Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Super Bowl ad circus


The marketing mavens at had their work cut out for them. It’s getting harder and harder to achieve the real Super Bowl prize: having the network reject your ad.

But CBS handed them their touchdown this year, rejecting Lola. In a press release quickly posted on their website, GoDaddy CEO and Founder Bob Parsons said, “Of the five commercial concepts we submitted for approval this year, this never would’ve been my pick for the one that would not be approved. This is about a guy who starts an online business and hits the jackpot. I just don’t think ‘Lola’ is offensive, in fact we didn’t see this one coming –were absolutely blindsided!”

Here’s some insight: national marketers do not produce five commercials in the hopes that the network will approve one of them. They would only shoot five commercials hoping the network would REJECT one of them.

GoDaddy became the second Super Bowl ad declined this year, and the third to stir public debate.

ManCrunch, a dating site catering to gay men, was also rejected. Evidently, the CBS sales department additionally questioned the company’s ability to pay for the ad time, calling into question whether it was ever considered a viable option to air, or if the folks at ManCrunch were hoping for the wave of publicity that accompanies rejection, and the viral activity that follows. Rejection-pioneer PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) enjoyed a viral bonanza when their 2009 spot, Veggie Love, was given a pass by NBC. Other rejects from the class of 2009 included Airborn's entry, featuring a gratuitous shot of Mickey Rooney’s butt, and a particularly repugnant effort from, a website aimed at promoting extramarital affairs.

This year, many observers were stunned when Focus on the Family, a conservative religious organization that opposes abortion – as well as homosexuality, gambling (including church bingo) and premarital sex – got a green light from CBS for their Super Bowl ad entry, featuring Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. The spot reportedly tells the story of Tebow’s mother, Pam, whose doctors recommended that she have an abortion while serving as a missionary in the Philippines. Experts have questioned the veracity of the story, pointing to the fact that physicians and midwives who perform abortions in the Philippines face six years in prison, and may have their licenses suspended or revoked, and that women who receive abortions - no matter the reason - may be punished with imprisonment for two to six years. A coalition of more than 30 women’s and advocacy groups have called on CBS to pull the ad.

Why all the hoopla about commercials in the big game? It may be because the commercials are bigger than the game.

According to recent research from Nielsen on trends and effectiveness of paid Super Bowl advertising, more than half of those who tune in are watching for the commercials, not the game itself. Add in those who are watching primarily for the on-field action, but admit to an interest in the commercials as well, and you’ve got the attention of a significant percentage of the nearly 100 million Super Bowl viewers.

And with Super Bowl ads, viewership translates directly to consumer action. Super Bowl ads can boost the web traffic of the companies that run them, especially in the short term. Among all Super Bowl XLIII advertisers in 2009, overnight web traffic as measured by unique audience grew an average of 63%. Growth in unique audience from January to February 2009 grew an average of 6%.

It’s ironic, though, that the ads that are deemed the most offensive are the ones that generate the most buzz and drive the most web traffic. These are the spots that do the best job of demeaning, insulting, stereotyping and shocking. These are the spots you don’t want your kids to see.

The “Catch-22” for the networks is that by rejecting the ads (and foregoing the $2.5–3 million revenue that each spot generates), they contribute to the viral value. Online news articles and blogs that link to rejected ads generate unparalleled click-through.

The proof point? How many ads did you watch here? I know…me too.

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