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Super Bowl ad conundrum: Do early releases spoil the show?

January 22, 2013|By Meg James
  • Taco Bell's upcoming Super Bowl commercial features an 87-year-old grandfather who gives new meaning to "Viva Young."
Taco Bell's upcoming Super Bowl commercial features an 87-year-old… (Deutsch LA (Taco Bell) )

The big debate surrounding this year's Super Bowl is not whether the San Francisco 49ers should be four-point favorites but rather should advertisers release their commercials early.

In the last two years, a growing number of Super Bowl advertisers have unveiled their spots several days before the big game to build excitement on the Internet. Early releases and in some cases minute-long viral videos designed to tease to a Super Bowl commercial are strategic ploys to create an instant social media fan base — acolytes who will spread the word or better yet post a clip of the actual ad on their Facebook pages.

"But now there is a feeling that you get more bang for your buck if you hold the commercial back," brand strategist Adam Hanft said. "Last year, by the time we rolled into Super Bowl weekend, people were already tired of the spots — before the game even started."

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Advertisers are eager to get the biggest bounce possible from their sizable investments. 

CBS sold 30-second spots in this year's Super Bowl on Feb. 3 for an average $3.8 million — up 7% over last year's rate. And some marketers are ordering 60-second spots, a $7.5-million expenditure for the air time on top of the cost of production, which could add an additional $1 million-plus, to the price tag.

Advertisers are divided on whether to release their spots early, according to several interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. 

"We have been watching that debate closely," said Paul Chibe, vice president of U.S. marketing for Anheuser-Busch, the perennial leader of Super Bowl advertising. "This year there are some ads that we are going to hold back and a few that we are releasing early."

Los Angeles-based Paramount Farms is busy preparing its first Super Bowl ad for its Wonderful Pistachios brand. Last year, Paramount Farm's sister company Teleflora, released its Super Bowl commercial early — to mixed results.

But Wonderful Pistachios has a potent weapon: Psy, the South Korean rapper and Internet sensation who notched 1 billion views of his "Gangnam Style" video on YouTube.  In Wonderful Pistachio's Super Bowl ad, Psy sports a pistachio-green tuxedo jacket.

Paramount Farms hopes its ad will go viral — during the game.

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"The Super Bowl is one of our largest investments, and from a marketing standpoint we feel we can have a lot more talk value and punch" by holding back, said Marc Seguin, vice president for marketing for Paramount Farms.

"What's a better 'big reveal' than unveiling your commercial before 100 million people who are viewing it all at once?" Seguin asked. 

Mike Sheldon, chief executive of Deutsch LA, has a different view. His ad agency created much excitement last year for its "Star Wars"-themed Super Bowl commercial by releasing a minute-long teaser video, "The Bark Side," with barking dogs in "Star Wars" costumes a couple of weeks before the game.

"You'd be crazy not to release early," Sheldon said.  "There is so much excitement and attention paid to the Super Bowl prior to the game. Consumers are on to this creative arms race that we in the advertising industry have created. People are actively trying to figure out who will have the most creative spot and the most innovative digital applications."

Last week, Deutsch LA released a teaser (see above) for its upcoming Taco Bell commercial, which features a wild 87-year-old geezer taking an electric cart on a joy ride. The teaser video on YouTube already has logged nearly a quarter-million views.

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Carisa Bianchi, TBWAChiatDay president, said advertisers this year were not following one particular script. It will be more of a mixed bag, she predicted, with some releasing early with others holding back.

Anheuser-Busch's Chibe agreed.

"If all the advertisers released their ads early then the Super Bowl telecast wouldn't be special anymore," Chibe said. "It would become just another Sunday night and not the premiere event of the year on television."

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