Monday, February 8, 2010

A Media Planner's Guide to the Super Bowl.

Disclaimer: I did not work on any Super Bowl media plans this year, nor do I have any insider information about the Super Bowl plans of any Draftfcb clients.

Now a good 21 hours post-event, I feel the dust of disappointment over Super Bowl Sunday begin to settle a bit over my network of ad geeks. The disappointed (not creative enough! not funny enough! not integrated enough! not enough monkeys!) rabble of comments are beginning to fade into more of a discontented sigh as we return our noses to the grindstone and wait for next year's batch. I am going to take this moment of pause to talk Super Bowl media.

Super Bowl media is a HUGE topic that I've not really seen discussed much at all this year, in a year when the  media layout of the game struck me as particularly odd. It seems that media planners are underrepresented in my social circle. Maybe we tend to keep to ourselves? Maybe I avoid my own kind? No idea. Either way, I've not seen anyone touch on the topic of Super Bowl as it relates to media, so here goes.

The Super Bowl is an awesome platform - quite literally, traditional media's largest stage. In the days of mass mass mass!, the Super Bowl was the holy grail of media buys, the most efficient eyeballs for your dollar, hands down. And, despite the fact that the focus has shifted toward niche, targeted media, the Super Bowl is still probably your best bet for large-format awareness. As such, there's a delicate dance to be done around the planning and buying of Super Bowl spots, by the agencies and by the network. You can't just be throwing ads into pods all willy-nilly! No offense to my comrades out there, but this year, it seemed as though the media aspect of this grand media event was woefully overlooked.

Several things struck me as odd about this year's Super Bowl media layout:

1. It was front-heavy. 
It seemed as though all the real Super Bowl-y ads, the Anheuser-Busch and Doritos spots that exhibited strong fresh creative geared for a Super Bowl crowd, were exhausted in the first half of the game. Poor Denny's, Google and one random Miller High Life ad were left to claw for remaining awareness in the back half. Granted, the game did get interesting in the back half, but you can't always count on a battle of titans to be high-scoring, so this, to me, was a surprising move. Which is better, a barrage of high-impact spots in the beginning of the game, or awareness and reminder messaging throughout? In my humblest of opinions, I feel that Bud/Doritos would have done well to increase their presence in the second half. If you come in with a bang, I expect you to keep it up. You've got four quarters worth of time on your hands, and plenty of spots to choose from. The opportunity was there to lay this thing out beautifully, and it seems like the buyers and CBS just... didn't. But, that's just me.

2. It was dull.
A clever media buy enhances clever creative and makes for clever campaigns. It would have been inspiring to see some clever media buys at play here, but alas, no dice. No creative pod formatting, very few stories told in succession (GoDaddy? Denny's, kind of? can't think of any others), just straight-up ads plopped into pods. One of my favorite media tricks, bookending spots in a pod per creative message, went totally by the wayside. My friend Bud pointed out that nobody really used the captive audience as an opportunity to try a call to action, to integrate with other media forces at play. Coke: this was a real opportunity to be interactive, given your competitor has very publicly denounced Super Bowl spending to do so. Put up a fight, Coke! The only spot that capitalized on the content at hand was the Oprah/Letterman spot. Come on, people! You've already plunked down the money; this is an opportunity to use the largest traditional platform as a media playground, and no-one did in a way that blew me away. I may be totally out of line with this critique, as I am unsure of how Super Bowl media is bought - regulations could be totally different from a normal network buy. But it seems the buyers and the network waved the white flag on this one, and rolled over and died of normalcy. Sad day.

3. It was sloppy.
The and Dockers ads, both touting "no pants" as their creative gimmick, were run back to back. Give. Me. A break. This is the Super Bowl. People are watching. Pre-screen your ads, CBS! These two spots blurred together for me. Some friends of mine argued that this boosted awareness for both spots, but I remain unconvinced. I hope both advertisers are demanding hefty make-goods here.

I'm not generally one to criticize, so I hope I haven't turned off any readers with this little rant. As an eager little media planner, I guess I was hoping for some greatness, some real media cartwheels and loop-de-loops. Or at least a brilliant, clean execution of media on what may be the largest advertising day of the year. Maybe next year.

If you have any insight into the Super Bowl media strategy, I would love to hear from you, if you please.


  1. Great post.
    I was amazed at how bland and unmemorable the ads were. The back to back no pants ads were absurd. Were Dockers and Careerbuilder told about the scheduling?

    Did Doritos really need THAT many ads? It seemed like they and Bud had 90% of the total ads.

    Also, and eTrade need a new gimmick. Their ads are old and stale at this point.

  2. Hey Dan!

    Thanks for visiting, and I appreciate your comment. I was trying to avoid commenting on the creative execution of the ads, but I totally agree with you on the blandness. I felt that Bud and Doritos would have done well to spread their buy out a bit, but it seems they were banking on people not watching the second half.

    I am guessing that Dockers and Careerbuilders being back-to-back was an error, and that they were not informed. That's why I'm thinking they will be asking for makegoods.

    What a mess! Again, thanks for your two cents :)

  3. Here's an observation and perhaps, one bold suggestion if I may...If the Superbowl is one big, singular event on the world's largest stage, why not treat your communications/idea the same way? How about creating a 1x-only chance to view on the Superbowl, and hopefully make it compelling enough for people to seek it out and discover other, new iterations of the idea elsewhere. [w/apologies to your DFCB media group] I'm pretty sure, we'll be bombarded w/the same TB/Charles Barkley spot in the coming weeks, ugh! Why not take the idea further online and create some valuable interaction-->free tacos anyone?

  4. I like it, and I totally agree. Where was the fire? Where were the huge integrated ideas? Where are the free tacos???


  5. On the other hand it is twenty one hours post event and you guys are are remembering comercials, brands, products, when they where placed during the game etc. Somebody must have done something right! Love, Mom

  6. I also noticed the machine gun intensity right out of the gate. I assume it was front heavy b/c the odds were that the Colts would decimate the Saints early on and the 2nd half wouldn't have the viewership.

    It's an example of where the media buyer has to be part sports bookie. It's essentially a sports bet to place in a excitable-edge-of-your-seat latter part of the game or a boring runaway we-already-know-who's-going-to-win-let's-get-it-over-with 2nd half. And you have no idea which you've bought until you're watching it.

    Great post. It's a refreshing change on Super Bowl ad posts to hear the media placement viewpoint rather than the "more monkeys" creative viewpoint.

  7. Hi Chris,

    I love the sports bookie metaphor. I was thinking it would be fun to gamble on people watching the whole way through (for the commercials) and play with media that way. But, I guess they must not.

    Thanks for reading, and I appreciate your comment!


  8. Did you see this about the Dockers / Careerbuilder underwear issue?

  9. I hadn't seen that, Chris! Thanks so much for passing that along! Haha totally called it.