Engagement And 'The Most Delicious National Tragedy'

If you were one of the 110 million people parked in front of the TV Sunday night to watch the New England Patriots play against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, then you have a lot to discuss with your coworkers on Monday. The post-Super Bowl buzz is usually 10% game plays and 90% commercials. Why are they so memorable? Why so noteworthy and why always the center of attention the day after the big game?

Some people admittedly watch only for the commercials; in fact 37% do, according to a recent Harris survey. So how do advertisers tap into this magic cauldron of attention all year long? Deliver entertaining content.

Year after year, the Super Bowl has become the ultimate marriage of marketing and entertainment. It’s a contest to see which advertiser goes over the top just the right amount to catch everyone’s attention and lasting buzz – without overdoing it. (Remember the Groupon ads that drew backlash last year?)

But even the commercials themselves aren’t enough. With some 70 spots airing during the game this year, the competition for attention is fierce. In fact, the advertisers who play it straight and focus only on the air time they have during the game are losing out on the biggest win of all: consumer engagement.

It’s no longer enough to create a funny, irreverent or controversial commercial. The Holy Grail now is to get people engaging with your content elsewhere, too, by participating in Facebook promotions and sharing content with their networks, for instance. How many of you used Pandora to unlock content from ads? I was shocked that, according to Altimeter, only a mere 16% of ads had a social media aspect.

You could argue that people are about as engaged as you could ask for during Super Bowl commercials, but the truth is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The 20 seconds or so on air between plays is the hook, the starting point. The real wins come from creating a campaign around your spot that is highly entertaining.

Several years ago, I was part of a team that created a Super Bowl commercial that went on to win a Cannes Cyber Lion, London International Award and the Yahoo Purple Chair Award. What was so engaging about this commercial was the “real life” component and buzz that grew out of the commercial during and consistently over the next week.

It was the McDonald’s Lincoln Fry commercial. We shot it in a “mockumentary” à la “Spinal Tap” and “Best in Show,” and a style that featured interviews with people who obsess over finding average objects in the shape of famous things (as in real life), such as a grilled cheese sandwich with the image of the Virgin Mary. Our interview subjects were in a heated search for this French fry in the shape of Abraham Lincoln.

During the commercial, we stated that the “Lincoln Fry” was up for auction. During the game, we saw the auction bids go through the roof. The auction ended a week later on Lincoln’s birthday. The Lincoln Fry, a plastic French fry shaped to have Lincoln’s profile sold for $75,100 a week later. The attention leading up the auction generated all sorts of earned media. Jimmy Kimmel even made a joke about it in his opening late-night monologue, assonating the Lincoln Fry, dousing it in ketchup and calling it, “The most delicious national tragedy.”

In advertising, engagement is a tough nut to crack. That’s why I’ve always turned to the entertainment industry for ideas and inspiration. Smart brands have learned a lot from Hollywood about how to be engaging and entertaining, and how to create episodic marketing and advertising campaigns that draw from both real life and from movies and TV (which these days resembles real life more and more).

Whether your team lost or won this past Sunday, think about which commercials entertained you the most and why. Examine what brands like GE, Toyota and Chevrolet did to extend the life of their spots outside of the TV screen and into the hearts and minds of consumers. This is what engagement is all about.

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