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PR is the MVP of Super Bowl Advertising

sodastream.pngAccording to Time, the average cost of running a 30-second spot this coming Sunday is $4 million – up from $3.5 million last year. How do you maximize that type of investment? Kick the PR machine into overdrive in the week leading up to – and following – the big game.

The unsung heroes behind the success of Super Bowl advertising – at least in recent years – are the PR teams that work to generate buzz, anticipation and excitement for the ads before they air. It wasn’t that long ago that we had to wait to be surprised during commercial breaks on the big day. Now, particularly with the dollars at stake – and also in the age of social media, where buzz needs to be seeded a bit – success requires a full-on assault of all marketing disciplines.

While every marketing discipline is represented in the successful execution of a Super Bowl advertising campaign, PR deserves the MVP trophy. It’s the PR teams getting early publicity for the spots (you can watch almost every spot that’s going to air on Sunday online right now). It’s also the PR teams that have to deal with early conflicts related to the advertising. For example, SodaStream had their ad rejected. Volkswagen is under some heat for their ad. Every year there’s even more challenges in pulling off a successful Super Bowl execution.

It really is the Super Bowl of advertising (and PR, and social media, and search engine marketing, and insert other marketing disciplines). So while the ad agencies get all the credit for coming up with the actual ideas (though many of the ideas for this year once again revolve around getting ideas from creative consumers like you and me – Doritos and Coca-Cola both tapped the wisdom of crowds for their spots), the PR teams deserve equal praise for making those 30-seconds last for a couple of weeks.

So who are you rooting for on the big day? Take a look at the early releases for Taco Bell, Volkswagen, Coca-Cola, Doritos, SodaStream, and Mercedes-Benz if you haven’t already. It’s going to be a great competition, and hopefully the best spot will win. If this year is like recent years, it will be the best-promoted spots that get the most attention. And for that, we thank the PR teams.

What do you think? Would Super Bowl commercials generate the same amount of buzz with zero PR effort behind them? Do some ads get more credit than they deserve because they have stronger PR support? I think so.

UPDATE: I’ve watched ALL the spots I could find online and was happy to see some brands (and their agencies) are planning to keep their creative in their pants until Sunday. I’ll give props to Chrysler, Blackberry (BBDO London), Oreo (Wieden & Kennedy), E-Trade (Grey New York – the baby is back), M&Ms (BBDO), Milk Processor Education Program (Deutsch NY), Subway, Time Warner Cable, and Samsung (72andSunny). As of this update, none of these brands have tipped their hand.

I’ll give half props to Best Buy (CP+B), Budweiser Black Crown (Anomaly), Tide (Saatchi & Saatchi), Cars.com (McGarryBowen), Lincoln (Hudson Rouge), Coca-Cola (Wieden & Kennedy), Bud Light (Translation), Wonderful Pistachios (Psy will sing a new version of Gangnam Style), GoDaddy.com, Fiat, and Doritos for saving something for game day. These brands shared some element of their creative – either as a teaser or as part of a “pick the winning spot” competition – but still left room for us to pay attention on Sunday. My vote for the Doritos spot? Despite “Fashionista Daddy” coming from my hood, I had to go with “Fetch”… hilarious.

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • Phil de Haan

    I am always a little leery when we co-mingle the terms public relations and publicity and don’t really distinguish the two from each other. PR when it truly lives up to its name is two-way communication. Publicity is pretty much one-way communication. It’s probably accurate to say publicity is a PR tactic, but publicity is not synonymous with public relations. Of course when it comes to the Super Bowl perhaps nuance is a tough proposition. Nonetheless I think you are right to note that the value of a Super Bowl ad these days better go far beyond the 30-second buy. And that PR firms can and should play a huge role in helping advertisers think beyond the buy, including not just publicity, but where and how true two-way communication can take place. So thanks for a thought-provoking piece.

    Phil de Haan, PR specialist and professor, Calvin College

    • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

      I tend to think academically about this point as well Professor de Haan – I think conversationally, most people would consider publicity tactics to be “PR,” even if it’s technically not accurate. This is a good reminder for me to be clearer in my terminology. This topic comes up a lot when blogging about PR the profession versus “PR” as a tactic (which doesn’t exist). Thanks!

  • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

    Jeremy, I tend to feel this is a good example of the blending of media — especially the social promotion of ads leading up to the big day. Advertising has long been a way to generate effective PR, think Hustler’s Larry Flint taking out full page ads. An odd place to find a PR lesson, but the subject aside, it’s and interesting approach that does require us to think differently about the ad. In many ways, I think that’s sort of your point.

    • http://blog.journalistics.com Jeremy Porter

      Interesting perspective (and reference!) as always Frank. That was partly my point. I think the media tends to talk about Super Bowl ads as if it’s a bunch of creative people coming up with these ideas. They just turn them into a spot, buy the spot and let the magic happen. There’s a lot more too it than that – media relations being one part. I just think the PR team tends to do more to amplify the message and drum up interest in advance of the game – which makes us pay a lot more attention during those time outs and two-minute warnings.

  • Greg Olotka

    “The unsung heroes behind the success of Super Bowl advertising – at least in recent years – are the PR teams that work to generate buzz, anticipation and excitement for the ads before they air. ”

    Except for Chrysler. They are bucking the preview trend and keeping things under wraps until game day:
    http://detroit.sbnation.com/2013/2/2/3939076/2013-super-bowl-ads-commercials-chrysler

    I know I’ll be watching, I love and appreciate a clever car commercial.

  • http://www.publicrelationsprincess.com Claire Celsi

    I agree with the comments about “PR” vs. “Publicity.” I’m sure it takes an effort to get the ads out, but how hard could it be with all the hype surrounding the game and the people who live to view the ads. Releasing a commercial early is like throwing chum to hungry sharks. All you have to do is dump the bucket into the ocean.

  • Grace Freeberg

    Social Media plays such a huge role in this version of the Super Bowl and I am so glad that you emphasized that in this post.
    In regards to the comments on PR vs. Publicity, clearly it is harder to get the hype surrounding these ads pumped up before game day because until recent years, all attempts have failed. Sure, some people live for the ads, but the the game is what draws people’s attention. I’m young, but even I remember a time when people had no idea what was in store for commercials during the Super Bowl–not to mention that they didn’t care.
    Props to the PR pros responsible for this hype. I know I love it!