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What would you do with $2.5 million?

What would you do with $2.5 million? Brad Berens

With the Super Bowl just around the corner, I've found myself having similar conversations with brand marketers, agencies technology providers and others -- all ending with a statement something like: "2.5 million dollars for one :30! What a waste! Just imagine what I could do if I could take that money and apply it somewhere else."

So I reached out to a group of industry players, asking them to dig a little deeper and think about what they'd actually do with the money. How would they use it? And why is it a better ROI than a thirty second spot on the Super Bowl? Do they each have a general take, or -- knowing the brands that are likely to advertise -- particular advice for a specific brand?

Here is a partial list of brands currently expected to have Super Bowl ads: American Home, Ameriquest, AT&T, Bayer, Budweiser, Buena Vista, Burger King, Cadillac, CareerBuilder, Coke, Degree, Dove, Emerald Nuts, ESPN, FedEx, Ford, Gillette, GoDaddy, Nationwide, New Line, Pepsi, Pizza Hut, Sony Pictures, Sprint, Subway and Warner Brothers.

I'm pleased to present 28 answers to the Super Bowl questions. As you click through what follows, you should know that we've listed responses by category first and then alphabetically by the writer's last name.

Our industry experts include:

    Brand Marketers

  • Ian Beavis, VP Marketing, PR & Product Planning, Kia Motors America

  • Kirk Iwanowski, SVP, Marketing, Sundance Channel

  • Gordon Paddison, EVP, Integrated Marketing, New Line Cinema


  • Reid Carr, President, Red Door Interactive

  • Sarah Fay, U.S. President, Isobar

  • Gay Warren Gaddis, President and CEO, T3 (The Think Tank)

  • Jeff Lanctot, VP and GM, Avenue A/Razorfish

  • Elias Plishner, VP of Digital Marketing, Universal McCann

    Agencies, continued

  • Tony Quin, CEO, IQTV

  • John Ragals, Managing Director, 360i

  • Doug Schumacher, President/Creative Director, Basement, Inc.

  • Mark Silva, Principal and Founder, Real Branding

  • David L. Smith, CEO, Mediasmith, Inc.

  • Cory Treffiletti, SVP, Engagement Architect, Carat Fusion


  • Michael Barrett, EVP, AOL Media Networks

  • Aaron Cohen, CEO, Bolt Media

  • Cameron Death, Dir., Branded Entertainment & Experiences, Microsoft Corporation

  • Mark Friedler, CEO and co-founder of Gigex, Inc./GameDAILY

  • Peter Horan, CEO, AllBusiness.com

  • Peter Naylor, SVP, Sales, iVillage

  • Matt Wasserlauf, President and CEO, Broadband Enterprises

    Technology Providers

  • Matt Arkin, SVP Advertising Sales, TACODA

  • John Battelle, Founder and Chairman, Federated Media

  • Adam Gerber, VP of Ad Products and Strategy, BrightCove

  • Jeff Weitzman, President and COO, Coupons.com

    Thought Leaders

  • Andy Sernovitz, President, Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA)

  • George Simpson, President, George Simpson Communications

  • Doug Weaver, President, Upstream Group

Author Notes:
Brad Berens is executive editor of iMedia Communications, Inc.


Reid Carr
Red Door Interactive

That is a tough one for me to answer because I believe in the Super Bowl as a fabulous place either to catapult a brand or to cultivate icon status for some of our already popular brands.

Where else do you captivate 90 million Americans by commercials that are almost more exciting than the game? The Super Bowl features ads that are not intrusive, but part of the overall experience.

That special Sunday, DVRs stand idle and hours of broadcast time are dedicated to critiquing and even replaying those commercials. Printed periodicals highlight the best and the worst for weeks, while websites emerge either to lambaste or to praise the day's showing. Everyone talks about the ads -- love them, or hate them.

If done well, brands can establish themselves and extend the media buy to Monday water coolers and advertising Hall of Fame status; if done poorly, it is $2.5 million down the drain with brand or product names forgotten before the fourth quarter.

So, if you are going to spend the media money, all I can recommend is that you spend the equivalent of the media cost in supporting the buy with outstanding and entertaining creative, as well as with both web and public relations support. Then, closely measure web traffic, capture customer information and work hard to retain those users through vehicles such as email or mobile marketing. I guess my point is that if you can't spend $5 million or more, don't bother spending $2.5 million (and I would hope that you could at least buy more than one spot).

If I had a brand that had broad market appeal and could produce a cohesive, coordinated campaign that would draw users in with a variety of media, I would definitely support buying the Super Bowl :30. A great ancillary benefit is that you'd probably get tickets to the game, see the Rolling Stones in-person and let your co-workers fill you in on the commercials the next day.

Sarah Fay
U.S. President

Depending on the goal of an advertising campaign, $2.5 million can either stretch over a long time period, delivering constant measured returns, or it can be used to pack a punch, hopefully elevating a brand's awareness and favorability with consumers in a short period of time.

