Commentary

The Big Reveal ... Or Maybe Not

Super Bowl Sunday isn’t only about football. Quite simply, it’s a defining cultural moment where the worlds of sports, music and pop culture coalesce in ways that captivate millions of consumers around the world.

For businesses like ours, this makes the Super Bowl much more than a one-day event. At PepsiCo, it marks the pinnacle of our year-long focus on leveraging our relationship with the NFL to build our brands and drive sales. That’s why our people have been hard at work placing hundreds of thousands of PepsiCo Super Bowl product displays in retail stores across the country in the weeks leading up to the game. While the teams battle on the field, we’re fiercely competing in the grocery aisle.

That said, come Sunday, the commercials will be as anticipated as the game itself. In fact, about 50 percent of Americans say they watch the Super Bowl just for the commercials. And as with the game, the ads have winners and losers, with the highly coveted USA Today ad meter possibly the best example of the scoreboard approach to Super Bowl spots. In today’s world of multiple screen viewing, instant sharing, posting and commenting, everyone gets to be judge and jury.

With hundreds of millions of eyeballs at stake, the decision of whether to preview Super Bowl commercials before they air live during the game presents a real dilemma for all marketers.

Super Bowl ads have traditionally been sacred -- saved for the big reveal in front of mass audiences in order to have the greatest impact. Marketers were reluctant to spoil the surprise and dilute the power of that special moment when new creative was seen for the first time. But now the water cooler moment can be instantaneous with the prevalence of social media. The wow factor of an impactful commercial can be discussed not only with friends gathered in living rooms for Super Bowl parties, but across Facebook and Twitter in well, about 30 seconds.

Some marketers still hold to the traditional approach. Marc Seguin, vice president for marketing for Paramount Farms, told the LA Times: “From a marketing standpoint we feel we can have a lot more talk value and punch by holding back. What’s a better ‘big reveal’ than unveiling your commercial before 100 million people who are viewing it all at once?”

But many marketers no longer stick to that tried-and-true playbook. PepsiCo was among the leaders in breaking away from tradition. The company was one of the first to offer media an advance look at its Super Bowl commercials in the quest to build excitement. In recent years, a growing number of advertisers have taken that concept further, looking to capitalize on social media  by offering sneak peeks and even releasing entire commercials on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook or through other channels to generate viral buzz that extends the shelf life. Fans of the spots then serve as ambassadors spreading the word for companies on their personal social embassies. For these companies, lengthening the window is an effective and efficient way to get the most value from the investment.

Steve Cannon, president and chief executive at Mercedes-Benz USA, believes in this approach, telling the NY Times: “For me, it’s all about maximizing exposure. Even if millions of people watch the commercial online before the game, it’s still going to be brand-new for 98 percent of the population, and such previews help defray the ‘big expense’ of buying time in the game. “

Where does PepsiCo stand? When it comes to advertising in the game, we have long believed in the power of the Super Bowl and in its ability to deliver massive consumer engagement. This year, three of our brands will have spots during the Super Bowl. Pepsi Next will make its Super Bowl debut with a  30-second spot that will be previewed online before the game. Doritos is allowing fans to decide, for the seventh consecutive year, which ad will air in the Super Bowl from among the best fan-submitted commercials. (PepsiCo was the pioneer in soliciting consumer-generated spots.) And Pepsi will utilize crowdsourced images as part of a unique, on-air video introduction welcoming Beyonce to the stage for the Pepsi Super Bowl XLVII Halftime Show.

So what is the answer? Ask 100 marketers and you’ll likely hear 100 different answers. But we believe it’s all about engagement. The Super Bowl is the largest stage for marketers, and a well-crafted, creative idea -- no matter if it’s previewed ahead of time or held back for the game -- will always resonate with the consumers and stand out among the competition. 

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