February 3, 2012, 12:35 PM

Super Bowl ads go for the long (viral) runs

Advertisers hope YouTube and other social media will keep their Super Bowl ads alive.

Lead Photo

A scene from the Cars.com Super Bowl ad

By the time quarterbacks Eli Manning and Tom Brady hit the field yesterday for the New York Giants' and New England Patriots' face-off in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, the game’s advertisers had already been been duking it out for days on the web. And, if all goes as planned, the ads will keep rolling via social media long after memories fade of the Giants' thrilling 21-17 victory.

“It’s all about consumer engagement,” says a spokesman for Cars.com, which has previewed its Super Bowl TV ad—a humorous spot showing a car buyer in a showroom—on its Facebook page and on YouTube.com, where it has been viewed more than 100,000 times since Jan. 25. “It’s not enough to be just an advertiser anymore; it’s about consumers interacting with your ad.”

Indeed, a search on Google Friday for “Super Bowl 2012 ad” brings up listings of several ads slated to run during the game from companies including Toyota, Volkswagen and the GoDaddy Internet domain name and hosting service. All offer entertaining content—like the VW ad showing an overweight dog who puts itself on a diet so it can run with a red VW Beetle—and with links to share it through social media. A teaser for the ad has attracted more than 11 million views on YouTube and the ad itself, called “The Dog Strikes Back," more than 2 million views. Not only does VW show the ad, it also offers an entertaining video of how it made the ad, including the director giving the news to canine star Duke that he was being passed over for this spot.

The Cars.com “Confident You” Super Bowl ad—in which a duplicate image of the car buyer’s head sings words of encouragement to get him to buy a car—also includes links in the final frame to let viewers share it via Facebook and Twitter. The spokesman didn’t say how many hits the ad had already received, but noted that it will still be available on the web long after the game ends for people may have heard about it but missed it during the Super Bowl.

Advertisers, building on their experiences in extending their ad exposure through social media for last year’s Super Bowl, are taking it up a big notch this year to capitalize on the hoopla over the big game, experts say. “More Super Bowl advertisers this year have tried to extend coverage by releasing their TV spots ahead of time online,” says Mark DiMassimo, founder and CEO of DIGO Brands, a digital advertising agency.

A veteran who has watch advertising venues evolve before and through the Internet age, DiMassimo says the combination of TV and the social web have emerged as a powerful combination—particularly for mega-events like the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards that consumers like discuss on the web just as they do at the office water cooler. “Advertisers used to jealously guard their Super Bowl commercials and launch them only during the game, the idea being that people would feel disappointed if they watched the show and the commercials weren’t new to them,” DiMassimo says. “But now advertisers realize that the more important part of their Super Bowl strategy is the buzz and viral part through social media.”

173 million people will watch the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 on TV, a new record that is up from 171 million last year, according to a survey conducted by BIGInsight for the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, the advertising division of the National Retail Federation, a retail industry trade organization. In addition, 73% of those viewers say they look forward to viewing Super Bowl ads as forms of entertainment, 16.9% say the ads make them aware of an advertiser’s brand, and 8.4% say the ads influence them to buy the advertiser’s products, the survey says. Preliminary and post exposure through social online media only adds to the influence ads can have, experts say.

“Television’s influence on consumers’ purchasing decisions is clearly not suffering from the web, social and multichannel influencers,” says Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director for BIGinsight.

Advertisers are also tweaking their ads with new forms of social interaction. Cars.com, for example, is working with mobile technology provider Shazam to let TV ad viewers increase their interaction with TV ads through their smartphones. For viewers who use Shazam to interact with its ad, Cars.com will automatically donate to a particular charity chosen by the viewer.

Shazam users download a Shazam app to their smartphones, which lets them see additional information on their phone screens tied to the TV ad they’re currently viewing. As long as the TV advertiser is a Shazam client, the viewer simply has to activate her Shazam app with her smartphone near the TV screen (enabling the Shazam app to pick up audio waves, which triggers content to appear on a smartphone screen) to see additional and related information on her phone.

In the case of the Cars.com ad, Shazam users see on their phone a confirmation of the charitable donation. As such information gets shared through social media, it provides another way to interact with consumers, the Cars.com spokesman says.

In another twist, Cars.com has been experimenting in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl with a feature that could help its “Confident You” Super Bowl ad go even more viral, he adds. In a preview on its Facebook page today, Cars.com shows a “Coming Soon” attraction that would let a consumer load his own facial image to be superimposed over the actor’s face, making it appear that the consumer starred in the Super Bowl commercial. At the end of the commercial are links to instantly share the ad through Facebook and Twitter.

As of Friday, however, Cars.com was still testing the feature to see if it could run with the Confident You ad during the game on Sunday.


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