Obviously, a 30 second spot on the Super Bowl is meant to achieve the latter objective, and the operative word is "hopefully." Advertisers will pay the ungodly sum of $2.5 million per 30 second spot because the Super Bowl offers the largest guaranteed audience of the year who actually pay attention to the ads. This alone does not justify the price, unless the spot breaks through, and generates viral activity, such as word of mouth. As we all know, it is not possible for this to happen with every ad that airs during the Super Bowl, or even half of them. So in order to make the Super Bowl worth it, an advertiser needs to "win" by popular opinion. If $2.5 million is a substantial part of your advertising budget, achieving this objective is akin to that "Hail Mary" long bomb pass at the end of the game. Good chance you will miss. If your brand is a relative unknown compared to the standard Super Bowl pack, make it 90 percent on missing that catch.

How about this? Instead of paying a premium for the biggest audience you can hit with one ad, try zeroing in on the target audience that is most likely to be receptive to your brand. The target, "Males 18 to 49" is very broad. You should understand which segments within that target will generate the most business for you.

Beyond demographics, what are their behaviors, motivations, and beliefs? When you identify an audience segment that is right for your brand, you can create relevant messaging that will allow your campaign to break through and engage that audience.

My advice is to take that $2.5 million and make sure it contributes to a central communication idea that plays out in multiple mediums that target high performing audience segments. It has been proven time and time again that advertising in a single medium is not as effective as two or more together. A coordinated program that meshes a combination of TV, print, and outdoor with digital can deliver:

  • Impact, by encountering the target audience in many places. Multiple formats increase frequency while maintaining the campaign's freshness and elements of surprise.

  • Involvement: By integrating digital campaign elements (online advertising, search, mobile, iTV, website, email) with traditional formats, consumers are given the opportunity to interact with a brand, and become engaged beyond message delivery. This gives the marketer more time with the consumer, and ultimately a better opportunity to be remembered.

  • Activation: By combining offline "push messaging" with digital interactivity you can "close the sale" by inviting the consumer to buy, sign up, enter to win, or participate. Advertising campaigns that produce direct sales can be cash positive right out of the gate. But even if your business model isn't right for selling direct, you can use campaign efforts to activate interest, and build a database of customers who invite you to communicate with them in the future.

Can a $2.5 million 30 second Super Bowl spot play a role in such a program? Sure...as long as the budget allows it to be just that - a contributing role within a much bigger communications program. But if that spot is relied upon too heavily as a stand alone strategy and a shortcut to branding and sales, it is almost sure to disappoint.

Gay Warren Gaddis
President and CEO
T3 (The Think Tank)

This is like Monday morning quarterbacking way before Monday morning, but it's the kind of big question clients and agencies should be asking themselves.

First of all, there's great reason to invest $2.5 million in the Super Bowl.

It's the only time to get that reach. It's also the only time that a vast audience is actively involved in watching commercials. At the same time, they're also actively critiquing them. If you hit a home run, you get buzz. If you strike out, public ridicule. If you're in the middle of the commercial bell curve, you're burning $83,333 a second for being largely ignored.

So what else should advertisers do?

Make that $2.5 million work harder. We're curious to see how many spots drive people to immersive online experiences, rather than just 30 seconds of set-up, funny payoff and client logo. That could turn a half-minute of attention into a half hour of engagement. (Imagine the online experience that would support Apple's "1984" if it debuted in 2006 -- a long-form version of the spot, interviews with Steve Jobs, a "making of" video, dynamic product demonstrations -- viral components.)

Zag. Brands like Bud Light thrive on the talk value of winning the Super Bowl -- but not every brand has that personality. If you're not out there to entertain or if you don't have something big to say (Monster.com "When I Grow Up"), get out of the shouting match of the Super Bowl.

Instead, take what is more like $4 million ($2.5 in media plus another $1.5 for production) and put it into an online experience that generates a deeper engagement with a more select group of individuals -- something people will spend minutes with, visit again, and forward into their social networks (adding the credibility of a personal endorsement). For that budget, you can build one amazing online experience with video, audio, games, transactional elements, talk value, and media support. You'll make a deeper impression. You'll leave change on the table, too.

Jeff Lanctot
Vice President and General Manager
Avenue A, Razorfish (an operating unit of aQuantive)

Live events like the Super Bowl are like a trip down memory lane for advertisers. It's a moment in time where they can forget about media fragmentation, time-shifting and distracted consumers. For the luxury of that escapism, advertisers are willing to pay more and more every year. And each year they find memory lane a bit more crowded. This year advertisers will hope that their message will be heard over the din of monkeys in suits, talking dogs, pop stars selling pizza, Fabio hawking insurance and Mr. Spock popping pain pills.

Does that make buying a Super Bowl spot wrong? Not necessarily. It's one of the last big marketing events the industry has. For a few short hours, all eyes are on the game. And for a few short days, we'll all discuss the merits of the ads shown; surely there is some value in that Super Bowl halo. But the game ends, audiences disperse, and it's back to the new media reality. That new reality is a shock to the system -- new consumer behaviors, rapidly changing technologies and massive fragmentation. Too many advertisers see that landscape and act like a would-be dieter reaching for a last slice of pizza. "Next year will be the year we really commit to digital…but how about one more Super Bowl spot first?" It's not a Super Bowl ad in support of a digital strategy; it's a Super Bowl ad in place of one.

