Could viral marketing replace Super Bowl ads?

Ryan Spoehr, Copy Editor

Super Bowl XLVII is now in the history books, including the football, halftime show and the advertisements that go hand-in-hand with those. The advertisements have long been a hook even for people who have very little football knowledge.

In the past two years, there has been a switch in how some of the commercials have been distributed. Ever since Volkswagon released their ad with a little kid in a Darth Vader costume that had the ability to use the force to open a minivan door online prior to the Super Bowl two years ago, Doritos and Coca-Cola have since followed suit and created commercials that went viral before this year’s Super Bowl.

“Super Bowl commercials were always kind of a big kept secret. Part of the reason you would watch the game would be to see the debut of these commercials,” said Steve Noll, lead Marketing instructor at Madison College. “Now, the trend is to release the commercials a day or two or even ahead of time online and try to build up the buzz. I think part of it is the big idea is people will start talking about the commercials and while they’re watching the game they tell their friends, ‘Hey wait until we see the VW commercial or the Doritos commercial,’ so they’re kind of looking for it.”

The thing about releasing advertisements before the Super Bowl is companies can see how many people view the video on a site like YouTube and they can see how many times the video is shared or tweeted on Facebook or Twitter.

“It shows how successful it has been or not. Two years ago, VW put out their Darth Vader commercial on Friday and racked up several million views before the game on Sunday. That was amazing – a huge success,” Noll said. “Now, tons of people are jumping on that. Now we’re seeing a half a dozen Super Bowl commercials that are racking up millions of views online before they’ve aired.”

In many cases, the ads that are online tend to be longer than when they are on during the Super Bowl, Noll said. Ads in the Super Bowl are probably going to be around 30 seconds while ads online are probably going to be around a minute or two long. He says there is definite value in that philosophy.

“If I was working for a big company with the ad budget to afford the Super Bowl, I definitely would sit down and be thinking of a type of commercial that we could release that would hopefully have a bit of a viral spread to it,”he said.

With the addition of viral marketing to the Super Bowl commercial tradition, there could potentially be some question in if that tradition of promoting during the Super Bowl is going to change drastically or even be nonexistent.

Noll says that there is a potential for that to happen. This year, advertisements during the Super Bowl rose to a record high price. The average price for a commercial during the big game on CBS was about $3.7 million, which was up from $3.5 million last year when the game was aired on NBC.

“You kind of wonder that because there is so much money involved in the Super Bowl. If all the money for the Super Bowl starts to go in different directions, does the Super Bowl still become relevant?” Noll said. “The actual broadcast is the anchor that all these week-long campaigns are being built around. If you get rid of that anchor, everything could just fall apart. Is Doritos going to release a commercial in July? There’s nothing to anchor that idea around.”

In the past, there has been a large group of people who just watch the Super Bowl for the ads. Still, this year was a record setting year for the Super Bowl again in ratings. Nielsen reported a 46.0 rating for the Super Bowl, even surpassing the high number set last year. No regular season NFL game even comes close to this. There is a still a mystique to buying air time during the Super Bowl, Noll said. He also said that the business model seems to be changing, but there is still light at the end of the tunnel for some types of commercials that generally come out during the Super Bowl.

“I haven’t seen any the summer blockbuster (commercials). Generally the summer blockbusters are advertised during the Super Bowl. They’re holding that stuff off,” he said. “I think though that there is an element of surprise to it that that’s kind of the first place for it. I think there is still a tradition of debuting it during the Super Bowl. But I think especially the things that are more consumer-based products, they’re trying to get the buzz.”