Super Bowl, Super Audience Building

If there was ever a sporting event that didn't need another pixel devoted to its promotion, it is the Super Bowl. From its humble beginnings in front of 62,000 fans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (100,000 capacity, mind you), the "Big Game" has ballooned into a worldwide phenomenon that commands $4 million per 30-second advertisement. Marketers, of course, watch from start to finish--not so much for the game, although it has been super of late--but for those advertisements.  And we in the digital marketing space have paid particular attention to see if and when brands would finally realize that their ads can do much more than just sell the brand during the game--they can build audiences to last the whole year long.

For all the attempts at digital interaction over the past few years, however, much of the "social media" surrounding Super Bowl ads was far from super.  In fact, in my post game analysis with one-to-one marketing friends, we were stunned at how the biggest of the big brands couldn't even muster the energy to put a meaningful call-to-action in their ads, let alone something as overt as request to subscribe, like, or follow.

Papa John's Super Bowl XVII Coin Toss Promotion Fortunately, ExactTarget "Power of ONE" award-winner Papa John's broke the mold last year. Looking out on the myriad of sponsorship opportunities the Super Bowl affords, they settled on one moment that all but Las Vegas had overlooked--the coin toss.  But this is not just any coin toss, it is THE MOST WATCHED COIN TOSS IN THE WORLD.  And to make it theirs, they upped the stakes with their "Coin Toss Pizza Giveaway."  The rules were simple--join the Papa Rewards program by providing your name and email address, then register your vote for heads or tails. If America called it right, every registered voter received a free large pizza. Last year, America voted 'heads," the coin landed on heads, and there was much rejoicing.

There was also likely much rejoicing at Papa John's HQ. While other pizza companies were trying to sell pies during the big game, Papa John's ads leading up to the game were both selling pizzas and increasing the size of their loyalty program membership and--by extension--their consumer email database. Of all the Super Bowl advertisers last year, only Papa John's made any overt attempt to build its email subscriber base. And guess what? They never technically ran a "Super Bowl Ad" -- all their advertising and sponsorship was done before the game even began.

Fast forward to this Super Bowl XVII, and Papa John's is back with their coin toss promotion. This year, you get 50% off an order just for voting and another chance at a free pizza if America picks correctly. The big question in my mind is whether any other brands will pick up on Papa John's strategy. Will Doritos, Coke, Volkswagen, and others try to both sell products and build their own proprietary audiences across email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, etc? Or will their $4 million be gone in 30 seconds? 

Judging by the early Super Bowl ads debuting on YouTube, the status quo may continue to rule. Clearly, Super Bowl advertisers are gung-ho to win attention not only on the television but on the second screens--smartphones and tablets--likely to be in use during the game. If combined with long-term audience-building--i.e., email, SMS or other opt-in--efforts, they may have learned from Papa John's success. My read, however, is that there's still a fatal disconnect between the creative teams generating brand ads and the digital teams building proprietary brand audiences. If and when those two teams get together, a lot more brands will see super results from Super Bowl ads.

But, until such a time, c'mon HEADS!!! I've got a craving for The Meats pizza.  ;-)

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