Once Again, Super Bowl Ads Sidelined Search

Super Bowl XL may have broken records in everything from viewership to ad costs to Kelly Herndon’s 76-yard interception runback. But as a showcase for the take-up of search marketing, football’s biggest and best-watched game of the season was a yawner, according to Josh Stylman, managing partner of Reprise Media.

For the second year in a row, Reprise staffers sat with one eye on the TV and another on the monitor, checking to see which Super Bowl advertisers—who paid $2.5 million for thirty seconds’ worth of viewers’ attention—then leveraged that visibility with a search marketing campaign. At that, they weren’t so different from a majority of Sunday’s viewers; comScore Networks reported that 72% of intended game watchers planned to go online during the game.

But while they found some Bowl advertisers paying increased attention to search marketing, Reprise’s team overall rated their online efforts during the game as a series of fumbles and incompleted passes.

“Most companies still missed the boat,” he says. “Some companies didn’t even include their URL in their commercials. As for search presence, it was a clear case of the haves versus the have-nots. If you did well in [search marketing around your ad] it was easy to stand out, because there was very little competition.”

By Reprise’s measure, only three advertisers got full points this year (7 out of 7): Staples, Ameriquest and Volvo. They prevailed for their prominent search marketing presence in both Google and Yahoo!, for displaying clear tie-ins to their Super Bowl commercials both in their search listings and on their sites, and for including a call to action on their sites, leading the consumer through the experience.

But down at the bottom of the scale, some prominent brands got either a 1 or a zero for failing to integrate their offline commercials with their online marketing. These included Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, Pepsi, Visa Check Card, Chase, Degree Antiperspirant, and McDonald’s. Reasons for the call included no visibility in Google or Yahoo! search, commercials without a Web address, and a Web presence either not tied to the Super Bowl or missing a clear call to action.

(Beer and alcohol companies were not counted in the Reprise scorecard, since they are prohibited from advertising on Google and Yahoo! search results pages.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, the dot-com advertisers in general did a better job of integrating their offline and online ads, Stylman says; Careerbuilder.com, Overstock.com and domain provider and Web host GoDaddy.com. These companies not only marketed intensively against their own brand names and concept keywords but also bid on basic event-related terms, such as “Super Bowl ad” and “Careerbuilder Super Bowl ad”.

These high-scoring companies also made a point of linking their search ads to their creative. “Search marketing is a conversation between the searcher and the marketer,” Stylman says. “If a searcher is looking for your Careerbuilder ad, you don’t want to take him to your job product. All these advertisers did a great job on that ,not only on the message but also on the follow-through, with added-value landing pages.”

Burger King also did an outstanding job, building not only a Web site dedicated to that human hamburger the Whopperettes but an involving interactive game.

Disney got high marks for its handling of “The Shaggy Dog”, an upcoming release. The studio built a search-marketing keyword list that included not only the name of the film and the “Disney” brand but the name of its star, Tim Allen.

But other brands showed an indifference to making their big-bucks ad buy carry through onto the Internet. One brand, PS Cleaning Products, was launching their product during the game’s airtime. But the commercial they ran failed to include even a URL for a Web site. “If I was at all interested in looking for more information on this brand…I’d still be looking,” Stylman says. As it happens, they may not even have a Web site; at least, Google and Yahoo! couldn’t find one.

He points out that when advertisers fail to follow up a mass-media promotional event like the Super Bowl with relevant marketing on the Internet—the place many people go for research today—the result can even turn into a win for a competitor. Case in point: Ford’s commercial featuring Kermit the Frog.

“They had one of the most memorable commercials for their new Escape hybrid vehicle, but they did not buy the keyword ‘Kermit’,” Stylman notes. “But General Motors did, to promote their own hybrid car. So Ford spent all this money, and GM was savvy enough to know that people would be searching on the term ‘Kermit’. Great job by GM; atrocious job by Ford.”

Other advertisers practiced that same form of “ad-drafting”, bidding on the keywords likely to come up around a Super Bowl advertiser’s creative. Other credit card companies bid on the words likely to be used to search for Super Bowl sponsor MasterCard, Stylman says. “A company called Vacation Consultants of America bought Super Bowl keywords and advertiser brand names to promote their travel specials. I have no idea who that company is, and they didn’t buy any Super Bowl ad time. But they did a great job of anticipating viewers’ intent.”