So what is a brand advertiser to do with $2.5 million media dollars online? Start with a bipolar branding strategy that hits the big properties as well as niche sites and blogs. Take advantage of Yahoo!'s massive reach, but also use their smart targeting products to make your message more relevant. Buy MSN's homepage, and blanket their video section as well. Take over ESPN the day after the Super Bowl. Own Fox Sports for the World Cup. Get a piece of CBS Digital's live online broadcast of all NCAA tournament games. Make an impact with a rich media ad on Weather.com. Launch a search campaign.

Then roll up your sleeves and start digging a little deeper. Find those sites and blogs that are off the beaten path. You're not going to find the reach of big properties, but you'll find small pockets of influencers. If your ads can stand up to the like of Fabio and Mr. Spock during the Super Bowl, surely they'll be popular enough to generate some viral buzz online. Drop those spots onto the long tail and set 'em free.

Support all of this with good research to figure out what your customers really want (and what they do) online. Track every one of these efforts so you know what worked and what didn't; advertisers who do are that much smarter next campaign.

There are lots of options in the new digital world, and a Super Bowl spot is still a reasonable one. Advertisers should just hope their spot isn't running late in a game where the Seahawks are up by 21 at halftime. That's like spending $2.5 million on a trip to memory lane, only to find a detour sign.

Elias Plishner
Vice President of Digital Marketing
Universal McCann

The efficiency of a Super Bowl spot can be best evaluated using some simple math. In 2005, Nielsen reported that the Super Bowl posted a 41.1 national rating, which converts to just over 86 million TV viewers. Good news for advertisers has been the emergence of this national platform, not only to showcase the best football teams in the country, but also the best (and most expensive) advertising. comScore reported that 28 percent of Super Bowl viewers watch the game for the commercial spots alone -- this transforms to 18 percent of male viewers, and 38 percent of female viewers who actually prefer the ads to the game itself.

Still assuming that 100 percent of the viewers watch the entire game and all 59 booked commercial spots (no bathroom or beer breaks allowed), you can still prove that the $2.5 million for a TV spot is way over-priced. Doing simple media math, this transforms to just over a $29 CPM.

So what would I do with the money instead? Well I would be a hypocrite (and not a good digital marketing evangelist), if I did not offer the web and streaming media as an alternative.

Broadband now accounts for over 80 percent of loaded page views on the web, so you can be sure that your video experience is top notch. With $2.5 million, I could transform a Super Bowl spot into a much more efficient web buy. Taking the top five sports sites alone (ESPN, NFL.com, Fox Sports, Yahoo Sports and AOL Sports), you could spread the cost over the course of a week, run rich media streaming :30 spots, and reach just over 17 Million people with 43.7 Internet Rating Points.

But everyone knows that today's Super Bowl has nothing to do with Sports anymore - especially when it comes to advertising. It's a mass marketing vehicle, which works for some advertisers, but can be an ultimate amount of waste for another. For example, if you are trying to reach Males age 18-34, Nielsen reports that 23 million viewers in that demo watched the Super Bowl last year. This translates to a $105 targeted CPM for a $2.5 Million TV Spot.

Instead, use the targeted nature of the internet, and serve ads, streamed with the same TV spot, targeted to your exact demographic. Based on conservative current rates for streaming media, this translates to over 125 Million Impressions for the cost of the same Super Bowl Spot - which is well over five times the number of ad impressions than that untargeted Super Bowl TV Spot.

Less Waste, More Efficiency, Better Results -- That's what it's all about.

Next: More from the Agencies


Tony Quin

OK, a $2.5 million spot on the Super Bowl. That’s maybe 67 million 30 second impressions with bathroom breaks. Mmmm…we worked on a special website for Royal Caribbean -- www.freedomoftheseas.com -- that cost way less than that (we could have taken the entire readership of iMedia Connection to Mexico for a week with what we had left over!). So far over 1.5 million people have spent an average of 8.5 minutes with it. That’s the average, so I presume some people actually moved in.

Now if I had that $2.5 million I would take $1 mm, oh… call it $1.5mm, and create the most extraordinary web experience anyone has ever seen. It would be an experience that engages the viewer with a rich, compelling content experience that actually moves them through the value proposition for the brand, without them even knowing it. It would take people that arrive because of a curiosity click and immerse them in the experience of the brand, engaging them in increments, while building the bricks of the value proposition one on top of another. Before they know it, they would understand dramatically more about the product than anyone can communicate in 30 seconds.

All of us have to really understand a product’s value proposition before we buy anything, and since many products have complex value propositions, you absolutely need time to get the whole message across. The web is the only place you can get that time. And now with the creative limitations of the web falling away, thanks to the rise of broadband, we can engage prospects with a depth, breadth and individual relevance that no other medium can touch.

The other million? I would buy that Alpaca farm I’ve had my eye on. No, wait, that’s if I win the lottery. No…I would, of course, use the rest of the money to buy rich media web ads. Ads with the simple job of driving a curiosity click straight to my client’s engaging and persuasive website.

