Super Bowl XLIII…The Commercial Gridiron

MiC's ad pundits had a thing or two to say about the year's biggest ad bowl.

With econ climate woes sacking the year’s biggest ad opp, this year’s Super Bowl saw few touchdowns according to MiC‘s panel of industry pros. The battle waged by marketers for the hearts and minds of Canada’s (CTV/RDI) Super Bowl viewers was decidedly down-market, say some. Others insist, recession or not, imagination is still paramount.

Mass media is alive and well, but it can work against you if not used correctly. Time to change old strategies – Helena Shelton, executive VP, director of trading, MediaCom

Mass media events are not dead. The Super Bowl attracted viewers before the main event as people logged onto the net to get a preview of the always highly anticipated Super Bowl television ads. Most people I spoke to were planning to watch the game at home or with friends or in a bar, but they were planning to watch. At the time of writing, NBC reported it sold 100% of its television spots for a record $206 million in ad revenues. As I said, mass media is alive and doing fine.

At half-time this writer went to the Internet for immediate info. Comments on US ads were fairly positive: out of the 30 ads that had run, the only real negative comments were about the 3D ads – not very 3D. Different story in Canada: blogs were all about the excessive CTV self-promotion and Olympic promotion; no comments on any ads. We kept track of all the ads aired in Canada and 21% in the first half were CTV ads for CTV programming; that figure does not include any of the numerous virtual promotions.

When it was all over, we had an exciting game with the longest play in Super Bowl history! Sites like YouTube were still collecting votes for the best Super Bowl ad and in Canada the second half was same as the first, but this time 34% of the ads aired were all about CTV. What does this tell us? CTV did not sell out of Super Bowl airtime? Don’t air the same ad or promo spot too many times, you risk being annoying?

Mass media is alive and well, but can work against you if not used correctly. Really, we only need to go to the online blogs to get a glimpse into what the general public is thinking, that’s easy. The hard part is changing old strategies.

It’s the Super Bowl in the USA, but here in Canada it’s a TV program with a big audience – Rob Young, senior VP planning services, PHD Canada

Two pitched battles took place on last night’s Super Bowl XLIII telecast: Arizona Cardinals vs. the Pittsburg Steelers, and the highly anticipated titanic struggle between televised brand messages. Well…anticipated amongst millions of American Super Bowl viewers perhaps. The battle waged by marketers for the hearts and minds of Canada’s (CTV/RDI) Super Bowl viewers was decidedly down-market. That’s because the USA telecast of the Super Bowl is, from a media buying/planning point of view, a ‘super-contextual’ vehicle. Produce a million dollar TV super-commercial, place it in a $3 million TV super-spot and just wait for the brand to achieve consumer super-cachet. The math doesn’t work here in Canada because marketers can’t afford to produce special TV super-commercials and run them in $117,000, 30-second Super Bowl avails. The whole super-contextual media buy breaks down in Canada.

So what did we see on last night’s Canadian commercial gridiron? We saw that the advertiser with the most spots in the Super Bowl was the network carrying the Super Bowl. CTV accounted for an unbelievable 20 minutes of commercial messaging, promoting BNN, TSN 2, various CTV programs and the Olympics. CTV accounted for over one third of the commercial action in the Super Bowl telecast.

There were more than football players hitting over and over again last night. Amongst the 40 minutes or so of paid commercial advertising, Petro-Canada racked up the most repetitions with five 30-second glassware spots. Did we really need a five-frequency to get that message? Wal-Mart, Subway, F-150 Ford Truck also contributed significantly to commercial fatigue with 4+ airings over the four and a half hour football extravaganza.

The majority of the paid commercials in the Super Bowl had aired somewhere prior to their Sunday evening appearance. The notable ‘premieres’ included three fun, big Bud horse 60-second units; new, sexually oriented Go Daddy and Autohound occasions; and what appeared to be a layman-made Doritos Chip spot that proves commercials should only be handled by professionals.

And so another Super Bowl has come and gone. This one left me feeling a bit empty. It’s the Super Bowl in the USA, but here in Canada it’s a TV program with a big audience.

