By Aimee Picchi,
NEW YORK (
) -- Not too long ago, companies buying ad time during the Super Bowl -- TV's most expensive commercial venue -- sought to keep their game-day commercials secret until air time. The theory was to wow TV audiences with the element of surprise: a funny punch line, a new spokesperson or a catchy song delivered fresh. The goal was to guarantee that the ads would be the subject of office break-room conversation the next day.
But an increasing number of Super Bowl advertisers are now using a strategy that was once anathema: posting their game-day commercials online, well in advance of the game. Their goal: to get consumers talking about their ads not only after the Super Bowl, but sometimes months before kick-off.
That strategy, however, also begs the question of whether consumers actually watch those ads during the game, or do the commercials become just another opportunity to get a fresh beer from the fridge.
High-Stakes Game, High-Stakes Ads
At risk is a tidy sum. Aside from any production costs for a top-quality ad, a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl is fetching a record $3 million this year, according to a recent report from
. For many companies, a Super Bowl commercial will represent their biggest single advertising expense for the year. And according to Kantar, one-third of the advertisers in last year's Super Bowl devoted more than 10% of their full-year media budgets to the game.
"Over time, the stakes have escalated," says Jon Swallen, Kantar's senior vice president of research. "One way advertisers try to monetize that is with these pre-game, pre-release ads, trying to raise buzz and awareness. It helps to try to cut through the clutter."
And Swallen says Super Bowl ad time is more cluttered than ever. Last year, for instance, the game contained a record 47 minutes and 50 seconds of network ads. In comparison, the 2001 Super Bowl contained just over 40 minutes of commercials.
To be sure, many of the commercials in this year's Super Bowl -- to air on Fox on Feb. 6 -- will be kept secret until they hit the airwaves. But increasingly, the name of the marketing game is to tease viewers ahead of game day -- with clips or even the entire commercial. While some potential Super Bowl ads are already online, such as those from Pepsi MAX and Doritos, other marketers are still deciding whether to post their commercials early.