The Super Bowl has long been described as an ad fest with a few quarters of football stuffed sandwiched in. In fact, comScore found that 14% of this year’s prospective audience said they were more interested in the commercials than in the game. Internet watchers like comScore have also begun the tradition of following up Sunday’s game with Monday’s Web traffic numbers. This year, the stats show that eight of the Super Bowl advertisers saw triple-digit increases in their Web volume compared to an average Sunday. GoDaddy.com’s prurient promo earned it an amazing boost of more than 1500%; but even the more sedate Budweiser, Pepsi, Cadillac, Anheuser-Busch, Ford and Pizza Hut saw increases of more than 100% in their Web traffic during and after the game.

In many cases, the traffic increase was almost instantaneous. Visitors to Budweiser.com swelled its traffic count by almost 83% within 30 minutes of the airing of the first Bud ad. Traffic at Pepsi’s “Brownandbubbly.com” microsite rose 100% after the URL was featured in a first ad with rapper P. Diddy, and 274% following a later ad with Jackie Chan.

But even though Pepsi saw traffic spikes on its “Brownandbubbly.com” microsite, Yahoo! says the day after the game saw searches on the keyword “Pepsi” increase by about 60% and thousands of searches on “Brownandbubbly.com”. And none of those searches produced a Pepsi sponsored link—because the company had not done any search marketing around its ad or brand.

In a conversation before the game, Yahoo! Search Marketing senior director of global advertising strategies Ron Belanger said that while his company had seen strong increases in keyword buys among Super Bowl advertisers in some categories, consumer packaged goods and entertainment marketers had run at the tail end of the pack. In the consumer space, economics have historically made it hard to justify a sizeable interactive ad budget for a commodity that sells for $1.29 in Aisle Three.

“We’re saying, that may be true, but look at how you’re positioning your brand during this game,” Belanger said. “If you have P. Diddy in your ad, we know people search for him. So once you’ve made the bet of placing him in your creative, that’s a really good way of intersecting online search demand with an appropriate touch point to your brand. But it’s still a little early for that message with some folks.”

On the other hand, he pointed to beauty-products maker Dove, which aired its first Super Bowl commercial this year and made sure to buy related keywords, including phrases such as “real beauty,” that linked to the tag line for its hit mass-media ad campaign.

Despite Reprise’s low scores for every car-maker except Cadillac, Belanger said the automotive segment had actually increased its purchase of ad- and Super Bowl-related keywords prior to Sunday’s game. “They realize that over 80% of automotive car purchases are researched online. We’ve told them that, and J.D. Power has told them that. So they’re all supporting their commercials with search.” He said Honda, Toyota and Cadillac all had bought search terms to support their models.

In Cadillac’s case, the company was launching a new Escalade model by giving a car to the game’s most valuable player; so the company made sure to book a full slate of Super Bowl and brand-related keywords, to ensure that the link to their official Escalade site was high up in the search ads. (Good thing, too: Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, the eventual MVP, did indeed pick the new Escalade model for his prize.) Sure enough, Yahoo! reported that searches on its engine for “Cadillac Escalade” rose 75% after the game, and the Escalade site link topped the search ads in every one.

Cadillac, Honda and Dove all placed bids on the Yahoo! term “Super Bowl XL commercial”, which saw an 800% increase in searches on Yahoo! in the day after the game.

All told, this year’s game ads got more exposure than those from any previous Super Bowl, with streaming video available on iFilms.com and both Google’s and Yahoo!’s video sites, often before the final whistle had blown. A site called Heavy.com even offered viewers the ads that got banned by the National Football league or ABC, including numerous iterations of the GoDaddy commercials. But simply putting your pricey commercial up on the Internet isn’t an online marketing policy, Belanger said. “For months we’ve been telling folks to make that investment [in a Super Bowl ad] work smarter by letting that ad buy work for more than 30 seconds. If your ad touches people emotionally or if they want more information, we know that they’re going through search to find it. Don’t make them go to an aggregator site to see the ad. Bring them to your site, through natural search or sponsored listings. Once there, make sure they can see the ad again, but also let them engage your brand, product or service in a much more involving way than just sitting on the couch and getting blasted with commercials.” Stylman agrees that the emphasis on high-profile Super Bowl ads can lead advertisers to undervalue the importance of engaging prospective customers in the marketing conversation. “Super Bowl ads have always been about branding,” he says. “But as marketing becomes more metrics-oriented and more accountable for performance, the nay-sayers have begun to ask how you quantify those efforts. Well, you do it by putting some money behind creating an actionable environment online, then lead people there with search marketing. That turns your brand dollars into direct-response dollars.

“This year’s winners, like Disney, CareerBuilder.com and Cadillac, did just that. The losers just fell on their face.”

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