Reading reviews of Super Bowl ads I was struck by two observations:

  1. The reviewers got the value of most ads backwards
  2. They missed the most important ad of all – on Twitter

Super Bowl ads cost $1M+ to make.  Then they cost $2M+ to air.  So it is an expensive proposition.  This isn't fine art, like a Picasso, with a long shelf life to create a rate of return.  These ads need to pay off fast.  They need to build the brand with existing and/or new customers to drive sales and make back that money now.

So let's start with one of the best reviewed ads – Chrysler's "God Made a Farmer". Reviewers liked the home-spun approach of using a dead conservative radio commentator voicing over pictures of farmers in pick-ups.  Unfortunately, from a rate of return perspective my bet is this ad will end up near the very bottom.  

  • Firstly, the 50 year trend is to urbanization.  In 1900 9 out of 10 Americans had something to do with agriculture.  Now it is fewer than 1 in 20.  Trucks are used for lots of things, but farming makes up a small percentage.  It has been a full generation since most 2nd generation Americans had anything to do with a farm.  Showing people using a product in ways that almost nobody uses it, and with a message most of your target market doesn't even recognize, leaves most people confused rather than ready to buy.
  • Secondly, first generation Americans are changing the demographics of America quickly.  First generation Americans (can I say immigrant?) proved large enough, and powerful enough, to play a spoiler role in Mitt Romney's run for the Presidency.  To them, farming in America has no history, appeal or meaning to their lives. 
  • Thirdly, no one under the age of 35 has any idea who Paul Harvey is.  Perhaps Chrysler could have used Bill O'Reilly and achieved its message mission.  But as it was, there were two of us +50 people who spent 5 minutes trying to tell the group watching the game at my home who Paul Harvey even was – and why he was being quoted.

A 24 year old boy watching the game with me in suburban Chicago listened to my explanation about Paul Harvey and farming.  He drives a Ford F-250 4×4 pick-up.  After I finished he looked me square in the eyes and said "Swing, and a miss."  And that's what I'd say to Chrysler.  Whoever made this ad had more money than market research and common sense.

Simultaneously, reviewers hated GoDaddy.com's "Perfect Match, Bar Rafieli's Big Kiss." This portrayed a very stereotypical engineer enjoying a long kiss with a pretty girl – referring to how the company's products well serve client needs.  Reviewers found the ad in bad taste.  My bet is this ad will have immediate payback for GoDaddy.com

Have you ever heard of the monstrously successful situation comedy "The Big Bang Theory?"  At just about any time you can find this in reruns on at least one, if not more than one, cable channel.  The show is so successful that to pull people viewers to its Monday night schedule CBS actually chose to rerun "Big Bang" episodes amidst new episodes of its other programs in January.  The show thrives on the tension of male technical professionals seeking to solve the age old question of how a man can appeal to desirable ladies.  Politically correct or not, the show is successful because it is a timeless message.  Most boys want to be liked by girls.

Today the world of people who have technical, or quasi-technical jobs, is HUGE.   GoDaddy's target audience of people buying, and servicing, web domains just happens to be mostly male under-40 men with technical or quasi-technical backgrounds.  This little, tasteless demonstration may have upset the high ethics of ad execs (or has "Mad Men" unraveled that myth?) but to its target group this ad was pure gold.  And same for GoDaddy.com.

But most importantly, none of these ads will have the payback of 9 words a marketer tweeted when the lights went out at the game.  Because it had blown a huge wad of money on a traditional game ad the Oreo brand folks at Mondelez were watching the game with their media agency 360i.  Thinking quickly the creatives came up with an idea, and the brand guys approved it – so out went the tweet from Oreo Cookies "No problem.  You can still dunk in the dark."

"Booya" as my young friends say.  10,000 retweets and an entire Monday news cycle devoted to the quick thinking folks who posted this tweet.  ROI?  Given that the incremental cost was zero, pretty darn high. If I was investing, I'd take the tweet over the video.  The equivalent of a kick return for a TD.

The world has changed.  We now live in a 24×7, real-time, always-on world.  We no longer wait for the weekly magazine for analysis, or the daily newspaper for information.  Or even the 11:00 television daily recap.  We pick up alerts on our mobile devices constantly.  Receive highlights from friends on Facebook and Twitter.  We want our information NOW.  And those who connect to this new way of living for providing us information are not only accepted, but admired by those thriving on the social networks.

This year's Super Bowl social media postings were triple last year's; over 30million.  This is the world of immediate feedback.  Immediate discussion.  And the place were ads need to be immediate as well.  Those who understand this, and connect to it, will succeed.  Others, who spend too much to make and then distribute ads on traditional media, will not.  Just as newspaper ads have lost of their relevance – TV ads are destined for the same conclusion.

The good news is that Mondelez and its Oreos team was ready, and willing, to take advantage.  Where were most of the other advertisers?  Audi, VW and P&G's Tide also jumped in.  But of all those millions spent on once-run ads, these major corporate advertisers – and their extremely highly paid ad agencies – were absent.  When the easy money was to be made, they simply weren't there.  Off drinking beer and watching the game when they should have been working!

Today we learned Twitter is buying Bluefin to make its information on who is tweeting, about what, in real time even better.  This will be helpful for any smart advertiser.  And not just the multi-billion dollar giants.  The good news is anyone, anywhere in any size company can play in this real-time, on-line social media world.  You don't have to be huge, or rich. 

Where were you when the lights went out?  Were you taking advantage of what we may later call a "once in a lifetime" opportunity? 

Where will you be the next time?  Are you ready to invest in the new world of social media advertising?   Or are you stuck spending too much to come in too late?

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