Commentary

Imagining A $5 Million Super Bowl Social Buy

Not too long ago, I’d be focusing my personal attention this week on pre-game stories about the upcoming Super Bowl matchup and my professional attention on leaks about the blockbuster ads that would debut therein. With many others, I now care a lot less about both. The latter still must matter, though, since commercial time is going for $5 million for a 30-second spot.

The “million-dollar minute” was a headline-making event in 1985; the cost for a :30 has doubled in the last decade. Inflation hasn’t been anywhere near that spread. Now, as a headline in the New York Timesinformed us this week, you need to fork over “another million or more to market the ad.” A lot of that is on social media, in hopes of garnering legions of likes and retweets.

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No doubt the game is one of the few events that can still generate a sizable audience around the big screen. But is it really worthwhile for marketers to plow all that money — and we haven’t factored in the production and celebrity-spokesperson costs — into television spots aimed at a mass market rapidly dissolving into its individual parts?

“It shocks me still that so much money is still put toward television. That's the easy thing to do. It's not the smart thing to do,” says Chris Gomersall, who made a lot of commercials himself as an ad agency creative before joining Facebook to work with brands and agencies as creative strategy leader in 2012. “They're like ‘All right, we're gonna do our advertising campaign. Well, put 90% of it to television’ and then ‘Hey, you guys, go have fun and split up the other 10% between everything else.’”

While he was at Facebook, and with its blessing, Gomersall started to develop content management software that enables marketers to keep track of all the thousands of disparate executions of their brand message across the ever-expanding universe of platforms. He has been running Atomized, with clients such as Home Depot, Arby’s and Warner Bros., full time out of Atlanta for about 18 months.

I wanted to speak to Gomersall for examples of brands notable for their executions on social, taking into account the unique qualities of each of the platforms. He has answers: JetBlue on Twitter and GoPro on Instagram, for example. Sour Patch Kids has leveraged the fun, transient nature of Snapchat to its advantage by using playful filters, silly faces and videos that beg to be forwarded, he says.

But before we delve into the whys and wherefores, Gomersall makes a point that’s indicative of just how much the ad world has changed in just a few years. He says his research nowadays is much less about what brands are doing with their creative and more about how people are using the new platforms available to them.

“It's only a six-to-12 month cycle on how people are using these platforms and what they're using them for,” he says. “It's a combination of people being fickle, attention grasps shortening, and the fact that new ones keep popping up.”

The challenge has become to create marketing campaigns that are vastly different from the flashy spots that might stop prospects from heading for the buffet table as soon as halftime begins.

“I had a saying when I was at Facebook that I used to coach brands on, which was, ‘You have to stand out by blending in,’” says Gomersall. Instead of the “disruptive” spots of yore — epitomized by the rising decibel levels of a commercial for a local auto dealer — you need to provide content that is tailored to the environment it’s appearing in.

“It's more about delivering on why I'm on this platform to begin with, and how can you seamlessly slip into the experience,” Gomersall says. “Snapchat, between stories. Or in the Facebook or Instagram newsfeeds. If you're blending into my environment and it’s content that is valuable to me while still delivering the message. Of course brands still have to talk about the thing they're trying to sell, but that's the art.”

Facebook, in particular, is able to deliver large numbers of specific targets in ways that were unimaginable when Tom Brady threw his first Super Bowl pass.

Take Starbucks, for example. “The way they would talk to an extremely wealthy husband and wife who have no children who live in L.A., versus the way they talk to a single mother in New Jersey who is in the lowest income bracket, is very different,” Gomersall says. “If you can target and make both of those people go into your store for different reasons, that's amazing.”

Not to mention the myriad of demographic, economic and location possibilities in between.

Gomersall predicts that within a few years, three will be several more companies that “take the learning and human capital from the people of the Facebook world” to create products where the targeting will be just as precise.

“That's why it's so hard for me to give an example of brands that are doing it well, because the brands that are doing it best, I would never see their stuff,” says Gomersall. “The best marketing is gonna be given only to people that it matters most to, who will be hit hardest by it.”

One has to wonder what $5 million plus would accomplish toward that end. If I were GNC, whose spot was rejected by the NFL earlier this week, I’d be putting it to the test.

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