John Ragals
Managing Director

Super Bowl ads are a great opportunity to generate awareness among a mass audience. With many viewers watching as much for the ads as for the game, the Super Bowl is a great (and rare) opportunity to generate awareness and make an impact among a mass audience in television in today’s age of DVRs. This is especially true for brand marketers with large budgets who can afford this opportunity. However, for marketers that need to optimize their media budgets, starting at the bottom of the purchase funnel makes more sense.

Digital advertising that efficiently inserts the marketer’s message directly in the path of the consumer seeking out that information should be maximized first. And search engine marketing is often the most efficient means of reaching those hand-raisers that are interested in your product or service now. Take your hypothetical insurance company that sells policies online for $1,500 per year (I live in N.Y.). Assuming an average cost per click (CPC) of $2 and a conversion rate of two percent, they would generate $37.5 million in premium sales on that $2.5 million spend.

Not a bad directly measurable return on marketing investment.

But that ready-to-buy pool of prospects is only so big. There are only so many people seeking an insurance policy “today.” As diminishing returns are realized, marketers should feed that pool by extending their campaigns to researchers who are interested, but perhaps not quite ready to buy. While many of these researchers may be using search engines, additional reach can be obtained via behavioral targeting, comparison shopping advertising and highly targeted (such as lead-back targeting) advertising opportunities.

When brand awareness and brand consideration becomes the objective, online media campaigns can be an effective way to reach the target audience with a banner or rich media ad that delivers impact. Mass reach can be obtained through portals and ad network buys. Targeted reach is achievable for a fraction of the cost of the Super Bowl spot by purchasing high-index web properties with the added bonus of instantly measurable sales results.

Doug Schumacher
President/Creative Director
Basement, Inc.

The concept of shooting a $2.5 million wad in 30 seconds does seem pretty reckless. However, I’ll concede that for certain mass market products with hefty marketing budgets, there comes a point where you simply need scale. I’d also contend that relative to many TV buys, the Super Bowl offers considerably more value, again, for the right product.


  • The entertainment value of Super Bowl advertising is mass culture. People from all walks of life pay attention to the ads.

  • It’s virtually TiVo-proof. Practically everyone who ever sees the game sees it live.

  • The press value alone of a good spot during the game is a remarkable value-add.

  • Ads during the game have a big impact on the original newsgroup, the water cooler.

At this point in time, I don’t think too many people would argue that building strong relationships with and among your customers is something every marketer should be striving for. And there’s also little doubt that the online space is the most valuable tool for building these relationships, both between the company and its customers and among the customers themselves.

So the viral, word-of-mouth potential of Super Bowl advertising actually synchs quite well with the community capabilities of the web.

I’d just argue that most of the advertisers are approaching the process backwards.

They spend their initial efforts creating a great spot, and then maybe, some of them will put up an online experience that tries to leverage that buzz. What they should be doing is spending their first dollar trying to build a great community experience online, and then use the Super Bowl to kick start it.

Any company behind a great Super Bowl commercial has their audience in the palm of their hand. They’ve broken through the barrier of cynicism. The people they’ve been spending so much money to rub elbows with are talking favorably about them. Their potential customers are more primed for business that at any other point.

And it’s at this point that most of these companies fumble the ball.

What I’d recommend is that they start by spending their first dollar online.

Developing communities around their products. Once there’s a strong community platform to build on, then break out the Super Bowl spot to spike the punch.

Great Super Bowl commercials generate a remarkable amount of buzz. And online is the perfect place to leverage it. But because the online component offers the most potential for a real ongoing community, it has to be the one calling the plays.

Mark Silva
Principal and Founder
Real Branding

The media buy is just one component of this initiative. Most of these advertisers will have online components that extend the engagement and ROI. We believe driving viewers online is a big part of harvesting the massive reach offered by the Super Bowl event. Some creative approaches to ensure online reception from offline activities are:

  • cliffhangers -- like Mitsubishi's "See What Happens" prior Super Bowl spot

  • titillation -- like go-daddy or Victoria's Secret

  • extended value -- music and entertainment downloads with real or social currency value

  • character development -- like the Amex Ellen ads, Terry Tates, et cetera.

For the most part, we see companies still treating the digital channel as an after thought or add-on versus leading or being central to the core idea. At these prices however, the days of digital after-thinking are coming to an end.

So, if your challenge was to spend $2.5 million more effectively, I'd argue that for some advertisers looking to go mass fast this may be a good media investment. And, they should have an extra 50 percent or better to execute their message dramatically across all their consumer touchpoints to leverage the investment.

On the same point, in an article last week in the Wall Street Journal ("Budweiser Pulls Out Super Bowl Gimmicks," January 25, 2006), Marlene Coulis, VP Brand Management at Anheuser-Busch makes a great point that the Super Bowl is actually an advertising event with social networking level pickup in the real world around water coolers the following week. The TiVo activity, ad avoidance, leaving the room dynamics you see across other events and shows doesn't happen with the Super Bowl. Plus you get the added bonus of peer discussion after viewing. That argues recall and consideration benefits are higher than nearly any other event or medium.

Sounds a lot like the online dynamic the rest of the year, doesn't it?

David L. Smith
Mediasmith, Inc.

Assuming availability, I would kick off the plan with takeovers of AOL, MSN and Yahoo Home pages. I would supplement this with home page takeovers of the 5 to 15 most important sites for the target. I would add $100,000 of branded search with Google and 40 to 50 TRPs in cable, all in one day. Much more impact than a Super Bowl spot.

