Search vs. TV

The Super Bowl is rapidly becoming a case study in how search and television can work together and simultaneously refuse to get along. Each year advertisers suffer for the consuming public with millions of dollars spent on 30-second spots designed to leave a solid impression with viewers. Then, Monday-morning quarterbacks in the advertising industry review and comment on the effectiveness of those spots.

A relatively new tradition in reviewing the impact of Super Bowl ads is measuring the impact of consumer interest by studying search behavior in the days that follow our annual Sunday event. We know that users flock to computers immediately following Super Sunday, yet many advertisers have yet to discover the connection between search and Super Bowl.

On the surface, the concept of extending the connection between idiot box and search box seems simple. Search offers a natural enhancement to the time-honored tradition of engaging emotion and experience with television. Why do many advertisers seem to be missing out while others embrace integration? Let's take a look at this year's activities to see if we can unravel the mystery.

Preparing for kick off

According the online intelligence service Hitwise, share of domestic searches for the term "super bowl ads" increased by 1416 percent in the four weeks prior to the Super Bowl in 2006 over the same period in 2005. Furthermore, "super bowl ads" was the most common search phrase containing the words "super bowl" in the month leading up to the big event.

Viewers look forward to the Super Bowl advertisements. They start researching up to a month in advance, and in this behavior rests another great opportunity many have yet to explore. Capitalizing on search behavior after the fact is one thing, but why not stretch out that five million dollar per minute spend with a fraction of that budget on building anticipation with a connected search and content experience?

Hitwise reported that Super Sunday visits to the video destination IFILM, increased by 49 percent versus the previous day, and placements of Super Bowl ads on Yahoo Video Search provided a big contribution to the increase. Yahoo Video Search accounted for nearly 30 percent of visits to IFILM on the big day.

Cashing in on the search action
Yahoo has good reason to watch search activity around the Super Bowl. With ad revenues soaring in other media, Yahoo and other search providers want a piece of the big cash in. With video search accounting for a big chunk of follow up traffic, Yahoo representatives were quick to celebrate the few who took advantage Super Bowl traffic and those who didn't.

While Yahoo reported that search activity prior to the Super Bowl increased about 800 percent prior to the Sunday event, a few big brands spent time preparing for Super Bowl search action.

According to a Yahoo spokesperson, Cadillac, Honda and Dove all bid on the search term "Super Bowl" and took advantage of the search traffic. Searches on Yahoo for Cadillac Escalade jumped over 75 percent after the Super Bowl. Cadillac was able to engage those users by making sure its official site for the new Escalade was listed at the top of the sponsored search results.

The number of advertisers that have ramped up post Super Bowl integrated search efforts still pales in comparison those that missed the boat. Reprise Media's annual Super Bowl scorecard (a report that evaluates the impact of search and television advertising activity) pointed out that many advertisers didn't even include site addresses in TV spots.

Missed opportunity… or not

It wasn't long ago that we noticed Coke's missed opportunity with the C2 launch in failing to purchase the "C2" term in sponsored results. For this year's Super Bowl, Yahoo representatives noted three key missed search integrated opportunities with Pepsi, ABC and Warner Brothers.

In the time frame immediately following the Super Bowl, searches for Pepsi increased 60 percent on Yahoo along with thousands of searches for the "Brown and Bubbly" site represented in Super Bowl ads. Searches for ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" increased roughly 400 percent in the same time frame. Warner Bros. "V for Vendetta" spot initiated a 400 percent increase in search share that was unanswered in sponsored results

Brand marketers have always struggled with purchasing their brand names in sponsored listings. In this process of evaluating a paid search presence, it is worth noting that many of these sites maintained high rankings in natural results. For example, a Yahoo search for "Brown and Bubbly" returned the Pepsi site as the number one search result, while sponsored listings were populated by anything with the word "bubble" or "brown" in it.

Without getting into the debate about the importance of sponsored search over natural listings, the issue of buying terms to match campaigns is not as simple as deciding to buy the word. Weighing sponsored costs, competing with unrelated advertisers and listing control with a natural search presence should be part of the consideration process.

Super Bowl every day

The integrated experience shouldn't be limited to our annual chest pounding, beer guzzling event. Case in point: GM's recent 30 second spot which included a call to "Google Pontiac." Why hope that consumers reach out to a search site when you can tell them exactly where to go? Of course, calling out Google instead of another search site sounds a bit more like a co-op ad placement, but you get the idea.

Search and television have an unusual relationship, but one cannot deny the benefits of an integrated cross media experience. We have come a long way by investing in site content that is consistent with traditional media, but the search connection seems lost a bit too often.

Additional resources:

What would you do with $2.5 Million instead of spend it on the Super Bowl?

iMedia Search Editor Kevin M. Ryan's current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.
Kevin M. Ryan is Managing Partner at Kinetic Results