Super-what? Bowl ads underwhelm, but TV lives strong, pundits say

MiC pundits weigh in: While last night's ads on the Canadian Super Bowl feed may not have generated the same excitement as Tracy Porter's smooth 74-yard moves, the excitement around the game proves its worth for the medium.

It was a game that was already a winner in the hearts and minds of many, but as always, most of the real excitement around the Super Bowl was in the ads. Viewership numbers aren’t yet available this morning, but MiC invited three experts from Canadian media agencies to weigh in on what they thought of the media strategies executed during the game. Sure, the Canadian roll-out never has the same oomph as the States, but as you’ll find below, there’s still no shortage of opinion.

Another unexciting year of Canadian Super Bowl ads
Travis St. Denis, media supervisor, Mediaedge:cia

If previous Canadian Super Bowl media strategies could be categorized as underwhelming, then I would say this year followed nicely in that tradition. Now, I don’t have the expectation of big budget, grandiose spots here in Canada, it’s just not the market for it (so it would seem). But there’s barely an effort for something fresh in this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads. Of course, I’m just part of the choir when saying that.

I kept track of every commercial that ran during the Super Bowl proper in a large spreadsheet. Sure, it was a distraction from my party but I needed some basis for analysis. It quickly became clear what my analysis would reveal because it was employed by so many advertisers: that the theme of this year’s Canadian Super Bowl was repetition.

The Super Bowl is one of the biggest audiences in Canada and arguably the show where the audience is most engaged with the advertisements. I think that still holds true in Canada despite the yearly platter of disappointment served to them. So there is license for advertisers to put something special out there and capitalize on the opportunity. It doesn’t need to be expensive, just interesting, entertaining, humorous or whatever.

The ads were safe, typical, standard TV-spot fare. Exacerbating that was a strategy of buying multiple slots not just in the game but often in the same quarter. In more than a handful of cases, the sheer volume of spots aired repeatedly was overkill, especially with the banality of them.

While multiple spots in a game can be fine, and often a worthy media strategy, it wasn’t used as well as it could have been. The opportunity to tell a story – something all brand advertisers needs to get better at – was almost completely missing. My spreadsheet revealed that there were many brands or companies that had at least two minutes of combined airtime, but all they did was show the same one or two spots, collect the GRPs and move on.

That’s two minutes of airtime that could have weaved a deeper story, explored an insight, involved consumers, emboldened the audience, shown the company to be caring and not faceless, spoke to how they are making Canada a better place or otherwise been anything but what they were. The oomph and impact of something meaningful was mostly absent.

The Super Bowl is an example of pure TV entertainment at its best: Television is not dead.
Todd Paterson, investment director, Starcom Canada

CTV had six hours of coverage leading up to the Hyundai Kick-off Show and the game itself was another four-plus hours. Yet despite the coverage overkill and a history of less-than-stellar play on the field, the Super Bowl continues to generate millions of TV viewers on a single night. Everybody unplug the PVR because this type of event must be seen live. Despite the negative press which television has been receiving lately, the numbers are there, TV is not dead.

Over the past few years marketers have been finding ways to divert their ad dollars from the big game and extend or move their messages from TV to digital. After years of US Super Bowl presence, Pepsi [in the US] for example, has pulled out of TV this year and invested its Super Bowl budget online. This move limits Pepsi’s ability to garner mass reach (but do they really need it?) while Coke steps into its place in the broadcast and CBS meets its sales budget.

Like most people, if the match-up between the Colts and the Saints or the halftime show lineup doesn’t impress me then I admit I’m in it for the (Canadian) ads. I’m not alone. Over 51% of the viewers according to a new study from the US Nielsen Results (based on a sample of 25,000 households in the company’s Homescan panel) said they enjoy the commercials that run during the game more than the game itself.

I’m also interested in the ads airing south of our border – what are we missing? Fortunately for me, Super Bowl ad fans can see many of the big ads on social network sites in the hours leading up to kick-off. Marketers were keen to tease or reveal new ads online before the big game to generate chatter and ‘must-see.’ Even a couple of years ago we’d have to wait for the debut of big-budget ads in the Super Bowl as marketers were notorious for keeping their ads under lock and key. Now computers and smart phones compete for time and place against television.

Which ads stood out?
• CTV used the Super Bowl as a platform to advertise their Olympic coverage at the start and finish of each commercial pod. These promotional ads are probably engaging enough to encourage you to tune in over the Olympic Games but they also explain why CTV sold out all Super Bowl inventory given the number of commercial minutes it allotted.

• Hyundai went to the Super Bowl for the first time.

• Budweiser used ads to drive viewers to Facebook where you could engage in the brand and have a social experience.

The Super Bowl is still entertainment for the masses and pure pop culture and there is only one medium that can deliver this: television.

Where’s the buzz?
Brock Leeson, media manager, Cossette Media

Back in the day the ad buzz leading up to the Super Bowl was half the excitement: ‘Michael Jordan and Larry Bird are going to be in the same commercial during the Super Bowl!?’ Nowadays, though, we’ve seen most of the spots days or weeks before the kick off, we’re even seeing ‘banned’ commercials (as if that wasn’t planned). The result is a great short-term return of free/earned media, but is the unique opportunity of creating an unfathomable amount of buzz around a 30-second spot being destroyed at the same time? How many people watch the Super Bowl for the ads? If the buzz is taken away because people have seen the spots, will the audience drop? Do stations condone this?

Of course for us Canadians, the equation still doesn’t work. It still costs too much to make a Super Bowl-specific spot compared to the people we’ll reach, even if it is the largest Canadian audience available. So yeah, we’ll buy spots and yeah it’s a quick reach, but we won’t be spending millions in production for the Super Bowl alone, which definitely puts a crimp in the media strategies and excitement around the advertising come game time here in Canada.

That being said, some new wrinkles have continued to bubble up in the strategies around the big game. The main one seems to be letting the consumer select or create the spot that runs; think the US-based Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest. Again, they give access to the spots weeks in advance, get free/earned media as a result, but this format also gains back part of the buzz factor through people still checking on what spot will run. I would look for forms of this strategy to increase as the lack of anticipation causes this unique advertising opportunity to lose its luster.