Cory Treffiletti
Senior Vice President, Engagement Architect
Carat Fusion

$2.4 million is an awful lot of money to spend on one commercial, even if it is the only remaining mass-media event in existence; the Super Bowl is really all that’s left. It aggregates the largest audience of any single media event; it offers an amazing opportunity to introduce a new product from an existing brand that is easily recognized by said mass-audience, and it’s an enviable source of press generation for any marketer.

But is it really worth it?

Maybe. If you want to introduce a new product from an existing brand, it’s the best way to do it and I would spend that money. If you have a new product that is not easily defined or hasn’t been introduced in some other form of media first, then I would stay away.

For a Super Bowl ad to be effective, it must resonate, and for it to resonate you have to create a moment of “a-ha” or a moment of epiphany. There needs to be an instance where the user says, “Oh, I’ve heard about that product.”

If the Super Bowl is your first introduction, then it’s going to have a hard time being effective. You need to start teasing the brand before the Super Bowl with search or print or some other means of getting the name of your product seeded into the mind of the consumer. It needs to have some basis for becoming familiar in order to be considered effective.

All that being said, if you have an existing brand and you want to do an introduction to a large audience, then the Super Bowl is certainly the way to go. I’d spend there if I knew that I had a large budget to work with. It’s the only one of its kind that remains!

Next: Publishers


Michael Barrett
Executive Vice President
AOL Media Networks

Marketers have used :30 second spots in the Super Bowl predominantly as a vehicle to cume a huge audience. Last year, the Super Bowl on TV reached approximately 86 million people with a 31 rating, down nine percent versus 10 years ago (Nielsen Media Research Feb 2005, Feb 1996). Marketers typically translate that reach into engagement by generating the most creative spots possible.

Forgetting about the formal measure of ROI, a Super Bowl ad is a success if it creates “water cooler talk.” The ultimate victory: Letterman, Katie, and the local newscaster are talking about it the next day. And the drivers against that measure of success are creativity and shock factor.

But, the question is: is that real engagement? Or is simply a buzz-worthy stunt? And, can you achieve the same reach but drive more engagement and more relevance to consumers through other media strategies?

There is no question that the broadcast medium can deliver reach quickly and have immediate impact. It’s a critical element of the overall media mix. But, let’s take a look at what $2.5 million might do in the online environment and see where we can potentially push the ball further.

Here are some of the key differentiators looking at online in comparison to a television Super Bowl ad:

  • Creativity. If creativity drives buzz, then we want to take full advantage of the possibilities. Online not only enables us to use video creative in :15 and :30 formats, but it also enables us to bring it to life, adding new dimensions to brands and characters. And, because online advertising isn’t delivered in a linear, back-to-back commercial environment, there is so more opportunity for creativity to stand apart in an uncluttered experience.

  • Interaction. Interactivity is, of course, the quintessential differentiator of online. But interactivity goes beyond the simple concept that the consumer can “click” on the ad. The online medium enables consumers to participate with the marketer’s brand, to express it as their own and to share it with their own social network.

  • Participation. For a marketer, a participatory medium means that advertising can go beyond just “creating buzz” -- the advertising interaction can make online the “place of buzz,” truly creating dialogue around a brand, service, or products activating user-generated content and social networks.

  • Getting the dollars to work harder for marketers. A $2.5 million dollar campaign online not only cumes an audience equal to or greater than the Super Bowl, but it can also add continuity and frequency to drive impact, extending beyond 30 seconds of fame.

  • Accountability. Another key advantage of the medium is its measurability. Marketers can take their online advertising and through ad effectiveness studies immediately translate performance into specific measures of key objectives like branding lift or offline sales for a consumer packaged goods advertiser, for example.

$2.5 million on AOL Media Networks can reach approximately 90 million uniques (and that’s U.S. reach -- not just internet reach) with a 5.6 frequency 90 (comScore Media Metrix Reach and Frequency Dec 2005, Internal AOL analysis), neck and neck with the 86 million people who saw the Super Bowl last year.

But again, high impact marketing must go beyond high reach buzz to drive engagement and relevance for brands. Online is the medium best poised to deliver those objectives within the specific context of a marketer’s business goals.

Let’s take a quick look of some of the strategies and tactics that might make that $2.5 million go beyond just buzz (and they all can be tailored to execute on different marketing strategies and objectives):

  • Home page video ad takeover. Using some of the highest reach vehicles on the our network like AOL’s Welcome Screen, AOL.com, Netscape, MapQuest, and AIM, AOL can take the video creative of brands who typically advertise in the Super Bowl and run the video commercials as high impact stunts through top layer rich media technologies. This past January, we took :10 creative from Intel for their Viiv brand and ran it across all editorial and advertising windows of the AOL.com home page forming a multi-screen video wall effect.

