In a spot for Sunday, Poseidon holds a Kia Optima. In a Volkswagen ad to run during the Super Bowl, a child appears as Darth Vader. A version of GoDaddy.com’s ad featuring the feet of the race car driver Danica Patrick is already online. In a Coke commercial, two border guards find détente in a bottle.
For decades, most Super Bowl advertisers followed a simple rule: Keep commercials under wraps until the moment they go on the air. But social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have ushered in a new era, and marketers are doing what was once unthinkable. In addition to offering sneak peeks of their spots and revealing contents of the commercials, many, like the vacation rental company HomeAway, are going the full Monty and sharing the entire ads in advance. “Last year, we thought, ‘We ought to keep this close to the vest and make it a big surprise,’ ” said Brian Sharples, chief executive of HomeAway in Austin, Tex. The response last year to the company’s Super Bowl spot, its first ever, “exceeded our expectations,” he added, and “this year, we said, ‘Let’s put it out there.’ ” So the commercial, scheduled to run in the third quarter of the game, went live this week on the HomeAway Web site. Brands like Audi, Best Buy, Budweiser, CareerBuilder, Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, E*Trade, GoDaddy, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Snickers, Teleflora, 20th Century Fox and Volkswagen are all over social media trying to drum up interest in the commercials they plan to run during Super Bowl XLV on Fox on Sunday. Because social media can “build buzz” for Super Bowl commercials before, during and after the game, Mr. Sharples said, “if you don’t take advantage of all that, you’re not getting the most bang for your buck.”
Motorola Mobility is offering previews of a 60-second spot it plans to run in the second quarter of the game, for the new Motorola Xoom tablet.
“It makes a lot of sense to build the relationship with your loyal customers, and one way is to give them things in advance and let them feel part of the process,” said Bill Ogle, chief marketing officer at Motorola Mobility in Libertyville, Ill.
Beginning on Friday, Motorola Mobility and its agency, Anomaly in New York, will provide information about the commercial, which evokes the famous “1984” Apple Super Bowl spot, to technology bloggers and reporters. Later, the companies plan to upload excerpts to the Motorola Web site as well as the Motorola Facebook page, where the company has close to 300,000 fans.
“There are so many spots in a Super Bowl that it can be hard to stand out,” said Timothy Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. “A lot of the strategy is now focused on how you position yourself in advance of the game, because if you wait till the last minute, it makes it harder to break through.”
“It reduces your risk to get ahead of it,” he added, because that can help “achieve return on investment.”
That is important because Fox, part of the News Corporation, is charging sponsors an estimated $2.8 million to $3 million for each 30 seconds of national commercial time in the game — in other words, as much as $100,000 a second.
“Companies are recognizing they can leverage their investments if they create some curiosity before the Super Bowl,” said George Belch, marketing professor at San Diego State University, or “extend the life of the campaign after the game.”
“The financial people are asking, ‘Where’s our R.O.I.?’ ” he added, referring to return on investment, “so if you have all these online views before or after, you can show you’re getting a lot of bang for the buck.”
There was “a bit of it last year, two years ago,” Mr. Belch said of the efforts by advertisers to front-run their Super Bowl spots, “but this year, it’s really taking off,” reflecting how ardently consumers are embracing social media, where they can “vote on ads, send them on to friends, enter contests and become ‘fans’ of brands.”
“The common thread is, ‘What can we do to get greater engagement with consumers?’ ” he added.
The strategy is not without risk, experts say.
“There’s some real concern that it may dilute the ‘specialness’ that’s associated with advertising in the Super Bowl,” said Shawn McBride, vice president at Ketchum Sports and Entertainment in New York, part of the Ketchum public relations unit of the Omnicom Group.
“The Super Bowl delivers a spectacularly large audience, one that watches the commercials with a high level of attention,” he added. “So the idea of cutting your own grass ahead of time means there may not be that ‘aha!’ moment when your commercial comes on during the game.”
Mr. Calkins, the Kellogg marketing professor, said that when “the Super Bowl spot is part of a much bigger campaign, and there’s a lot of activity before and after the game, you wonder if the ad itself may be anticlimactic because there’s so much buildup.” To avoid that problem, Mr. Ogle at Motorola Mobility said, the complete commercial for the Xoom will not be available before the game.
“We want to create a sense of anticipation,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is let the cat completely out of the bag.” Mr. Sharples of HomeAway was more philosophical about spilling the beans for his Super Bowl spot, which is being created by an Austin agency, Vendor.
“If we let it go early,” he said, laughing, “it’ll still be a surprise to 95 or 98 million people.” Nielsen estimated that a record 106.5 million people watched Super Bowl XLIV last year. Some media industry analysts are projecting that the game on Sunday may attract 110 million viewers, given the popularity of the teams, the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Also, the wintry weather in many parts of the country could keep people indoors, watching TV and browsing Facebook.