The Super Bowl is television’s biggest event by far, with nearly 90 million Americans expected to tune in to ABC Feb. 5 for the big game and its much-hyped commercials, selling this year for a record $2.5 million per 30 seconds.
But the championship game also has become a huge event on the Internet, with some Web sites enjoying traffic spikes of 500, 1,000 or even 2,000 percent.
For many advertisers, a Super Bowl commercial is not complete without a dedicated Web site, or “microsite,” offering extras like contests, free downloads and extended versions of their television ads.
In a new twist this year several advertisers, including Burger King and Degree deodorant, are offering versions of their commercials that can be downloaded for viewing on an iPod. Several marketers say they are buying up Internet search keywords to make sure viewers can easily track down the commercials after the game.
CareerBuilder.com, which will appear in its second Super Bowl this year with another set of ads featuring simian office workers, will steer viewers to a specially designed site offering the chance to send a “monk-e-mail,” a customized electronic greeting card featuring a monkey speaking with the sender’s voice.
“It is a little juvenile, but it is a fun way of engaging in the brand,” said Richard Castellini, vice president of consumer marketing for CareerBuilder.
Such microsites, which often feature viral marketing hooks like e-cards, have been around for several years and allow companies to reach specific target groups with messaging that might not be suitable in the confines of a broader corporate site. A classic example was Burger King’s “subservient chicken” site, launched in connection with a 2004 menu promotion but not heavily publicized.
“It really was something we wanted consumers to stumble on,” said Adrienne Hayes, a Burger King spokesman.
This year Burger King, returning to the Super Bowl for the first time in 11 years, is launching whopperettes.com, a microsite based on the showgirl theme of its 60-second game ad. In addition to video downloads the site will feature behind-the-scenes footage, telephone ring tones, sheet music and an “irreverent” build-your-own Whopper feature, said Gillian Smith, Burger King’s senior director of media and interactive.
Exclusive video extras will be available during the game to subscribers of Sprint’s wireless video phone service.
“We want to make sure we have a 360-degree approach to reach our target audience at every touch point,” said Smith. “We know the Super Bowl ads are the most talked-about ads of the year, and to provide people who are watching with some exclusive content, something interesting and unique, we think is just a great way to help us as a brand.”
“The experience of people online is that you can convey the information more quickly, easily and deeply than you can in other mediums,” said Castellini of CareerBuilder. “Not to say the 30-second spot is going to go away in its entirety — it’s just going to be augmented by other forms of marketing.”
Last year the help-wanted Web site had record traffic on Super Bowl Sunday and the days immediately following, including a 50 percent boost in unique users, an impressive number for a site that averages 20 million visitors a month.
Other sites that saw big increases stemming from Super Bowl advertising last year included Budweiser.com, up 600 percent, and Apple's iTunes, which benefited from a Pepsi promotion offering a chance to win free music downloads.
Another big winner was GoDaddy.com, a relatively unknown Internet company that generated controversy last year with its ad featuring a buxom actress losing her blouse. The Web site, which offered an extended version of the television commercial, got 850,000 unique visitors on Super Bowl Monday last year, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
“The volume of traffic to advertisers' Web sites really spikes before, during and after the game,” said Peter Hershberg, managing partner of Reprise Media, which specializes in helping companies market themselves by Internet keyword search. “There is no question the Internet is becoming increasingly important both as it relates to Super Bowl advertising and as it relates to advertising in general.”
In fact, the unique nature of the Super Bowl as a showcase for the most creative advertising of the year drives traffic to dozens of Web sites after the game — including this one — as viewers seek out specific ads to view them again and vote on their favorites.
After a rerun of GoDaddy’s ad was yanked at the request of the National Football League last year, the company is negotiating with ABC officials over whether it can sufficiently tame its creative content for this year’s matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers. Company president Bob Parsons is doing his best to keep the controversy stoked with a blog detailing his efforts and a Web site featuring an extended version of the latest television commercial featuring the provocative pitchwoman, Candice Michelle.
Emerald Nuts, a relatively new brand that has put a lot of effort into designing an entertaining Web site, used a bit of guerrilla marketing in its maiden Super Bowl campaign last year. Viewers who went to the Emerald Nuts site were warned NOT to go to AngryLeprechaun.com, a site purportedly set up by an actor upset about being dropped from the Super Bowl commercial.
The AngryLeprechaun site, of course, was just an extension of the company’s marketing, offering viewers yet another opportunity to view the snack maker’s commercials and sign up for e-mailed newsletters.
Tim Cannon, director of marketing for Emerald’s parent Diamond Foods, said traffic to the company’s Web site went up twentyfold in the days after the Super Bowl.
“If you think about it, you have 30 seconds to interact with a consumer in a television commercial. We’re in a brand-building mode right now, and it’s difficult to say a lot about our product” in 30 seconds.
This year the company is returning for its second Super Bowl and has made “a major effort” to integrate the planned television spot with a 10-day newspaper advertising blitz and a contest on the Web site, Cannon said. The contest, based on the theme of the company’s ad campaign, challenges people to come up with their own humorous scenarios out of an acrostic based on the Emerald Nuts name. (One television ad features “engrossed manicurists,” while another offers “exercising matadors.”)
Aleve, advertising for the first time in the Super Bowl, also has created a special Web site tied to its ad campaign offering users a chance to share any “good news,” especially if it relates to a certain non-prescription medication that eased their pain. In the run-up to the Super Bowl Aleve partnered with ESPN.com on a football-themed sweepstakes featuring a chance to win a big-screen television.
Jay Kolpon, vice president of marketing and new business development for Bayer, which makes Aleve, said the Web site is an important part of the product’s “communications platform” but no substitute for a Super Bowl TV spot, which he called a bargain at $5 million a minute.
While the Web site allows for deep engagement with customers, television — especially the Super Bowl — offers a mass audience impossible to find elsewhere, Kolpon said.
“There is no other way in America I can reach 90 million viewers in one fell swoop,” he said “There is power in the mass that that brings.”
Nationwide, a first-time Super Bowl advertiser, also plans to launch a microsite with its new brand-image campaign, allowing users to post messages on an electronic text “crawl” in New York’s Times Square and view it over a Webcam. The Web site will not be ready in time for the Super Bowl, but that does not seem to bother advertising vice president Steven Schreibman.
“The game is just one element” of a major national branding campaign that will continue in the months ahead, he said. There will be more television advertising, direct mail, Internet advertising and local advertising.
“It’s not like we’re doing a promotion like Frito-Lay, where everything has to line up,” he said.
Unilever, which will be back for its second Super Bowl with ads for Degree and Dove, discovered last year that the Internet provides instant feedback on the creative content of the advertising, said Kevin George, director of marketing for the company’s deodorant lines.
“We don’t know any more about the people, but we know how long they stay and whether they forwarded the ad to their friends,” he said.
He predicted this year’s ad, featuring a day in the life of a city where all the residents are stunt men, will also drive heavy traffic to the Web among viewers who want to see more than they can glimpse in fast-moving 30-second ad.
“The 60-second director’s cut has more guys on fire – it’s really well done,” George said.