  • Bringing the characters and brand to life. We can then extend the interaction by bringing the brand or characters to life. Imagine if the Budweiser Frogs were icons you could use to express yourself in the buddy list on AIM complete with sound effects…or if they had AIM screen names that you could IM or email to get preprogrammed humorous responses…or if they were the guest VJ on our music video countdown show…or if they had their own radio station on AOL Radio…or if you could go to AOL Journals to read their blogs...or you could download their podcast…

  • Participation. To take the “buzz” factor of Super Bowl and extend it, imagine if the home page video ad takeover were extended with a ticker that ran across all the channels of AOL.com. Just before Christmas, AOL ran a Holiday Wishlist ticker sponsored by Target where users could post their wishes for all the world to see. If we think about a brand like Dove, who often advertises in the Super Bowl, they could express their platform around real people and enable that broad self expression across our entire network through the ticker.

  • Local activation. To complement the national buzz, we can activate a local component by integrating the promotion through properties like MapQuest, City Guide, movie showtimes, and our Weather listings to bring the concept home. Big Super Bowl advertisers like Pizza Hut, Nationwide, Subway, Pizza Hut, Cadillac or Ford could integrate store or dealer locators as well as local promotions.

  • Deep Vertical Integration. To drive even more relevance for advertisers, we can complement high reach plays with deep integration within a passion point of the target audience. If music is highly relevant to the brand, the brand can be infused into a highly interactive, next generation experience like Top 11 Countdown, where the flash programming enables us to do triggered events on the screen or enables consumers to adopt branded skins from advertisers, as we’ve done recently for brands like Verizon, Coke or Motorola Razr.

The bottom line is that $2.5 million is a tremendous opportunity to not only deliver reach, but engagement and relevance, and online is well poised to help a broad base of consumers to make the brand their own.

Aaron Cohen
Bolt Media

If you can make an ad that positively engages the media I think the Super Bowl is a tremendous advertising vehicle. Better than a bunch of Yahoo home pages or 250,000 clicks on Google. The media rehashes these ads for two or three days after the game, giving you much bigger bang. The remote doesn't get used during the Super Bowl; the audience heightens their awareness, and TiVo is a non-factor -- unless Mick and Keith plan a clothing surprise (shudder).

Cameron Death
Director, Branded Entertainment and Experiences Team
Microsoft Corporation

It’s naïve to call $2.5M for one spot an entire waste -- the mix will always require high-impact media at its base, and it’s premature to say broadcast impact has eroded to the level of imperceptible return that many have stated in the past 12 months.

That said, as marketers we have to get away from measuring Super Bowl impact purely by the level of buzz we drive in the ad trades the day after the game -- that’s not consumer marketing, it’s trade PR; and I often question which of those two factors is leading the decision.

And $83,000 a second? I’d personally have a hard time approving that when, in the literal blink of the collective eye, the buy poses a risk of losing all impact.

So what would I do with the $2.5M? It may sound like Marketing 101 (and perhaps we should commit to dusting off those textbooks for 2006), but we’ve got to create opportunities for consumers to have longer-term and deeper involvement with the brand in an environment where there is an equal exchange of value.

As marketers at MSN, we’ve created opportunities to reach consumers at volumes far greater than the Super Bowl, engaging them for periods measured in dozens of minutes, not fractions of seconds and that live for months, not during a bathroom break on February 5.

We’ve seen repeated success in developing immersive and rewarding experiences for consumers -- destinations that they depart from with a feeling that the brand created true value for them.

And that value cannot be defined or measured as a stifled laugh at the punch line of a :30.

With the online medium, we have the luxury of building immersive experiences that can truly provide value over an extended period of time for the consumer. I’m not referring to a banner on a page, but instead the ability to create a destination that’s memorable to the consumer, impacts the brand and leaves the consumer satiated by the experience.

When was the last time you, as a consumer, felt satiated by a :30?

And (and here’s where the proverbial “magic” happens), when done well consumers choose to return, choose to engage deeper with the content, choose to learn more about the brand and chose to become advocates.

Today, the Super Bowl :30 still holds its canonical place in the advertising scriptures. However, the value and return on creating a longer-term online dialogue and deeper involvement with the brand at the same level of scale that truly creates an equal exchange of value with the consumer is something any responsible marketer looking to create buzz in the marketing trades the day-after coverage should move to the top of their priorities.

And, if you still have questions about what to do with you $2.5M, put a call into your MSN Account Executive; they’d be only too happy to assist!

Mark Friedler
CEO and co-founder
Gigex, Inc./GameDAILY

With $2.5 million we could buy four small companies, hire six more people and build out four key areas of functionality on our site. The result would be increasing our traffic and user base by eight million unique users and probably generating an additional $4 million of annual revenue. I'll be happy to speak with an advertiser about an investment opportunity instead of blowing that money in 30 seconds!

Peter Horan

It's crazy time in the media marketplace again. Super Bowl ads have topped $2.5 million, and some of America's best known companies including Ford, Budweiser and Sony Pictures have stepped up to buy seats on the fifty yard line.

But all they're buying is good tickets to a bad show.

Most big companies are seriously over-invested in television-- especially network TV. Americans are spending more time on focused cable networks and the internet-- but media budgets don't reflect this. Madison Avenue is lagging Main Street by five years or more. (To understand this phenomenon better, check out the new Middletown research study by Dr. Robert Papper of Ball State University).

If I was a Ford share holder, in particular, I'd question this "investment" at a time when the company is laying off 30,000 workers to be more efficient.

