The Super Bowl Goes Social

The Coca-Cola polar bears are making another appearance at this year's telecast of the Super Bowl
The Coca-Cola polar bears are making another appearance at this year's telecast of the Super Bowl Feedloader (Clickability)

Remember when no one would leave the room during Super Bowl commercials, how everyone would share that moment when, for the first time, a TV ad faced the nation.

That is so over.

Chances are you’ve already seen a handful of this year’s ads; a lot have been out on the Web for a week or longer.  One spot for Volkswagen, titled “The Bark Side,” featuring a chorus of dogs barking out the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars, has already been viewed nearly 11 million times on YouTube.  Another, for Honda, in which actor Matthew Broderick channels Ferris Bueller from early in his career, has been watched more than 6 million times and it’s been up for just a week.

What’s going on?  Isn’t the whole point for Super Bowl ads to be unveiled during the Super Bowl?  Aren’t they supposed to feel special–especially with the going rate now $3.5 million for 30 seconds?

What’s going on is that advertisers have realized that even at Super Bowl parties, they no longer control the room.  Of course, people will be watching the TV.  But they’ll also be looking at their laptops, their iPads, their smart phones. And someone could just as likely be connecting with a person in the next state as the next chair.  If advertisers no longer have the party’s undivided attention, why bank everything on the element of surprise?

The other big realization is that social media–Facebook, Twitter, YouTube–has changed the rules.  Now brands don’t pitch to consumers; they try to build relationships with them.  And that’s where familiarity trumps surprise.  So what if people have seen a commercial before the big game?  They’ll know it, probably have talked about it and best of all, may have shared it on Facebook by the time they watch it on TV.  These commercials are now mini-brands,and the more exposure they get, the better.  Yes, the Jerry Seinfeld spot for the Honda Acura won’t be as funny on Sunday.  And the partying vampires who feel the wrath of an Audi’s LED headlights won’t seem as creepy.

But hey, we’re talking about them already.

Bears just wanna have fun

So what else will be part of Sunday’s social media swirl?  Remember Coke’s soda-chugging polar bears. They’re back and thirsty as ever. And they’ll be watching the game, one a New York Giants fan, the other rooting for the New England Patriots. Whichever team is losing in the second quarter will determine which bear is featured in the spot.

But that’s only a slice of their show. They’ll be tweeting about the game–who knew they have opposable thumbs?–and they’ll appear live on streaming video throughout the day at, reacting to what’s happening in the game. The computer-animated bears reportedly were created by people who watched a lot of nature films to ensure that Coke’s bears look like real polar bears would if real polar bears watched football.

Even Coke doesn’t expect many of us to spend a lot of time following their bears.  But if people check in only a few times, their connection to the bears–and the soft drink they love–gets a little bit stronger. And if we do it during a Pepsi commercial, well, the folks at Coke will drink to that.

Pepsi is countering with its own version of interactive TV, and it’s going a lot more techy than tweeting bears. It’s using Shazam, the mobile app designed to tell you the name of a song if you let your phone hear a few bars. Pepsi’s  spot features Elton John and Melanie Amaro, the singer who won “The X Factor” competition on Fox in December. But here’s the spin.  The commercial has been ”Shazam-ed” so when people with the app let their phone hear the ad, they’ll be able to download a music video of Amaro singing “Respect.” Seems like a lot of effort when a perfectly good football game’s going on. But with so much focus now on connecting with consumers as often and on as many devices as possible, a lot of advertisers are willing to give it a try. Almost half of the commercials airing during the game will be ”Shazam-able,” which means users with the app will be able to get extra content–such as a chance to rank all the Super Bowl commercials–or coupons and giveaways.

Do the monster hash

One estimate has it that 60 percent of the people watching the game will also be looking at a second screen. (Based on my household, I’d say that’s about 40 percent low.) Whatever the number, if people are going to be engaging in virtual yakking, why not set up a nice little place for them to do it.  So custom Twitter hashtags are big this year.  Forlorn over the fate of those pretty young vampires in the Audi ad? Go to #SoLongVampires on Twitter and share.  Want to vent about the game?  Polar bears will be standing by at #GameDayPolarBears.

Chevy’s going down a different road. It’s created its own mobile app called simply “Chevy Game Time” and it’s designed to keep fans engaged during the day with trivia games and polls. Nothing all that fancy. Except for the prizes. Loads of prizes you can win by playing along–from pizzas to team jerseys to tires. And cars. Chevy will have an Oprah moment and give away 20 cars. Everyone who downloads the app receives a unique ”license plate” number and if that number shows up during one of the Chevy ads, you win a new set of wheels.

Shouldn’t Chevy be your Best Friend Forever?

Video Bonus:  You’ve no doubt seen Apple’s famous “1984″ Super Bowl ad that launched the MacIntosh Computer.  But have you watched the parody created 20 years later?

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