Super Bowl Sunday is no longer solely the advertising world's night to shine, nor is it a time for PR practitioners to just sit back and watch the big game.
The National Football League's marquee event is now the climax in a months-long push by major brands to make a cultural impact that resonates throughout the rest of the year, and PR practitioners are at the center of it.
“A lot of brands are spending a lot of money on the Super Bowl ad spot and they are getting a lot of eyeballs, but the brands that resonate the most are the ones that recognize a huge opportunity before and after,” says Jason Teitler, MD of fan experience and brand marketing at Burson-Marsteller. “The brands that are doing things successfully have a lot of content on different destinations so that discussion can continue [after the game].”
Burson is working with Lincoln as part of a WPP Group team. Its efforts have included promoting brand ambassador and Dallas Cowboys great Emmitt Smith and launching the SteerTheScript.com website, which contains a range of behind-the-scenes content. The brand's 30-second ad spot was “leaked” on Wednesday by late night host Jimmy Fallon, who starred in the ad's development process, as well.
Change in tone
Edelman consumer practice global chair Jennifer Cohan says that along with an increase in social media used in Super Bowl campaigns, companies will also utilize brand representatives other than executives and celebrities. Cohan cites Edelman's most recent Trust Barometer report, which found that “a person like yourself” is the third-most-trusted type of company spokesperson.
“We will see different kinds of influencers play a much more prominent role. We'll see more consumers playing a role in the development [of ads], and also employees,” she says. “We will seem more employees telling stories to show the real face of brands.”
Cohan adds that brands will demonstrate a “broader definition of men and dads in advertising.”
“We will see man as dad, not man as incompetent dad,” she explains. “We are going to see a real understanding that dad is real and informed. The educated and committed dad is a real target, and we will start to see that in the Super Bowl.”
Cohn & Wolfe North American president Jim Joseph adds that many companies will try to change the conversation about their brands using Super Bowl ads. Others will play up the fact that their spots were “banned” by CBS, he says.
“I'm anticipating a lot of brands reinventing themselves, using the Super Bowl as a way to change how they're viewed. You see a lot of brands doing teaser spots, and it is building up this notion that something is radically different about the brand,” says Joseph. “Another thing happening is that brands are talking about how their spot has been banned, saying the ad won't run the way they want to run it and building up the hype.”
Weber Shandwick, meanwhile, is working to promote the “Got Milk?” campaign's first Super Bowl TV ad, which stars actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The PR firm is pushing out additional content across social channels to extend the initiative beyond the Super Bowl, notes Cathy Calhoun, president of Weber North America.
“It's no longer a one-day, one-night deal,” she says. “It's cross-platform and cross-channel, and it delivers a lot for clients.”This year, one 30-second TV ad on CBS will cost about $3.75 million, up 7.1% from the prior year. The reason for the steep price tag: last year's Super Bowl was the highest-rated TV event in US history. Five brands – Anheuser-Bush, PepsiCo, General Motors, Coca-Cola, and Disney – spent nearly $700 million on Super Bowl advertising, according to MoneyWatch.
Brands are still trying to create the next “1984” or “Imported from Detroit,” but now the 30-second ad is the centerpiece of a larger, more dynamic campaign, not the company's only focus. The strategy shift also means PR practitioners have Super Bowl ad-related work for months after and that they're working with brands on the campaigns from the ground floor.
“It's something we are pushing quite heavily. With the marketing and the communications groups, we each review each other's strategies, which is really refreshing after years of dealing with a situation where you didn't have that access,” Teitler adds. “Now with Lincoln, it's a case of one plus one equals three.”
In the weeks after the Super Bowl, PR practitioners will push content across a range of platforms to create “two-screen experiences” for consumers, a trend Cohn & Wolfe president Jim Joseph has noticed along with brands asking consumers to vote on ads before the game.
“The homerun now is getting everybody to talk about [the ad] and elevating the stature of the brand, making it a hip, contemporary brand,” he says. “[PR teams] should have been part of the planning session six months ago so the team could be fully integrated from the beginning, thinking about how will you seed it with influencers and get people to comment. Now you should be thinking about how to expand the buzz beyond Monday. The goal for the PR folks is to keep it going.”
Jennifer Cohan, chair of the global consumer practice at Edelman, says she expects consumers to interact with advertisers more this year than in the past, and then make ad-related content of their own.
This year's Super Bowl pits the Baltimore Ravens against the San Francisco 49ers. Do the teams playing in the big game make a difference to marketers – aside from whom they root for on Sundays? Yes and no, say industry experts.
C&W's Joseph says it does not make much difference, noting that the event draws a huge national audience no matter the teams.
Burson's Teitler says the match-up does matter, “depending on what brand you are.”
“If you are a brand that relies on big media markets and you have small-market teams in the game, you have to adjust your strategy,” he says. “You also have to wait to see what teams will be in the big game to see if your brand ambassador will be relevant.”
“We will see much more real-time engagement. Thinking about Super Bowl advertising, people will be commenting on the ads as they are happening on Twitter and Facebook,” she says. “It will not be unlike the [2012 presidential] debates. We will see real-time consumer content generation…the consumer has the tools to create a deeper, richer engagement in real time.”
That dynamic created an opportunity for PR agencies to play a bigger role in both the development and execution of Super Bowl-focused marketing campaigns.
“Advertising has always been fundamentally one way,” says Billee Howard, MD of the brand innovation group and creative development officer at Allison+Partners. “PR has largely been historically two-way. As the world places an increased premium on dialogue in the era of total experience management, PR's rise in importance is commensurate.”
Cohan adds that the “big idea” for a Super Bowl marketing campaign is no longer the exclusive domain of the ad agency.
“Is there a PR firm making a Super Bowl ad? Not that I know of,” she says. “But are the big ideas about brands being driven by different kinds of agencies? Can a Super Bowl ad be a big articulation of the brand idea? Absolutely.”