Once upon a time, one week separated the NFC and AFC Conference championship games and the Super Bowl. There's nothing really in it for the fans to have to wait two weeks for big game, but for advertisers, those two weeks mean everything. For them, every day is Super Bowl Sunday, as their PR machines build anticipation for their high-priced spots—to the point that the ads themselves become secondary to the conversation around them.
This is the time of year when PR and advertising fuse into one big, bad hype machine. And these days, the most powerful PR tactic of all in the lead-up to the Ad—er, Super—Bowl is the video ad teaser, buttressed by social media interaction. Adweek reports that Super Bowl advertisers that aren't offering previews of their ads are the exception this year and, in addition, the trend in sneak peeks is to offer extended versions of spots instead of 15-second teasers.
Among the ads generating a lot of heat so far are Skechers' spot featuring a French bulldog named Mr. Quiggly and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban; Go Daddy's "Body Paint" spot featuring auto racing driver Danica Patrick and fitness expert Jillian Michaels; and the Priceline spot that promises to be the final appearance of William Shatner as "The Negotiator." In each case, there has been a news hook that helped create conversations about the ad—and this is a pure PR tactic. For Skechers, it is the widely publicized—and ultimately controversial—decision to replace last year's star, Kim Kardashian, with a dog, inadvertently riling up animal rights groups; for Go Daddy, it's the company's continued flagrant use of sexualized images; and for Priceline, it's the termination of its long-term association with its bombastic pitchman.
"PR is becoming even more important to these advertisers than they ever realized," says John Neal, who teaches PR, consumer behavior and marketing at Fairfield University's Dolan School of Business, and who previously had been EVP and general manager with ad agency Campbell Mithun Esty. "These companies are realizing that the true benefits of being in the Super Bowl media frenzy are from a PR standpoint, not an advertising standpoint. Young people today are much more aware of the outreach programs through social media than through traditional television advertising. When I look at it cold-bloodedly, public relations is the future. Companies can contain their marketing costs, which have become enormous, and enter into a social contract with consumers rather than just talk at them."
In the three cases mentioned above, there has been criticism of the ads themselves from traditional media outlets, bloggers and social media commenters—and this is not a bad thing. We'll all be waiting for those spots, in between food and restroom breaks—otherwise known as live play of the game itself.
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