The Super Bowl admittedly has staying power as one of the only remaining shared moments in our media consumption here in the U.S. That is, while you're watching the game, you'll be able to rest assured that you're watching simultaneously with millions of other people. And chances are you'll be able to talk about it around the water cooler on Monday, and everyone hanging around will know which big game you're talking about.
This is why the Super Bowl is so valuable to advertisers. Without shows that can consistently deliver a wide swath of U.S. households every week like they did back in the heyday of the three networks, the ones that can deliver large audiences become a battlefield where big advertisers fight for mindshare.
Still, some advertisers are slow to realize that there are plenty of ways to reach broad audiences in other media. Moreover, broad scale reach can be delivered much more efficiently through digital media than it can through a Super Bowl 30-second spot.
Here are some things you can do instead of dropping $2.4 million on a single Super Bowl spot:
Buy out a Big Three homepage
Homepages of large portals can be huge reach vehicles by themselves. Let's compare, shall we?
If a 30-second spot on the Super Bowl runs for $2.4 million, and if we're generous and say the Super Bowl hits a 40 rating against ages 18 to 49, you might reach something close to 55 million in the 18 to 49 demographic.
A floating ad on Yahoo's homepage for a day might run a bit over $1 million. In the space of that day, you'll reach more than 60 million viewers in the 18 to 49 range.
This is nothing new. We've known that Super Bowl ads are inefficient even when compared to other TV schedules. It should be no surprise that a single online buy can out-perform the Super Bowl. What is surprising is that the online buy can do it in a similar time frame (one day).
While it's true that Super Bowl commercials create buzz that add value to the message and its penetration, who is to say an online advertiser couldn't create the same level of buzz with a homepage buyout? Maybe it won't be as widely discussed around the water cooler, but if water cooler buzz is what you're after, you've still got $1.4 million left to spend if you invest online instead of in Super Bowl advertising.
Dominate online video
Let's say you simply can't break from the video format. While those who read my column regularly know I'm no big fan of digitizing TV commercials and pushing them out via the web, online media can accommodate video creative at scale.
YouTube alone can reach double-digit percentages of ages 18 to 49 within a month. While it would certainly be difficult to craft something that would reach every one of YouTube's 18 to 49 users, letting a unique creative execution with humor value loose on YouTube could produce Super Bowl-like results at next to no cost. Paid placements through the likes of wide-ranging video networks like Broadband Enterprises can help put an advertiser over the top.
Create staying power with widgets
A talented developer might charge five figures for a widget that can be shared virally throughout the web and consistently engage users with your brand. Let's call it $100K to make the math easy. That leaves you with $2.3 million to promote it.
Advertising in spots like social networks where people regularly use widgets and gadgets could speed widespread adoption of your widget. Once someone adopts your widget, it can give you an opportunity to market to them several times over the course of a widget's lifetime (from when it's downloaded until it outlives its utility). Even if you advertised on Facebook alone, $500,000 has a shot at reaching more than 12 percent of the total 18to 49 population. Add in a pile of other social networks, particularly the ones adhering to Google's OpenSocial, and achieving Super Bowl-like numbers is a walk in the park.
While it's true that the intangibles like PR, buzz and post-Super Bowl internet consumption are big selling points for Super Bowl ads, the inefficiencies can't last forever in an open market. Sooner or later, forward-thinking advertisers will see that their investments will pay off more handsomely in other media, especially in digital, and especially if those dollars are invested partly in digital marketing platforms as well as ad messaging.
Tom Hespos is the president of Underscore Marketing and blogs at Hespos.com. Read full bio.