Anybody's Game: The Future of Super Bowl Advertising
The best become pop-culture milestones. Apple's shattered Orwellian computer screen from 1984 still resonates. So does Nissan's turbocharged 300ZX, inflamed with its gleeful encouragement of street racing. Coca-Cola's 1980 ad with Mean Joe Green is so vital that Coke Zero spoofed it in 2009.
Last year was a turning point, though -- a climax in the story of television advertising. Marketing has been absorbing advertising for years. Consumer engagement is now a hybrid of methodologies distributed across integrated channels, like the Internet and mobile devices.
The confluence is mostly Google's doing. Google's two finest executions are when long-tail optimization improves organic search results for websites and when quality scores improve bid management for pay-per-click advertisers. Both have eaten traditional interruption advertising alive. Now, the absorption continues with Google TV Ads.
Google TV Ads has incredible potential for small- and mid-sized businesses. It applies search and PPC models to television in order to broadcast relevant commercials at auction prices.
NBC earned a record $206 million selling Super Bowl airtime last year, but the ads weren't very impressive. DreamWorks' 3-D ads frustrated viewers. CareerBuilder irritated the unemployed by yammering about job dissatisfaction.
The highlight of Super Bowl XLIII was a clever Doritos commercial by two Indiana brothers who won a contest at CrashTheSuperBowl.com and then beat the pros on USA Today's Ad Meter to win $1 million. The brothers' creative budget was under $2,000.
In other words, the only real stars of Super Bowl 2009's commercials were two unemployed guys with no advertising experience who worked on speculation as brand ambassadors through a social-media website.
Super Bowl advertising is now anyone's game.
Find the Guys in Indiana
For the first time in 23 years, Pepsi isn't airing a Super Bowl commercial.
Instead, it dedicated $20 million to the new RefreshEverything.com, a social-media project that grants money to positive causes across America.
The reallocation is both cataclysmic and catalytic for advertising. Most small- and mid-sized businesses skip television because the money is better spent online anyway, but Pepsi's move says the bottom might drop out of the Super Bowl, too, now -- if it hasn't already, considering 30 seconds cost $3 million last year, and newbie HomeAway paid under $2.5 million for 2010.
The decision also says that the best way to engage an audience is to actually engage the audience. Brands need to find the Bronx woman who cleans up power plants or the Detroit students who need school supplies -- like Pepsi has -- and give them something to talk about.
Television advertising finds its future by including social media and a cost-effective model like Google's auctions. It's time to find the guys in Indiana and give them a million dollars.
Creating cheap ads isn't a new idea.
The obstacle is that, sometimes, if you go cheap, you get cheap. Networks won't air cheap. That's why pricing that supports social media's new creative opportunities is so important -- fluctuating creative costs only let in new advertisers that can afford airtime, too.
With Google TV Ads, advertisers can target segments and broadcast on national networks via auction pricing. An Ad Creation Marketplace lets advertisers customize a mix of user-generated ideas and professional creatives. The marketplace's insularity keeps prices low.
It's an all-or-nothing venture, though. Advertisers need to upload an ad before bidding on airtime, but the ad only airs if the bid wins.
The thresholds are daunting, but real opportunity exists for businesses that couldn't afford television before. Auction pricing reflects the true demand for airtime, and the marketplace opens the economy to include the Madison Avenue firms -- or two imaginative brothers in the Midwest.
Essentially, in a few years, anyone could be a Super Bowl advertiser, complete with all the glory and the cash return.
A continued devaluation of Super Bowl airtime plus the increased opportunity to broadcast make the old 1984 Apple ad seem more salient than ever. Websites, social media, and television are all on the same team now, but this is no Big Brother paradigm. The possibilities are wide open. The game is about to change.