Take advantage of CRTC regulations and recognize a good deal when you see it – there’s a lot more innovation left to go – Sean MacPhedran, director, creative strategy, Fuel Industries

The most interesting thing about the Super Bowl ads, I noticed, had nothing to do with the creative, but the awkward cultural cleave that separates Canadians from Americans. It’s perfectly illustrated by the case of Pepsi’s new logo. Promoted in the US spot with Bob Dylan and, the old logo remained in the hilarious Canadian ‘Recess’ spot crafted by BBDO Toronto.

Similarly with Doritos, amusing US spots were created by fans as part of an online competition, while a Canadian spot announces a competition to name and develop a spot for a new flavour. From there, the contrast grows even more stark, as original Canadian creative was limited. While American consumers feasted on slick new ads like a Statham short for Audi, I watched a DRTV style Lanacane pitch where an elderly woman moisturizes her hands.

Why aren’t Canadian advertisers leveraging the event to its fullest potential?

Last year 4.2 million Canadians tuned in to the Super Bowl, likely just as interested in what advertisers would pull out of their magic hat as our friends to the south. But with CRTC regulations being what they are, consumers had to go online to view most of the US spots. And they did, just as they will over the next week. Canadian reporters will rank the US ads, our editors will debate them, and our consumers will chat about them around the coffee machine – as well as on Facebook, Twitter and every other social media channel.

While the industry might reward itself at Cannes and the CMAs, this is the night where consumers – the only award jury that really matters – are paying rapt attention. They’re willing to follow our white rabbits to see where they go. For once, they actually want to listen. It’s not only about the reach, but their level of engagement.

Other experiments included SoBe’s 3D spot that, while interesting for its innovation, felt pretty much like previous efforts (which seem to be working). Gatorade rolled out an online entertainment channel with ‘G’ – my personal feeling is that online entertainment needs to be a pillar of advertising strategy, so I will keep my fingers crossed that they continue to support this. The online content is great so far and the site is easy to navigate, unlike some brands’ previous attempts to hide content behind layers of overly complicated Flash navigation. Pepsi used the time to promote their new branding with a celebrity blockbuster, driving traffic to a viral series online featuring comedian Will Arnett – again, excellent online content that surpassed the spot for entertainment value by far.

But it wasn’t all about flashy innovation. Some advertisers went back to first principles and focused on their product and messaging, making simple and timely statements reflecting the economic times. Brilliant and effective at this were Hyundai’s new ‘Assurance’ program, which promises that a purchaser can return the car if they lose their job. Avon remembered that women are watching too – and came through with a message that those who sell Avon can’t get fired or laid off. The spots won’t win awards, but I guarantee they’re both going to be incredibly effective.

Hopefully next year more Canadian advertisers take advantage of the CTRC regulations and recognize a good deal when they see it. The opportunities for experimenting with all forms of media – not just the TV spot itself – around the Super Bowl is incredible, and there’s a lot more innovation left to go.

Canadian brands aren’t working with the same budgets as their US counterparts and the execution proves it – Jeff Greenspoon, account director, Hooplah

We thought that we’d finally be in for a treat this Super Bowl Sunday – maybe the commercials would be fresh, exciting and different. We sat through each of the breaks waiting and waiting. But halfway through the XLII’s first quarter, no one even bothered to pay attention. Canadian brands aren’t working with the same budgets as their US counterparts and the execution proves it. Recession or not, imagination is still paramount.

There were, nonetheless, a few bright spots that caught our attention and created conversation. These ads extended the messaging in their commercials by driving viewers to the web. Brands like, Kia and Disney were able to leverage this most successfully.

-A visit to revealed a Super Bowl-branded home page, with extended versions of the commercial online.

-Kia’s spot left everyone asking, ‘What was that for?’ (Genuinely curious, someone ran for the laptop to check it out. Lo and behold, a Kia microsite with alternate versions of the commercial and supplementary buying information).

-Disney asked viewers to watch a special preview of its new movie UP; leading us to a rebranded with integrated creative and a quick fulfillment of the video touted in the TV ad.

-Doritos’ attempt to launch a UGC campaign during the big game wasn’t all bad. That is, until we went onto the website. It’s just a splash page with a link to watch the commercial again. The contest doesn’t open for two weeks! Who knows if users will care to come back?

The Super Bowl remains an attractive platform by which to connect with the 18- to 45-year-old demographic groups, with practical lifestyle branding leading the charge. Unfortunately, as Canadian viewers, the ads are still the same old ads. And until that changes, the post-game chatter will be the same each year, ‘When will they just syndicate the US ads?’