Could Super Bowl ads become about customer choice?

For decades, advertising has been the reliable sideshow for the Super Bowl and yesterday’s game was no different. It’s still a place where brands look to make a big splash, companies spend a fortune to reach consumers and advertising executives focus their best creative efforts (and their creative reputations).

For advertisers it’s best remembered as the showcase for 1984, the ad that introduced Apple to the world and shattered preconceived notions about how an ad should both look and feel. It’s regarded by many as the greatest ad ever — even though it only aired once.

In the early 2000s, the Super Bowl was a showcase for brands that fizzled and disappeared from public view (anyone remember the sock puppet?) For industry stalwarts like Budweiser it remains a chance to reach viewers who won’t budge from from their couch for at least a few hours — a rarity now with fragmented viewing habits, Hulu and TiVo, the lure of other technology and the ubiquity of mobile devices.

Even expected things like Super Bowl ads, however, are subject to change. These days, nearly all Super Bowl ads run well before the game itself. We used to look forward to be entertained by great new ads; how does it feel to have already seen them? And what impact was lost?

On top of that, mobile is increasingly driving everything we do, even how we interact with events in the moment. Recent research from Magid, commissioned by Tapjoy, showed that two-screen viewing is commonplace — smartphone users multitask with a PC, tablet or mobile phone nearly half the time they are watching television.

What this means for advertisers: your presence in the big game doesn’t mean people are paying attention. Reaching customers is harder than ever. However, it’s not helpless if you remember the following:

  • Advertisers will need to accept new rules: Ten years ago you could guarantee that Super Bowl viewers would tune in for your ad. Now, the majority of ads have already been seen, and viewers can timeshift or turn to their other distractions during ads. The tradeoff, however, is the opportunity before and after the game to prolong the impact of your advertisement, through social media, mobile/companion apps and campaigns that extend through Super Sunday.
  • Interaction will become crucial: Super Bowl viewers could be talking with friends or using apps to follow the game in lieu of watching ads. If they are watching ads they might even be voting on which ones they like using the mobile web. Customers have as much say as to what succeeds as a pundit, and they have a soapbox to tell the world what they think. As long as consumers are interacting with smartphones, tablets and apps during the game, brands should interact with them, too. Consider creation of branded app as companion to the investment in the ad time in the game.
  • Choice will reign: Advertisers are still paying a lot for people that might not even be paying attention to what’s on the television. Consumers don’t have to tune in anymore; they can simply do what they want and perk up when the game resumes.
  • Reach your consumer directly: One-size-fits-all doesn’t work anymore. Customers will pay attention to and frequent sites with brands and advertisers they know and trust. A carefully curated relationship will always be more fruitful than a casual view.
  • Offer something: Customers don’t have to pay attention anymore. Why not offer them something for listening to you? It’s a fair trade.

At Tapjoy, we’ve built much of our success on the idea that app users should be able to engage with advertising on their own terms. While the Super Bowl remains one of the few places where advertisers and brands still engage with viewers on their terms, that’s likely short-lived. Accepting and even embracing how people want to receive advertising, rather than writing a big check, might be a much better proposition than the business equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.

Posted by Peter Dille, CMO, Tapjoy

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