But $2.5 million isn't much to change the fate of Ford or most of the other advertisers. To have maximum impact, I would give each company a brain transplant. I'd use the money to hire an all-star team of the smartest people I could find on search engine marketing, new media, and web publishing and support them for two years. I'd give them the organizational mandate to overhaul my complete marketing program and make my company the smartest marketer in our industry.

And then, I'd send out for a pizza and watch the Super Bowl on television.

Peter Naylor
Senior Vice President, Sales

First, I would spend money on incremental training for our employees (sales training, management training, negotiation training, you name it). When you invest in people's skill sets they reward you with productivity and loyalty. Next, an investment in a set of research projects that would bring us new insights about our audience that we could share with our customers to help make them successful. Finally, I'd sponsor programs with every regional interactive media association in the country. Those groups are full of people who are dedicated to our industry and they deserve support.

Matt Wasserlauf
President and CEO
Broadband Enterprises

The timing of that question is particularly good for those lending an informed eye to the streaming video space. Broadband is the place to go with a $2,500,000 budget if you are a major brand advertiser for three reasons.

First, broadband delivers return on investment. Every impression is clickable and interactive -- while the same impression on TV is not. We are seeing clickthrough rates across The Broadband Enterprises Network hover around two percent. That’s return!

Second, broadband offers major brand marketers the option to use the same powerful and emotive video spot they use on-air, online-- to a captive audience. Our audience is tuned in and getting the message.

Lastly, the broadband medium, while still growing at a rapid rate, has the critical mass for a major marketer to move into with a TV budget. 100,000,000 viewers are watching broadband and consuming roughly 4 billion streams per month. For your $2.5 million, a marketer can capture an 18 percent share of voice across the entire Broadband medium for the entire week of the Super Bowl. That’s not only a beneficial reach, but also an optimal frequency.

Rather than one and done in the Super Bowl, this powerful video message will garner a longer life, reaching a lot of captive users that can now click on, learn more and buy the marketers product in one fell swoop!

Now that’s what I would do with $2.5 million.

Next: Technology Providers

Ian Beavis
VP, Marketing, Public Relations & Product Planning
Kia Motors America

I find it difficult to believe anyone is paying $2.5 million for a spot. The network's hyping of the price paid is counterproductive. It makes a CMO's job very difficult when he wants money. CEOs and CFOs quite often see this type of spending as irresponsible. If I had the money, I'd put it into search where I can generate leads. GM and Ford don't need to increase their awareness. They need to do a better job of generating sales with the people who already would consider them.

Kirk Iwanowski
SVP, Marketing
Sundance Channel

I'd strike a strategic marketing and production partnership with a like-minded consumer brand and national publishing company to create a compelling limited original series supported by a consistent and targeted multi-platform consumer campaign.

And then I'd do it again.

Gordon Paddison
EVP, Integrated Marketing
New Line Cinema

I am afraid that my answer is not an answer.

To be responsible in approaching this question, it really all depends on the brand and your campaign. It is my opinion that the Super Bowl can reach a demographic with more efficiency than other television programming. The main reason is that most consumers are trained to treat Super Bowl commercials as Appointment television," and news outlets review spots and create top 10 listings of winners and losers. So the $2.5 million spend, if used properly, can garner much more value. Also, film entertainment research shows that Super Bowl visibility for theatrical releases within two to four weeks is effective, but longer lead does not necessarily support a traditional plan.

However, many studios have used the Super Bowl to put their stake in the ground in launching campaigns for major event films.

I am not of the school that believes that TV is not effective. My wish would be to effect the creative of Super Bowl spots and drive strong integration with an online initiative. To be able to impact the demographic that the Super Bowl reaches with a truly compelling online call-to-action would be the best of both worlds.

Technology Providers

Matt Arkin
Senior Vice President Advertising Sales

For $2.5 million I would discuss with Burger King how to use their latest campaign of their King character dubbed in real historical NFL game plays.

I would initially take all the unique users that had viewed Super Bowl news, stats and updates from all the major sporting sites over the 14 days prior to the Super Bowl and target those users as well as users that showed similar behaviors (look-a-like Behavioral Segments) with three, 50 million impression roadblock days following the Super Bowl, and then I'd them user initiated video creative.

The campaign would be to challenge these users to vote for the five best Super Bowl plays of all time, but the key player in all the creative would again be the King dubbed into the real historical plays. Once you have been tracked to view and vote for the five best videos, you are then approved to enter the drawing to go to next years’ Super Bowl.

John Battelle
Founder and Chairman
Federated Media

FM, of course!

Honestly, that's what I'd do. I'd look for influential conversations where my marketing would be part of the conversation, rather than interrupting it. That's what high quality blogs and community sites have, and that's what FM brings to marketers.

We now have Fark and Digg in the network, for example.

Adam Gerber
Vice President of Ad Products and Strategy

Let’s not kid ourselves, the Super Bowl is a great reach play. And guess what, it’s also a good investment. It’s not the out-of-pocket cost folks should be focused on; it’s the CPM (which probably ends up between $20 and $30 on total audience), engagement level, and message platform potential.

