Volkswagen’s “The Force” ad ran during Super Bowl 2011 and is the most viewed Super Bowl ad online. Photo via youtube.com
The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers won’t be the only ones competing on Super Bowl Sunday.
Brands like Doritos, Pepsi, Ford, Go Daddy and plenty of others will also be competing for attention on the small screen — as well as computers, smartphones and tablets — and for most online views and public opinion in an ongoing series of post-game critiques and rankings.
The Super Bowl’s 110 million viewers provide the ultimate advertising opportunity for brands — and last year’s Super Bowl ads, as a whole, went on to record 300 million views on YouTube alone.
Grand Rapids-based Hanon McKendry has helped identify who Super Bowl viewers are and how they experience the game since 2006 with the firm's annual Super Bowl advertising study. The study is administered online by Harris Interactive.
“From 2006 to 2009, we kept seeing a rise in the number of people that were watching as much for the commercials as they were for the game,” said Bill McKendry, founder and chief creative officer at Hanon McKendry. “It rose from the low 50s to almost 60 percent. Now, we are seeing that plateauing.
"I don’t see that changing much, but it’s a significant majority of people who are watching for the commercials as much as the game," he said. "They see that as part of the entertainment package of the game.”
This year's Hanon McKendry Super Bowl study is based on answers from 2,166 U.S. adults, ages 18 or older.
Sixty-six percent of women viewers said they watch the game as much or more for the ads, compared to 47 percent of men, according to the study. Twenty-eight percent of women watch the game predominantly or exclusively for ads, compared to 12 percent of men.
McKendry said that although more women than men are tuning in for the ads, they remain geared toward men, and the Super Bowl is a good place to reach a traditionally difficult demographic in television advertising — high-income men.
“High-income men are very hard to reach on television, and the Super Bowl does attract a huge percentage of those guys, so if you have an expensive car or beer, it’s a great place to advertise,” he said.
It's a multi-screen experience
And, while 93 percent of viewers will be watching the game on a television screen, a significant number will likely have a second or third screen in use during the game as well.
“About six years ago, we added a second question, trying to understand the interaction between watching the game and online interaction,” McKendry said.
What the survey reveals is that there is no question that online interaction is occurring during the game. The question now is whether that additional screen is a smartphone, a tablet or a computer screen.
Forty-one percent of respondents said a computer screen is somewhat important, 28 percent said that smartphones are somewhat important and 25 percent said tablets are somewhat important.
The numbers mean advertisers need to make sure their ads are easy to share — as well as adaptable to different screens.
Additional screens are likely a big reason for another shift in Super Bowl advertising during the past decade.
Secrecy used to surround Super Bowl advertising, but, today, many companies are approaching their Super Bowl ads much differently. Some are teasing what’s to come, while others are allowing viewers to vote on the ad they want to run — and still others are asking fans to produce their own ads or contribute in some way to the advertisement that will air.
“You are paying $3.8 million for 30 seconds — 30 seconds is done and over pretty quickly,” McKendry said. “What are you going to do to leverage the buzz around your brand outside of that 30 seconds?
“You see a lot of people try to create pre-Super Bowl buzz," he said. "I think Go Daddy was one of the first ones. They always tried to create this controversy around spots that they did that were banned from the Super Bowl.
"They were the first ones to get out there with it," he said. "Everybody is trying to create buzz before, during and after that 30 seconds.”
Still, McKendry said that pre-game viewership doesn’t come close to touching the level achieved during the game.
The videos below are pre-releases of commercials that are set to air during the Super Bowl: Mercedes-Benz's "Soul," Audi's "Prom" and Toyota's "Wish Granted."
The video below is a teaser of the Super Bowl commercial the newly branded Lincoln Motor Company developed with help from the public, including a #SteerTheScript Twitter campaign.
The local ad buy
A national ad buy isn't the only way a brand can approach the Super Bowl. McKendry said his firm previously worked with battery maker Rayovac on a Super Bowl ad starring Brett Favre that focused on 10 markets where the company was hoping to increase its visibility in retail stores.
“All these major retailers assumed that because it was Brett Favre and Rayovac that it was a national Super Bowl ad, and they started stocking Rayovac batteries and putting them in more prominent positions,” McKendry said.
He said that part of what a Super Bowl ad does is show people that a company is serious about growing its business.
“Whether you are a local spot or a national spot, there’s a prestige of appearing during the Super Bowl," he said. "Unfortunately, it’s amazing that the local stations don’t sell out.
“I think it’s crazy that local advertisers don’t take advantage of that exposure," McKendry said. "You are getting maximum exposure. You aren’t getting 110 million people, but you are probably getting the most people that are going to watch a TV show in the area in any market, period, and there is a prestige if you can pull it off and produce a decent spot and run it in HD.”
Advertising during the Super Bowl is a big investment for a company, and many national brands are debating until the last second if they chose right and hoping for the big prize – the commercial goes viral.
The court of public opinion
McKendry said whatever happens, the worst-case scenario is to create an ad that is what marketing professionals call “unrealized publicity.”
“Go Daddy, I think they create really cheesy ads, and they are bad ads," he said. "They always end up as some of the worst on the ad polls. Everybody says, hands down, their ads are the worst, (but) their business usually goes up every year.
“You almost want to be at one end of the spectrum or the other,” he said.
How does a brand create a commercial that will be remembered?
“It’s fairly predictable, what people will like, unfortunately," he said. "Basically, if you have an animal, a baby, some form of violence or you make a guy look really dumb, that combination, if you could put all four of those in an ad, it’s almost like, hands down, you’re going to win or be in the top 10.”
McKendry said that while the ads that garner the most laughs often win the USA Today Ad Meter, the ads that receive the most online views or, at least, equally remembered often strike a more serious note.
He points to Chrysler’s Detroit ad that featured Eminem and Budweiser’s ad following 9/11 that showed off the New York City skyline.
“Anytime you can tap into that different emotion, whether its pride or a pull on the heartstrings, during the Super Bowl, maybe you’re not going to be the most popular, but I think you have a great chance of being remembered,” McKendry said.
So far, the highest ranking Super Bowl ad online is Volkswagen’s “The Force” ad from two years ago. The ad has received almost 64 million views. The second highest-ranking ad is Budweiser’s 9/11 ad, which has received 9 million views.
For anyone who wants to get in on ranking this year’s ads, Hanon McKendry will be conducting its own Super Bowl Ad Poll. Anyone can vote for their favorite Super Bowl commercials and see the real-time results throughout the game.