The Super Bowl turns us all into ad critics. It’s the only night of television where the ads are really considered part of the show. Some of the most innovative, most beloved ads of all time have debuted during Super Bowls past — but then again so have some of the lamest. The debate over what worked and what didn’t can go on long after the final score is in the books.
That debate used to be a strictly water-cooler phenomenon, but social networks allow these ads to take on lives of their own. Last summer’s viral frenzy around the “Old Spice Man” videos was so intense that it’s easy to forget that the campaign began with a Super Bowl ad.
It’s a virtual certainty that every ad that airs on Super Bowl Sunday will have a social media component — even if that just means users will be re-watching the ads on YouTube and leaving comments. But several companies are also looking to use social networks to create excitement around their ads before they air. As brands look for ways to better integrate social media with traditional media buys, campaigns like these may serve as case studies in the making for how brands can capitalize on big moments.
Pepsi made headlines last year by sitting out that year’s Super Bowl and announcing they’d spend $20 million on the Pepsi Refresh Project instead. This year, Pepsi will run several spots for Pepsi Max during the big game, but that doesn’t mean it’s abandoned the social side of things. The Pepsi Max ads will follow the fan-created, fan-selected contest format that’s worked so well for PepsiCo’s Doritos brand in recent years. The format lets Pepsi crowdsource the ad creation, but it also gives them a little bit of quality assurance, since two of the ads the will be broadcast already have with the fans’ seal of approval.
At the same time, Pepsi has announced that the Pepsi Refresh is coming back (with some sensible modifications) for another year. It’s a strategy that shows that brands don’t have to choose between broadcast ads and social content.
Mercedes-Benz is holding a contest it calls “The World’s First Twitter-Fueled Race” as part of the lead up to its Super Bowl ad. The two-day race is between teams of drivers (each with a celebrity coach) who must to overcome challenges and use Twitter followers’ support to move forward on the road to the Dallas area, where this year’s Super Bowl is being held. Mercedes is one of eight automakers scheduled to run ads during this year’s bowl. Amid such a crowded field, it’ll be interesting to see if the contest angle helps Mercedes break out from the pack.
Bud Light is scheduled to run three half-minute ads during this year’s game. On it’s Facebook page, the brand is running a contest to see if fans can guess what those commercials will be about — promising to unlock yet another commercial if fans guess correctly. Can a brand get away with asking its fans to solve ad-based puzzles in exchange for more ads? Bud Light is about to find out.
All three brands are treating their ads as content and creating contests to support them. But right now, the big difference between them isn’t the quality of the ads — that’s still a mystery. It’s the amount of investment each contest creates, the amount of skin in the game a user has in each contest.
The Pepsi/Doritos contest is a serious affair if you made one of the finalist ads, and a casual diversion if you’re just looking to support your favorite video. The Mercedes contest has the potential to be a relatively intensive experience for both the drivers and the fans cheering them on — and members both groups stand to win some pretty swanky prizes. The Bud Light contest asks users to spend some time thinking about Bud Light ads – so that they can watch another one.
It’ll be illuminating to see which approach provides the most buzz after the game is over — or if one of the dozens of other ads scheduled for that night does an end run around the pre-game contests and scores a social media victory in a different way.
What’s your take on these three pre-Super Bowl social contests? Do contests enhance social media engagement? Which approach do expect will produce the most buzz?
Image credit: kledge, iStockphoto