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Like Super Bowl teams, advertisers seek winning formula

It’s the one time each year when TV viewers don’t fast forward through commercials but actually watch — and even look forward to watching — them.

The Super Bowl. And every year, besides what’s happening on the field, another competition is taking place: The one for viewers’ eyeballs, as companies try to wow fans and potential customers with their Super Bowl ads.

Sunday’s 50th-anniversary Super Bowl will be no exception. And while football fans will spend Monday analyzing the football that has been played, millions of others will spend Monday assessing which Super Bowl ads worked and which didn’t.

“The Super Bowl is the greatest showcase in the world for getting a message out to the public,” said veteran Las Vegas advertising executive Tom Letizia, president of The Letizia Agency. “There’s no better place to debut a new product or get the word out than the Super Bowl.

“Now, that being said, it’s the most expensive place to showcase your message. Costs are exceedingly high and, from an efficiency standpoint, if you’re really looking at efficiency, there are better places. But if you’re a big national company and want to make a statement, there’s no better showcase.”

Nancy Weaver, adjunct professor in the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said merely being able to display one’s advertisement acumen at the Super Bowl is impressive. Thirty-second spots for this year’s Super Bowl ran close to $5 million apiece, and, Weaver said, “most of the Super Bowl spots were sold by early November.”

For that, advertisers will reach millions of viewers — last year’s game attracted an average audience of more than 114 million people — from literally all over the world.

Also appealing to advertisers is that the Super Bowl “now is one of the few televised events that really gets lost in translation if it’s not watched live,” Weaver said.

“We have just a handful of media events now that people aren’t taping to watch later so they can avoid the ads, and they’re not going to Hulu to watch the Super Bowl. Events like the Super Bowl, or, occasionally, the Emmys or VMAs, (when) people want to see the event and want to be part of the live experience, are few and far between these days.”

That, in turn, means that the pressure on ad agency creative teams “to deliver smart, effective, on-point (ads) is higher than at any other time of the year,” Weaver said.

Letizia said, “Being in the business and having produced commercials for 40 years, I can appreciate the artistry involved in creating these great messages” and that, during the Super Bowl, viewers will see “the finest-produced commercials that exist.”

“The most important quality in any commercial is for the consumer to get the message, to hear the message, to understand the message,” Letizia added, and, then, “to talk about that message the next morning around the water cooler.

“You can put millions of dollars into production, but if it doesn’t achieve those goals, then it’s an ineffective commercial.”

And when a Super Bowl ad misses the mark, people talk about it for all of the wrong reasons. Consider last year’s Nationwide Insurance ad featuring a child talking about things he’ll never experience because he was killed in a childhood accident.

Nationwide’s intent certainly was good, Weaver said, but the ad was “taken to task for having a very inappropriate tone,” and many viewers were startled by its “dark tone.” After the game, Nationwide even issued a statement explaining that its intention was simply to start a dialogue about preventable child accidents.

While advertisers want to be edgy enough to be memorable, correctly landing an ad’s message can be difficult. Adding to the challenge, Weaver said, is that Super Bowl ads are conceived and produced weeks and months before the game, and events or public attitudes can make what seemed to be a good idea at the outset less effective, or even inappropriate, by the time the ad is shown.

Humor often will “resonate well” in Super Bowl ads, Weaver said, and taking a comedic approach even “tends to be kind of the default strategy.”

The question then becomes “how edgy or how avant-garde should we be for the brand,” she added.

GoDaddy became known for its ads’ risque, proudly sophomoric tone. As a result, GoDaddy experienced “some backlash,” Weaver said. “There are people I know who canceled their GoDaddy accounts because of how they advertise during the Super Bowl.”

Animals also are a staple of Super Bowl advertising. Anheuser-Busch ads usually rank among the Super Bowl’s most-liked ads, and viewers “have come to know and love and expect the puppies and horses and Clydesdale and the Americana that is Budweiser, and they’ve locked into that and have done incredibly well,” Weaver said.

But the true hits or misses of this year’s Super Bowl ad campaigns won’t be known for weeks or months after the game. It’s then, Weaver said, that advertisers will know whether their Super Bowl ads translate into increased sales for the products or services they’re pitching.

— Read more from John Przybys at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com and follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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