Do I think there are better investment alternatives for $2.5 million? It depends on two critical client-side issues:

  • marketing objectives, and

  • their investment in quality creative and cross-platform extensions to extract value from the initial linear broadcast investment

Super Bowl advertisers are traditionally mass market brands. They want to aggregate large audiences and minimize frequency -- especially when in launch mode. The Super Bowl makes sense. Others such as Emerald Nuts and GoDaddy use the show as a showcase for their brands -- to position them with the big boys.

With focus on ROI, one proxy for ROI are the 500 percent, 600 percent, 700 percent increases in web site traffic tied to past Super Bowl investments. Clearly, people are paying attention, and interacting with advertising. And now that Super Bowl “advertisers” are under a “best-of” microscope, the PR component of a Super Bowl ad can actually add to -- or detract from -- overall ROI.

If you’re running a Super Bowl add -- especially if you are a small brand looking to break through -- follow these simple recommendations:

  • Invest what’s needed, with enough time, to create a compelling :30 brand engagement. Don’t overspend, and don’t get too cute, unless you want that bottom spot in the creative poll or lots of awareness for everything but your brand cues

  • Make sure your :30 is the first component of a multi-platform engagement plan. Leverage the web (e.g., a call to action to website), event marketing, CRM, et cetera. to turn your $2.5 million expense into a $2.5 million+ experience..

People actually pay attention to advertising in the Super Bowl. You don’t need to execute creative antics to break through. Make sure every component of the ad speaks to and delivers against your messaging objectives. Stay focused, and stay true to your brand.

Bottom-line: the Super Bowl if the crown jewel of TiVo-proof live sports, and its still a good deal, but an advertiser just can’t show up to the party. They need to “dress appropriately, and work-the-room” to have the kind of affect most are hoping for.

Jeff Weitzman
President and COO

If I was spending the money for a consumer packaged goods company, I’d buy $2.5 million worth of online coupon distribution. But on the off chance I couldn’t get that approved, I’d create a relentlessly data-based marketing program; one that will net me proven sales increases, clear consumer-base segmentation, and a large consumer database with permission to engage in ongoing marketing communications.

I’d take a chunk of the money and build a data warehouse, or improve the one I have, and make sure I’m ready to get the most out of the data I’m going to get. Then I’d buy some broad offline and online media buys, reaching at least as many of my target customers as I would with a Super Bowl ad, including search engine, contextual, and behavioral marketing media.

I would drive traffic to a set of destination websites where I could track the source, ask for an opt-in, ask just a few segmentation questions, and provide coupons on a variety of my products. Those that didn’t opt-in for future marketing would still get coupons, so I can track purchase intent and actual purchase by source and segment, which would inform my future media buys and allow me to work with my partners to create accurate audience models of likely new trial, brand-switching, and brand-loyal consumers.

To those that did opt-in I would send follow-up emails, including an offer to boost open rates and solidify the relationship, and again use the purchase data to refine my segmentation, build out my purchase behavior profile of those segments, and continuing to learn.

Then I’d take all that learning and run segment-specific media campaigns to maximize my return and in-store sales impact. I’d continue to use coupons to monitor the purchase behavior of my various segments and complement aggregated sales volume monitoring.

By the time I’ve used up my $2.5 million, I’d have taken all of my marketing programs, online and offline, to a new level of effectiveness, improving sales for years to come. No championship team relies on the Hail Mary to win games. You establish the ground game, open up the passing game and then crush the competition.

Next: Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders

Andy Sernovitz
Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA)

Four great ways to get people talking about your company for $2.5 million:

  • Pass out two million $1 bills. Attach your logo to each bill with a removable sticker. Use $500,000 to hire staff to hand them out all over the country.

  • Give 1000 of your most junior employees a year of tuition at a local community college.

  • Invest it in amazing product design.

  • Train your customer service reps to be helpful, polite, and sincere.

George Simpson
George Simpson Communications

I would ask Enlighten to spend $1.2 million on the Burst! network, knowing they can use Tacoda's behavioral targeting to find people who have an interest in movies. I would then serve each a Klipmart video offering to donate one dollar to Katrina relief for every cell phone photo of two people standing next to a poster for any New Line theatrical release. I would post the photos on a special page offering to act as an intermediary to put any photo submitter in touch with any other photo submitter they might think is interesting. I would also open forums for users (restricted to the first 1.2 million photo submitters) to post comments on how they liked the films promoted on the posters.

Doug Weaver
Upstream Group

$2.5 million? I'd sink the whole amount into the initiatives in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to provide next generation inoculation technology. Vaccines are available for most common diseases, but it's the delivery apparatus that's the problem. Giving mothers a one-dose drug delivery kit would prevent thousands of needless deaths every year. And then -- if I were one of a major company -- I'd send out a press release that very publicly acknowledges that we're doing this instead of squandering the money on the wretched excess of the Super Bowl commercial. I'd get press in every major media outlet in the country and say more about my brand than I ever could in 30 seconds.

Return to Intro

A trusted advisor to companies of all sizes and a respected voice within the interactive media industry, Dr. Brad Berens has enjoyed a wide-ranging career that features storytelling as an organizing theme. These days, he divides his time among...

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Commenter: Brad Berens

2008, November 17

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