowl stories months in advance, kicking off contests that asked the general public to submit ideas for Super Bowl commercials, back in October.

More skeptical industry observers say Super Bowl XLI is shaping up to be the most “gimmicky” in memory, but others call it smart business. Peter Krivkovich, CEO of CareerBuilder’s agency Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago (whose shop’s work on the Super Bowl dates back to the famous Masterlock series that began in 1974 and lasted through the mid-1990s) says the key to a successful Super Bowl showing is to “merchandise the bejesus out of it.”

At press time, a majority of the advertisers signed up for the game had agreed to contribute their ads to a showcase on the CBS Sportsline Web site, according to a rep for the program. The showcase will be promoted on the home page as well as in short promos during the game’s telecast. The ads will be loaded onto the site at the end of each quarter and will be available for a week after the game.

“It’s no longer just about the additional press you get,” says Tom McGovern, director of sports media at Optimum Sports, a unit of Omnicom’s OMD. “Now the incremental is all these additional places where the commercial is going to be used.”

Halftime sponsor Pepsi last week was still considering how to use its 90 seconds of time. One option: to introduce a campaign tagged “Feel the Pepsi” for its flagship brand with ads from longtime agency BBDO.

To extend the excitement beyond the game, the company has also bought the front page of Yahoo for the day of the game and the day after. Yahoo also built a Web site for the brand, pepsisupercan.com, where people can get a code for a chance to win Super Bowl tickets for life and a diamond-and-jewel-adorned can valued at $100,000. It will also advertise on Yahoo Sports with video spots before and after the game.

All the Internet activity has further cemented the championship game as the preeminent media vehicle to reach a maximum audience. “It’s still the viewing and commercial showcase. Nothing really comes close to it from a viewing, commercial or marketing standpoint,” says Charlie Rutman, North American CEO of Havas’ MPG. “Every client has their own definition of price value, but for every advertiser that is reluctant to get into that spotlight for that price there’s a marketer dying for the opportunity. These digital showcases create more interest and word-of-mouth about the advertising efforts, rather than less.

For two weeks prior to the Super Bowl, visitors to BudLight.com can register to use their mobile phones to vote for their favorite commercials on game day. After Anheuser-Busch’s final spot airs, registrants will receive a text message with a code that will allow them to unlock a “secret” spot (not airing during the game) on their cell phone or via a microsite. They will also be able to send customized messages to friends inviting them to view the spot.

The brewery is also planning to launch its first Web entertainment channel, Bud TV, the day after the game, where all of the game spots will be featured. “Last year, when we put our commercials on various Web sites, we were quite overwhelmed with the views we had and downloads of the commercials,” says Tony Ponturo, vp, global media and sports marketing, A-B. “That also allowed us to realize our commercials were entertainment and content.”

GoDaddy’s CEO Bob Parsons has been stoking interest in its game spot by blogging about the trouble the company has had getting its ads through CBS clearance and posting at least one of the rejected spots on his site, bobparsons.com. In it, two office workers battle over buying each other’s domain and loved ones’ names using GoDaddy.com. The phrase, “Too late, I already did my mother,” is used as a double entendre.

The overall concept of the final ad will focus on a fictional department at the online company.

The NFL, Frito-Lays’ Doritos and General Motors’ Chevrolet were some of the earliest promoters of their Super Bowl investments. Last fall, they launched contests inviting the public to create spots, making this the first Super Bowl that will air consumer-generated ad ideas. All three are keeping the public updated on the progress of the contests via dedicated pages on their sites. The NFL posted the winning pitch from New England native Gino Bona.

Chevy is running behind-the-scenes footage chronicling the Chevy Super Bowl College Ad Challenge and has posted the CG ads on its site for viewers to vote on. However, like the NFL, it is using professionals to finesse the contest winners’ concepts for the actual game spot. Only Doritos will be airing an ad entirely created by a consumer.

For the last few months, consumers have been able to watch a play-by-play of the online competition on the Doritos site, including voting on which of the over 1,000 entries they want to see aired. The five finalists are all being flown to the game and won’t know whose spot won until it airs. “There have been plenty of funny and memorable Super Bowl ads over the years, but very few have genuinely engaged consumers,” says Dan Belmont, CMO of The Marketing Arm, which is working with Goodby, Silverstein + Partners on the contest. “That’s why this year’s Doritos Super Bowl ad really breaks new ground, with thousands of consumers actively creating Doritos brand messaging.”

Despite advertisers attempts to create new approaches that will set them apart in viewers’ minds, celebrity and scandal still capture consumer attention best. Last week, Nationwide Mutual Insurance, which is prepping a Super Bowl commercial starring ex-Britney Spears husband Kevin Federline, posted outtakes from the production on YouTube. At press time, the video ha more than 100,000 views.

Steven Schreibman, Nationwide’s CMO, estimates the company has already received $5 million worth of PR and 180 million impressions from news about its ad, which is scheduled to first air on ABC’s Good Morning America on Jan. 29. He says he did not intend to disclose the content of them commercial, but word began to leak about K-Fed’s role.

According to Nielsen BuzzMetrics, Nationwide is topping the pre-game buzz, dominating Web chatter with 26 percent of all blog conversations last week. Doritos, Chevy, Bud, the NFL and an anonymous guy named J.P.—who is going to propose to his girlfriend during the game and apparently got an as-yet-unnamed advertiser to foot the bill—are also getting lots of buzz.

Pete Blackshaw, BuzzMetrics CMO, predicts the most successful advertisers will be those who extend their game-day exposure to video-sharing sites like YouTube, calling this “the torture test of marketing integration.”

Others predict it will also be the ultimate test of the CG ad trend. “This year might be the year that tells us if the users have the stuff,” says Steve Simpson, partner and cd at Goodby, which is overseeing the creative on the Emerald Nuts and HP efforts. “I’m open to it,” he adds, “but this is the year that we’ll see if it will live up to Time magazine’s hype.”