The opportunity to connect with millions of consumers at one time is extremely rare during this age of increasing media fragmentation. As DVRs, the internet, and social networks have conspired to pull our attention in hundreds of directions at once, only a handful of live events have the ability to draw hundreds of millions of eyeballs, especially before, during, and after the event.
Yet even as the Super Bowl is perhaps the grandest stage and biggest opportunity for brands, it is also one of the most cluttered and highly regulated communications and marketing environments to navigate.
More than 5,000 members of the media from hundreds of countries converge on the host city to cover the game and the week leading up to it. During that period, hundreds of companies – big and small – execute marketing and communications programs hoping to leverage the week leading up to the Super Bowl to raise brand awareness, launch products and services, and everything else in between. If done correctly, the short- and long-term benefits go beyond the normal metrics through opportunities with event marketing, media engagement, social media content distribution, and much more. If done incorrectly, your program can get lost in the abyss and do nothing more than leave your CEO asking, “What did we get out of all the investment we spent at the Super Bowl?”
After working for many years with different brands across industries on Super Bowl communications and marketing plans, I have developed five best practices for converting a big-game investment into a real scoring opportunity.The Super Bowl season – Super Bowl communications does not start and stop during the week leading up to the big game. There is a 90-day pre-Super Bowl window when media outlets and online influencers begin discussing the Super Bowl and all of the activities surrounding the big game, including what sponsors, non-sponsors, and other parties are planning to capitalize on during the most anticipated week in American sports. This includes everything from events to social media campaigns, celebrity athlete ambassadorship to Super Bowl commercial PR campaigns, conferences to in-market hospitality. The earned media universe goes well beyond sports and permeates lifestyle, business, and financial media. Maximizing a campaign before, during, and after Super Bowl Sunday is what differentiates the brand winners from the losers.
Attack Radio Row – The NFL hosts this highly regulated environment that includes hundreds of international, national, regional, and local media (and not just radio broadcast) that set up operations in one designated space for three solid days. NFL security is very strict, but, for official NFL or Super Bowl sponsors, access is almost always guaranteed. A successful communications campaign – through one, two, or three days of concentrated activity – can generate millions upon millions of impressions. Radio Row is tricky to navigate and requires a group with connections and experience. The perfect athlete spokesperson (not necessarily only a current or retired football player, as other athletes and even non-sports celebrities are highly coveted) make media bookings a much more pleasant experience. The communications teams and spokespeople must be flexible and have the ability to adapt on the fly in this turbulent and unpredictable environment.
Understanding the “clean zone” – The Super Bowl host city map is highly regulated by the NFL. The league sets up a “clean zone” that allows official sponsors of the Super Bowl (after approval) to market within its boundaries. Brands that are not official NFL sponsors will likely run into difficulties if they are found to be marketing within the clean zone. Still, many brands can be successful by respecting the boundaries and executing the right buzz-building activities outside of the clean zone. Done right, these events can draw massive crowds and tons of media attention. Smart, strategic thinking, respect for the NFL's regulations, understanding of the logistics, along with experience in breakthrough sports marketing and communications campaigns, will help ensure a successful Super Bowl initiative.
Each Super Bowl has its own storylines – The 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans will have a radically different vibe compared with last year's game in Indianapolis. Media and online influencer coverage will spotlight different themes, community stories, and NFL-related topics (i.e. the Harbaugh brothers, Ray Lewis' retirement, or San Francisco's return to glory). Where possible, brands should identify and attach themselves to compelling stories that will form a credible relationship with the game so media will have yet another reason to speak with company spokespeople. Sometimes those storylines can be created.
Get social online and offline – In more ways than one, the Super Bowl is a very social animal. There are hundreds of instances of on-site activation and online engagement through owned and partner social media channels surrounding the big game and the 90 days leading up to the Super Bowl. Even the NFL can provide opportunities for its official sponsors. Simply engaging in a social media initiative may not help a brand cut through the clutter. The brands that make an indelible mark and trend highly are those that give consumers a reason to engage. For instance, Instagram should be a fairly hot mechanism for consumer engagement this year, especially considering its quick adoption rate among athletes and fans' hunger for a glimpse of the action taking place in the host city.
Know your competition – Understanding what the competition is planning and executing is almost as important as understanding the media landscape itself. And, every brand is your competition because they are all fighting for the attention of consumers, media, and online influencers. Monitoring the competition's game plan is critical, and daily monitoring is the cost of entry for understanding one of the most complex media landscapes on the planet. It is important to remember that a brand will never be able to be “the only game in town.” This is a forum for the world's biggest and most powerful brands, and many of them are not only advertisers, they are league, team, and Super Bowl sponsors. It is impossible to dominate the Super Bowl marketing landscape. However, it is possible to make a strong impression with the right program, even among those brands that have a natural, organic connection to football and Super Bowl culture.
Good luck and get your game face on!
Jason Teitler is managing director of Burson-Marsteller Fan Experience, a specialty offering within the firm's US consumer and brand marketing practice.