In a world where DVRs and TV on-demand are standard, the Super Bowl is still an appointment event, one watched by millions of people around the country at the exact same time. Because of that, the Super Bowl is the premier TV advertising buy, and some consumers do the unthinkable -- they tune in just to watch the commercials.
Events like this are a relic of the past, according to Bob Garfield, Ad Age columnist and author of "The Chaos Scenario."
"The Super Bowl is last vestige of the old model: A gigantic mass audience all watching the same program at the same time," Garfield said, delivering a keynote address at the iMedia Brand Summit in Las Vegas on Monday. "This is virtually unheard of nowadays."
So, with that captive audience tuning in -- and a football game that rivaled the commercials in entertainment value -- how did marketers do? Pretty poorly, according to Garfield.
Take, for example, Mars' Snickers spot featuring Betty White and Abe Vigoda getting tackled in a muddy football game. It was the highest rated Super Bowl commercial, according to USA Today's Ad Meter rankings, but it did little in terms of branding, according to Garfield.
"How many candy bars do you think they're going to sell because of Betty White getting knocked on her ass?" Garfield asked the audience. "I don't think this ad was about a candy bar. It was about watching Betty White and Abe Vigoda getting knocked over. [Snickers] spent $3 million to get to the top of the ad meter. What did they do for their brand?"
Garfield held little back in lambasting spots from Boost Mobile ("Wasn't that sad?"), Go Daddy ("These people are repulsive"), and Doritos ("Is anyone even marginally hungrier for Doritos than they were 45 seconds ago?").
Doritos' ad featuring a dog and an anti-bark collar was the second most popular ad, according to USA Today, but just like the Snickers ad, it traded a brand opportunity for a cheap laugh.
So, what exactly can a roomful of interactive marketing professionals learn from brands that paid $3 million to squander one of the biggest marketing opportunities still in existence?
For one thing, they need to understand that some consumers tune into the big game because they want to see those commercials, and that rabid desire for advertising is still missing online.
"What is the single problem you have with respect to the brands hiring you?" Garfield asked. "Who's ever clicked on an online ad? What about your click-through rates? What about people not even paying attention to what you are putting there? Isn't that an issue for you -- that people don't want to see what you're feeding them? Someone tell me why this is not an issue."
Given the option of being advertised to or not, many consumers will choose to opt out -- that's a fact. What the Super Bowl tells us, even as a relic of the bygone mass media advertising age, is that consumers will still gladly welcome advertising under certain circumstances.
"If there is value for [consumers] -- it's entertainment value in the case of the Super Bowl -- and if you can make it worth their while, they will seek it out," Garfield said. "If you can harness that one sliver of the human psyche that will go looking for your advertising, you have the tiger by the tail."
Interactive advertisers may cheer the death of traditional media -- and the influx of cash it will hopefully bring online -- but there's still plenty to be learned from traditional; namely, that there are still times when people crave advertising, and that's going to mean the difference between online marketing becoming a lucrative field, or remaining something that consumers simply glaze over.
"Cherish that fact," Garfield said. "If you're in the business of advertising, you want people laughing at Doritos commercials."
Editor's note: In response to Garfield's presentation at the iMedia Brand Summit, iMedia President Rick Parkhill created a parody video.
Rich Cherecwich is deputy editor, iMedia Connection.
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