Social Media Gets Its Game On for the Super Bowl

BY Murrey Jacobson  February 4, 2011 at 6:36 PM EDT

In an age when it’s ever harder for advertisers to get their message across to mass audiences, this weekend’s Super Bowl still presents marketers with one of the best opportunities to connect with viewers. Even so, advertisers are getting ahead of the game — literally — through social media and video channels.

The use of so-called “viral marketing” isn’t new to the Super Bowl ad game. But in the days leading up to this year’s clash between the storied Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers (a game that should be ready made for NFL Films’ Steve Sabol’s epic videos), companies are trying to spread the word about their ads through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in new ways, including putting their ads out early in the hopes of generating buzz.

Volkswagen posted their ad on YouTube this week. A funny send-up and homage to Darth Vader and the original “Star Wars” movies, the ad is already getting strong buzz and starting to go viral well in advance of Sunday’s events.

And Pepsi — which will broadcast three ads during the game — asked fans to go to YouTube where they could vote on which ads from Pepsi (and its Doritos brand) would make the cut.

Here’s another posted on YouTube by Kia:

Our colleague who works on social media here at the NewsHour, Teresa Gorman, reports that Skechers is pre-promoting Kim Kardashian’s commercial here on Twitter and here on Facebook.

Some, like Audi, will incorporate these tactics into their more traditional advertising on Sunday. The automaker will become the first to place a Twitter hashtag on the ad itself.

The idea behind the social media campaigns, says Brian Steinberg, TV editor and resident Super Bowl advertising expert at Advertising Age, is “these companies want to get people talking about the ads in the days before they come on TV, maybe get people watching it ahead of time, and getting the ad itself to push people to do more, learn about it.”

“It’s all part of a longer process now of what the ad is designed to do,” he says.

Once upon a time, ad-makers wanted to create artsy commercials like Apple’s famous “1984″ ad, still considered a masterpiece in its time.

Some companies, like Coca-Cola, still aim for that kind of ad, Steinberg says. But in the last few years, “maybe it’s because of the economy, maybe it’s because there’s more pressure for these ads to drive business,” he says, but they are using social media and “they are designed to get you off the couch, go to the computer and do something. They have more of a bottom line quality to them.”

Before we lose too much perspective on the new media angle here, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that the old traditional Super Bowl packs a whole lot of punch for advertisers.

With an expected audience of more than 100 million again this year, it will probably the single most viewed event on American television this year. Ad rates are back up as well, somewhere between $2.8 and $3 million for a 30-second commercial. (BusinessInsider has a preview of many of the commercials here.)

That’s substantially higher than, say, the $1.7 million ABC is expected to ask for the Oscars. Or that a top-rated show like “American Idol” nets with something like $450,000 for a half-minute.

Moreover, says marketing professors Tim Calkins and Derek Rucker, while social media can boost sales, it’s still a long way from the reach of big-time television.

“Social media fails to guarantee that brands will reach a large number of consumers,” they write. “A look at the social media presence of many well-known brands makes the point. The Hefty brand waste bags’ Facebook page has only 66,000 fans. Windex has fewer than 3,000 fans and the Hampton Inn page has less than 2,000 fans on Facebook.”

Even so, the future of Super Bowl advertising is guaranteed to have even more social media connections. The question now is how much bang do advertisers get for their buck.

Speaking of banging and pounding, time for a quick roundup of fun links from public media for your Super Bowl weekend, courtesy of our Local/National reporter Lauren Knapp: