When Is It Too Early To Think About The Super Bowl?

From a marketing point of view, that's a rhetorical question.

The NFL awards its Super Bowl site about three years before the game is actually played in order to give each city time to prepare.

In fact, the league this May will unveil the sites for both its historic Super Bowl L, to be played in February 2016 (choosing from between the Miami Dolphins' Sun Life Stadium and the San Francisco 49ers' stadium currently under construction in Santa Clara, Calif.), and Super Bowl LI, to be played in February 2017 (choosing from between the Houston Texans' Reliant Stadium and the venue not selected to host Super Bowl L).

Companies are already formulating activation plans for Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014 in MetLife Stadium, New Jersey. That will be the first northern U.S.-based stadium without a roof to host the mid-winter game, with many related events to be held across the Hudson River in New York City.

Mercedes-Benz certainly was thinking ahead when in October 2011 it acquired naming rights to the Superdome in New Orleans, which on Feb. 3, 2013, will be the site of Super Bowl XLVII.

And it was mid-October when the NFL revealed that Beyoncé would headline the halftime show at the February game, getting the buzz-ball rolling early for Pepsi, which begins a five-year run as title sponsor of the halftime festivities.

Marketers embrace a lead time long enough to take advantage of pre-game word-of-mouth and to garner earned media. That build-up buzz becomes even more critical to ROI when a 30-second spot costs upward of $3.8 million, as is the case in the upcoming Super Bowl XLVII broadcast on CBS.

Advance buzz can be especially beneficial for first-time Super Bowl marketers. Even considering that the upside is a record-setting 111.3 million viewers, as happened during the Super Bowl XLVI broadcast on NBC, the trepidations can be intense, including a fear that your ad won't get noticed or, even worse, will be noticed for all the wrong reasons.

"The most important lesson I learned was that whether it's your first time or your 15th, you have to get it right," said Bev Thorne, CMO for Century 21, of the Super Bowl XLVI broadcast on NBC, which was the first such media buy in the company's 40-year history. The Parsippany, N.J.-headquartered real estate firm is returning for Super Bowl XLVII with placement early in the third quarter, and is also buying time during pre-game programming on CBS.

"You do not buy a home because you see an ad on TV," Thorne said of the company's strategy. "For us, it was a brand-preference play. We were looking to be in the middle of the conversation and be visible to those consumers who are considering a home purchase or a sale." 

Thorne said that the company waited until early fall, when it had enough time to crunch its leading indicator numbers, before making its next Super Bowl buy.

"It worked out for the best in so many ways," said Thorne of the initial Super Bowl commercial. "We've seen our total leads climb 20% year-to-date. Our Web site traffic year-to-date is up more than 40%. That is phenomenal because the industry Web site growth rate is 4% through October."

Century 21's ad this past February featured Donald Trump, NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders and Olympic gold medalist Apolo Ohno. But according to Thorne, the real stars were the Century 21 agents, who she, and the company's Philadelphia-based ad agency, Red Tettemer, call "Smarter. Bolder. Faster."

The Super Bowl was a catalyst for additional Century 21 sports-related moves in 2012, including a media buy during the Summer Olympics and horse racing's Triple Crown, and a sponsorship of the men's and women's national soccer teams. The company is again planning post-Sumer Bowl media buys in 2013, and its soccer alliance will continue to grow, moving toward the men's FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the women's FIFA World Cup in 2015.

According to Thorne, "Our strategy is to associate our brand with iconic appointment media events, such as the Super Bowl, the Olympics and the World Cup."

The agents and the tag line will again be front-and-center in the upcoming commercial, but Thorne would not reveal if Trump or other celebrities would return.

"There are definitely pros and cons to using celebrities," said Thorne. "But we took a calculated risk. The risk for us to weigh this year is do we continue to do that or do we position the Century 21 agents as the celebrities worthy of earned media on their own."

Thorne, now a veteran of the Super Bowl pre-game strategy, knows it's never too early to create a buzz. "Will Donald be back? You'll have to tune in for that answer."

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